As we’ve mentioned previously on this site, players involved in the Great Britain squad don’t get to play for their clubs regularly. Bearing this in mind, the players left over often become central to a club’s ambitions. This is especially evident at clubs like East Grinstead, with Mark Pearn, Ashley Jackson, Barry Middleton, Mark Gleghorne, Iain Lewers, Glenn Kirkham and Niall Stott all involved with Great Britain recently.
“Whilst we are delighted to have some great internationals at the club, East Grinstead works very hard to ensure that these players, along with the other members of the squad are the right fit for us in attitude and ability,” said Jones. “At the start of the season, everyone’s roles within the squad are clearly outlined and expectations are managed throughout.”
East Grinstead’s squad is hugely impressive: They sent the seven players listed above to the Men’s Champion’s Trophy in New Zealand to represent Great Britain and yet still managed to collect 7 points from a possible 9 in their absence. The club has a first team squad of around 25 players. The big names might grab the headlines, but there are six other players who Jones highlighted as being central to the Saint Hill club’s success. The Top of the D tells you a bit about each:
Richard Potton: The 25-year-old goalkeeper made his debut back in 2003. He spent some time playing at Loughborough Students during his spell at university, but has been a fixture in the East Grinstead side since his return. Potton has England A honours, but has yet to break into the full squad. With George Pinner, Nick Brothers, and James Fair seemingly above him in the pecking order that might take some time. However, if he continues to play to the levels he has consistently reached in the last few seasons, this is by no means out of reach. It is also worth noting that Potton was outstanding in his side’s indoor campaign, pulling off a string of fine saves against Reading in the semi-final and Beeston in the final.
Adamson Harper: Consistency personified. You rarely see Harper make a mistake. You also rarely notice him on the
pitch; such is the quiet authority with which he does his job. Good defenders often go unnoticed and Harper is a testament to that. After his debut in 2008 for the club, he grew in confidence and turned in a series of impressive displays. Like Potton, he has been around the England set-up, but is yet to make a place his own. Like Potton, a regular England place, might not be out of reach.
Darren Cheesman: Cheesman, now in his second spell at the club, is that player who gives East Grinstead something a bit different, an X-Factor if you will.
Equally at home in midfield or in attack, Cheesman spent a year playing in Holland with Orange Zwart, which clearly benefited him on his return to these shores. A former England Hockey Premier League Player of the Season, his eye for goal and outrageous skills make him a crowd favourite and a vital player.
Danny Hall: A veteran of three summer Olympics with the Great Britain squad and scorer of a glut of goals for former club Guildford, Hall has been there and done it. A few eyebrows were raised when East Grinstead brought him in back in 2007, but all doubts were quickly extinguished. Hall still knows where the goal is, and his experience has been invaluable at home and in Europe.
David De Prez: A favourite of ours here at the Top of the D. De Prez has scored hat tricks in the last two indoor finals and has chipped in with more than his fair share of important goals domestically and in the European Hockey League. He is quiet and unassuming but a hugely effective cog in the East Grinstead machine.
Rick Gay: Apparently a livewire around the dressing room, his presence on and off the field keeps the rest of his team going. A Welsh international and a short-corner specialist, he is a more than useful goal scoring option when they are unable to turn to Ashley Jackson or Gareth Carr. This was never more evident than with his recent hat trick against Loughborough Students and his two-goal effort against Exeter: both secured the three points.
What stands out about these players is not just their abilities, but also the fact that none are East Grinstead born and bred. Jones explains:
“If you want to compete at the highest level, hockey is no different to football; you will not be able to create a whole team with the ability to challenge for top honours unless you look outside the club. It would be nice to do it that way, but it is unrealistic.”
Indeed, whilst Jones is probably correct in this outlook, the longer I spoke to him the more I got the sense of “The East Grinstead Way.” At first glance it appears they have a queue of players wanting to play for the top English side, and it is simply a case of cherry-picking the best ones. However, if you delve a little deeper, this is not actually the case; all of the players mentioned above, have been with the club a number of years now. The latest to join out of that group was Rick Gay, signed in 2009. This ties in with Jones’ East Grinstead ethos:
“We are very careful about who we take on,” he said. “We want people with the right skills on the pitch, the right personality off the pitch and the right levels of professionalism. We want people who want to play for East Grinstead Hockey Club. We want people who will buy into the club, and what it hopes to achieve. We don’t want mercenaries.”
This is a crucial point: it could be easy to assume that they throw money around to attract the best players, who only join for financial reasons. Yet, if that were the case, would these players have stayed as long as they have? Surely they’d leave when a better offer came along? Would Danny Hall and others have turned out for the 2nd XI when not selected by the first team? Jones, coach Mark Pearn and the rest of the backroom team, work very hard to ensure the players they get are the right ones and to ensure they are managed effectively. In some cases, up to eight players could start a Premier League game one week and then not even make the squad the next. Jones tells me: “Obviously those players are disappointed to be left out. They all want to play every game, as you’d expect. They are not angry at the situation, though because they understand what being an East Grinstead player is all about.” There is a crucial difference between the two emotions, and one that the East Grinstead management and coach deserve a great deal of credit for instilling in their players.
East Grinstead’s ultimate goal is to become the first English team to win the European Hockey League, hockey’s equivalent of the Champions League. To do this Jones believes they would need 16 international stars; such is the wealth, both in terms of finances and talent that the Dutch, Spanish and German clubs can call upon.
Is this realistic? Certainly. As Jones says, if you invest the money in the right way and recruit the right players, domestic success can be maintained and hopefully, the EHL can follow. Given the scale of investment from those clubs abroad, this will be no easy task but with Jones, Pearn and the rest of the club buying into “The East Grinstead Way”, the sky could be the limit.
My thanks to Matt Jones for his time and patience in providing me with details for this piece.