The Euro Hockey League comes to England.

Unless you’ve had your head buried in the sand for the last few months you’ll be aware that this weekend, the Euro Hockey League (EHL) comes to England for the first time in its history, as East Grinstead plays host to round 1.2.

Some of the best teams from across the continent and some of the best players from around the world will do battle at Saint Hill for a place in the next round.
The Top of the D caught up with East Grinstead’s manager, Matt Jones to find out a bit more about what promises to be a spectacular occasion.

The Top of the D: So, how has the prospect of hosting the EHL been received at the club? How are you feeling about it?

Matt Jones: We really feel like we’re carrying the flag for English hockey. This weekend is a great chance to show everyone how fanatical English people are about the game.

East Grinstead as a club and as a town are really working hard to put on a good show and we hope it’ll be a huge, successful event.

Ticket sales have been very good. We think it’ll be the biggest hockey event in this country since the Olympics. A lot of people will be gutted they’re missing out because of their own playing commitments but we are still expecting a big turn out.

TTOTD: How did the chance to host the competition come about?

MJ: Since the inception of the EHL they have been very open about wanting to showcase the competition across Europe. EHL have spoken to English clubs about one of us hosting it, it was just a case of showing we had the infrastructure, the organisation and the manpower in place to pull it off, which thankfully we have been able to do.

I have no doubt that some time in the near future someone like Beeston or Reading will host it too, which would be amazing. We’re very proud to be the first English club to host, but we couldn’t have done it without our sponsor, Emirates. Not so much on the financial side of things, but their experience and advice on commercial, media and corporate aspects of the weekend has been invaluable. They have given us a lot of support and stability and allowed us to repay them by hosting this fantastic event.

TTOTD: How is your team shaping up?

MJ: Selection post-Olympics always makes an interesting challenge. Our squad has been ravaged by injury and lack of availability. So far we have been without Ashley Jackson, Mark Gleghorne, Adam Jordan, Luke Taylor and Iain Lewers. All of those are starters so it takes its toll. Jackson is about 50/50 to be fit for this weekend. We won’t complain about it, though, we’ll just get on with it. The squad is in a good place mentally and the team spirit is excellent. All the players are very excited about the EHL and keen to put on a good show.

TTOTD: Do you think the large home crowd will be a help or a hindrance?

MJ: We think the crowd will be a huge help to us. We get decent crowds at Saint Hill anyway, but ticket sales suggest this weekend will be incredible. It’ll be a different experience for a lot of our team but I believe it’s one they’ll relish.

TTOTD: Which of your players should we watch out for?

MJ: I could more or less name our whole squad, however to pick a few:

Richard Potton is a very talented goalkeeper who is underrated. He’s well worth his place in the team and is very important to us.

You’ll also get to see Hendrik Geyer, the 16-year-old, 6 ft 5in German Man-Mountain who is following in the footsteps of Martin Haener and Mats Grambusch before him. He’s one the young ladies will like, too!

At the moment, Glenn Kirkham is absolutely outstanding. He scored a hat-trick at the weekend and is exemplary. You could put your house on him, he is that reliable. He’s been to the Olympics and is our captain and it shows, he leads by example and never lets anyone down.

TTOTD: Which players from other teams are you looking out for?

MJ: Obviously we’re aware of the threats of our opponents, but to be honest we’re just worrying about ourselves and our gameplan. We don’t want to get too caught up in what other teams will be doing.

TTOTD: Which teams do you think have a chance of winning the whole competition?

MJ: You’d be foolish not to bet on the big names: Rot-Weiss Koln have not quite done what they are capable of yet, but with the talent they have you’d think it’ll happen for them soon.

Rotterdam and Berliner are very strong and Beeston are flying at the moment, at home and in Europe. UHC can never be written off as they are always there or thereabouts. Amsterdam may have lost a few players but with Santi Frexia in the side they are still a huge danger. Of course Belgian hockey is on the up at the moment so KHC Dragons, who were really unlucky last year will be there again. Oh, and us. When we are at full strength, we’re a match for anyone!

TTOTD: What will this weekend do for East Grinstead Hockey Club?

MJ: The club will benefit as this raises our profile at home and abroad. Not just in Europe but across the world. Digital media and social media bridges the gap between thousands of miles so our club is out there, with the prestige of hosting this event attached to it, which can only be a good thing.

If we perform well, it will hopefully attract players of all levels to the club. That includes elite players, beginners or players returning to the game. It would be great to get more of them involved at East Grinstead.

Finally, we hope to generate enough revenue to cover the cost of hosting the EHL and have enough left to put towards a new pitch so we can continue to provide world-class facilities for all our members.

TTOTD: What do you think this event will do for hockey in England?

MJ: We expect this to continue the good publicity hockey has received as part of the Olympics. We get to showcase what a popular and well-supported sport hockey is. It is already well participated in and we expect the crowds this weekend to reflect that.

Think of the crowds at the Riverbank Arena during London 2012. It was one of the places to be. We hope to replicate that and show people that hockey is more than just a few men and their dog watching, it’s a popular sport for all the family. You’ll see that this weekend when the stands are full. The profile of England hockey can’t be anything other than helped by this weekend.

Don’t miss out on the chance to witness first hand some of the best hockey to grace this country. Buy tickets by visiting the East Grinstead website. You can also check the schedule to find out who is playing and what time.

Finally, if you are worried about the weather forecast, check it out here!

The Top of the D would like to thank Matt Jones for his time in conducting this interview.

The Top of the D would also like to wish East Grinstead and Reading luck in their games this weekend. See you all there!

About thetopofthed

Columnist for The Hockey Paper and the man behind The Top of the D. Writer, podcaster, goalkeeper and BBC Sport man. Used to work for Great Britain Hockey and have covered the sport at every major tournament.
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