Bishop's Stortford eyeing historic promotion to England Hockey National League if 2020-21 season concludes after lockdown
Bishop's Stortford's women's first team could still get a crack at promotion to the National League for the first time in their history if their East League campaign gets the green light to resume.
The East League's management committee has decided to terminate the 2020-21 season with immediate effect for all divisions except the top ones on both the men's and women's sides.
This is because England Hockey has decided to continue with its planned restructure for next season and needs two East League teams from the men's and women's competition to be promoted.
And unbeaten Stortford are firmly in the promotion race as they sit second in the Premier Division having been able to get in six fixtures before the third national lockdown came into effect.
In order for the campaign to be officially finished, teams must play each of their 11 rivals once, meaning Stortford have five more matches to play.
They are still awaiting further information regarding a possible start date – but some teams could yet decide not to take part.
"The picture is still unclear at the moment," said Stortford's ladies' club captain Richard Temple.
"The East League have 'sounded out' all the Women's Premier Division teams to see if there's a collective will to conclude the season. My understanding is that nine of the 12 teams wish to do so. Bishop's Stortford have agreed to conclude the season.
"This gives us a real shot at the National League for the first time in the club's history. Two East teams have to be promoted to the National League as part of England Hockey's restructure.
"The East League have proposed an April 10 start date, however England Hockey have contradicted this by stating that leagues can't resume until April 17. There's more guidance to come from England Hockey this week.
"There are clear challenges with fitness and lack of pitch time, yet each team is in the same boat."
East League secretary Neil Liversedge said informal work had been going on behind the scenes to assess the appetite for a return to play before the end of the season, and he hoped the two elite divisions would be concluded satisfactorily.
"For the remaining divisions it was agreed that the season would be terminated with immediate effect," he said.
"The feedback we've had both from clubs and senior members from clubs is that there's an appetite to play hockey, but for clubs and players not to be tied to a perceived tightness that a league fixture may bring. The point was also made that post-Easter, availability of players does reduce.
"The management committee encourages clubs, teams and players to take every opportunity to get out on the pitch and play hockey. If that means using some of the league fixtures that have not been played as friendlies, so be it.
"We also recognise that clubs may take the opportunity to run fun club-specific activities to suit their membership."
Stortford had several other sides enjoying good starts to the campaign, including the men's first and second teams who were unbeaten and top of Division One and 4SW respectively.
"It's disappointing for the rest of the club that league hockey has been annulled and I'm desperately disappointed for junior players," said Temple.
"However, we have a range of activities planned across the summer to meet the demands of our players, including summer leagues for the adults and summer coaching in partnership with Evo."