Unquestionably there are great personal costs associated with reaching the top of your chosen sport; however, how many of you have considered the monetary costs of success? Reading Hockey Club is being given no choice but to face up to the financial realities of being a winning side: They have an unprecedented four European trips this season to compete in the Euro Hockey League, twice (Men), the EuroHockey Club Champions Cup (Women) and the EuroHockey Indoor Club Champions Trophy (Women). This level of success adds up to a combined bill of somewhere close to £30,000.
Kate Richardson-Walsh, Great Britain Captain and Reading defender tells me: “As you know, hockey’s an amateur sport, still. We’re lucky at international level that we get a grant from the National Lottery, but at club level we pay subs and we pay match fees. We have been helped by the club in the past but this time it is just too expensive.”
Reading supplied six of the Great Britain Women’s squad who picked up a bronze medal at the London Olympics. Four of that number, Helen Richardson-Walsh, Kate Richardson-Walsh, Alex Danson and Emily Maguire, still play at the club. With all the talk of Olympic Legacy, it would be a crying shame if players who were instrumental in winning GB’s first Olympic Hockey Medal since 1992 were unable to participate in a major club competition due to funding issues.
Likewise, the England Hockey Board have made great strides in improving the profile and popularity of the sport. How damaging could it be if the sides flying the English flag in Europe were forced to withdraw? The repercussions for the reputations of both club and country don’t bear thinking about.
As you’d expect, the costs of these European trips are not the only ones Reading have to bear. With seven women’s teams and 11 men’s teams, it is not cheap to keep the club’s facilities at the required level. The need for a new carpet on the main pitch at Sonning Lane looms large on the horizon, adding yet more pressure to the financial plate spinning the club has to engage in.
Reading are victims of their own success: Never before has an English club competed in so many European competitions for both men’s and ladies’ hockey over the course of one season. The immediate concern for Steve Bayer’s side is the EuroHockey Indoor Club Champions Trophy in Lithuania, which starts on 21st of February. In the past, the players have paid for the lion’s share of these trips themselves, at a cost of around £400-£500 per head. However, as Emma Thomas, the Reading Captain points out, they simply cannot afford it this time:
“The club are not in a position to be able to fund our trip to Lithuania to play in the indoor. We’re all going to be putting our hands in our pockets and paying as much as we can ourselves, but the difficulty is that the vast majority of our squad are hockey players or students, so those pockets don’t have much in them!” She adds: “In the past we made a contribution and the club came up with the rest, but because we have been more successful we’ve become too expensive for the club to help. They’ve been incredibly generous but there is a limit to what we can expect from the other members in terms of financial support. We are actively looking for sponsors, so if there are local or national companies who would like to sponsor us we’re very keen to talk to them and find out what we can do for each other.”
The men have already travelled to Lille for the first round of the EHL and in April face a trip to the Netherlands for the extended KO16 competition. In addition to their indoor trip in February, the ladies will also travel to the Netherlands during April, for their outdoor competition, the Women’s Club Champions Cup. At these tournaments they will play the top clubs from Germany, Belgium, Spain, the Netherlands and a host of other strong hockey nations. Richardson-Walsh is keen that despite the distractions of the financial side of things, Reading go and give a good account of themselves:
“You don’t just want to go out there and make up the numbers, you want to compete and the only way to do that is try and be as professional as the teams you are coming up against. The German and Dutch club systems are vastly different to ours. They are semi-professionals already. They don’t pay to play; they are funded and can concentrate on their training fully. Our coach and management team have been great in handling as much of this as possible without bringing the players into it, but it’s on all our minds that we need to raise some money, and fast, to be able to go and compete.”
This isn’t the first time the subject of finance has reared its head in the hockey world. In October 2012, The Irish Hockey Federation were on the verge of withdrawing from the Champions Challenge I in Argentina due to a lack of funding. A public appeal went out and the response was overwhelming: In just four days more than 60,000 Euros was raised from a combination of the general public, a number of corporate benefactors and even rival teams. Reading, who are already working hard on raising as much money as they can, are hoping for a similar miracle from the hockey family:
“We’re in a very fortunate position to be representing Reading, England and English Hockey both indoor and outdoor. It’s a real privilege and obviously something we’re taking very seriously.” says Thomas, who lifted three trophies last season for the club. “We’ve been running coaching master classes where we’ve coached at Reading and other clubs. That’s raised some money. We’re also setting up a page for donations on our website, so we’d appreciate any contributions people can make, even if it’s just a small amount it all makes a difference. Likewise, if any businesses want to get involved then that would be great too. The players are more than happy to make up as much of the costs as we can, but we’re hopeful the hockey family can support us, as well.”
Richardson-Walsh and Thomas emphasised that the squad are keen to give something back, whether that’s advertising at Sonning Lane or on the players’ kits, coaching sessions at different clubs, appearances at clubs by their many Olympians and international stars, there are many different ways people or businesses can get something back for their money.
Of course Reading is an attractive proposition as a club to be associated with: They boast a number of Olympic medallists and current international stars in their ranks. They are one of the most successful clubs in English hockey right now: The women are in the finals of the domestic indoor competition, the reigning outdoor champions and have been in the final of the Championship playoffs three out of the last four seasons. Their men’s team are semi-finalists in the current indoor competition; they won the Men’s Championship Playoffs in 2011/12 and finished third in the EHL in 2011. In short, the club gets plenty of media coverage and enjoys plenty of success. Don’t take my word for it, though. This is how Richardson-Walsh, capped over 300 times by her country sums up the situation:
“If you can support us financially, you get to be a part of our journey into European competition. You can be a part of us hopefully becoming one of the most successful English clubs in European history. I really believe we can go and compete with the top teams in Europe. We hope we can achieve something great, so why not be a part of that?”
What is the cost of sporting success? To most, it is the blood, sweat and tears shed on the field. It is the hours spent working on fitness, set pieces, tactics and team play during all weather conditions. It is the sacrifices you make that your opponent doesn’t, so that you can get that edge. Perhaps it is time for us to think about the financial costs, too, and see if the hockey family can ensure our best club sides can play in the best competitions.
If you would like to discuss any sponsorship opportunities please contact Tim Hunt on firstname.lastname@example.org.