The European Hockey League on the March

european hockey league

Reportedly, Field Hockey dates back to the Renaissance – a long time ago – and in some quarters even further than that to the Egyptian tombs. Indiana Jones’s forbearers discovered some etchings on a tomb wall that resembled a scene from a hockey match. Make what you will of that. For all intensive purposes, the recognisable modern game of hockey was played in English public schools during the 19th century. Hockey was principally used as a practical winter exercise for cricket clubs in Middlesex. After a bit of wrangling, which is to be expected at the beginning of anything, the Hockey association was formed in 1886. Typically, not everybody was happy. Blackheath, one of the founding members, refused to accept the rules – much like south London today. Needless to say, they failed in their bid to form a rival association.

In most almanacs, the British Empire is largely credited for spreading – amongst other things – hockey’s popularity. This led to an international competition in 1895, where Ireland beat Wales 3-nil. The Olympic games of 1908 in London featured hockey with a three-team competition – this is a real story – where England, Ireland and Scotland battled it out for the medals. By 1924, the FIH – International Hockey Federation – the world hockey governing body was formed.

Tournament Format

The EHF – European Hockey Federation – was founded in 1969, but interestingly, in a place that isn’t exactly in the heart of Europe where you might have expected it to be. The Federation was born in a place that could be regarded as a bit off the beaten track in Cardiff, Wales. Nobody knows why. They're based in Brussels now. Primarily, their function is to govern 43 members who officiate hockey in their perspective countries. Their prime objective is to promote and develop hockey at all levels in order to maintain an Olympic presence. They are one of five continental federations affiliated with the FIH.

Women Hockey

The women’s game developed a little after the men’s – probably deemed unladylike behaviour at the time – which may explain why the several stabs at organising it failed. The IFWHA was established in 1927, but it wasn’t until 1974 when the FIH introduced competitive tournaments that the IFWHA conceded and agreed to play competitive hockey. After a great deal of hot air, the IFWHA was absorbed by the FIH in 1982, which consequently allowed women’s hockey into the Olympic competition.

It’s goodbye to grass-playing surfaces and hello to synthetic pitches. These surfaces were introduced during the latter part of the seventies and are now mandatory for all international tournaments. The immediate effect was a faster flowing game. The new surface enabled more players to master the Indian dribble. Although it sounds like something you do after a madras curry, it’s actually an historic technique developed by the Indian and Pakistani teams that subsequently changed the way hockey was played.

It was first seen at the 1956 Olympics and helped secure India the gold medal and Pakistan the silver. This intricate technique requires some hockey stick and ball wizardry which makes it very difficult to defend against. Astonishingly, India didn’t concede a single goal throughout the tournament. It wasn’t too long before the Germans cottoned on to the idea, and they subsequently incorporated it into their game. Effectively, mastering the Indian dribble, along with a little modification to the length of the hockey stick, ended the Asian dominance of field hockey.

Outdoor and Indoor Hockey

Traditionally, hockey is played out in the open air but when it’s a bit brass monkeys and frost bite isn’t an attractive proposition or it’s the off season, indoor hockey comes into its own. It’s virtually the same game miniaturised with the addition of side boards, which primarily keep the ball in play, but can also be played against as part of the game. Recognised as a variant of field hockey, it’s now governed by the FIH and EHF, and has been established as a separate entity under the field hockey umbrella, and the first world championship was held in 2003.

Most initiatives aren’t worth spouting off about, but the EHF should be wildly applauded – don’t go too mad – for its development programs. Ultimately, their aim is to share the knowhow of developing the sport, and promote a simple inclusive narrative for its growth. The creation of an educational launch pad is the prime objective, in particular for disadvantaged national associations that need a helping hand.

Twinning Program

The 2017 EHF summer camp held in Albena, Bulgaria is a perfect example of the EHF’s initiative schemes in action. Referred to as “Twinning”, the program principally brings together the biggest hockey clubs and the minnows. Consequently, this campaign brought together the Dutch Hockey club HC Athena from Amsterdam, and the Bulgarian Hockey Federation. A Bulgarian contingent of 3 coaches and 12 youngsters were invited to HC Athena’s training grounds for an exchange of ideas and coaching philosophies. Needless to say, the event – called “Friday focus Twinning” – was an inspiring 4-day experience for everybody concerned, and an endorsement of the EHF’s commitment to unity within the hockey family.

It was surely the best field hockey tournament to date, and the backdrop for the next season is set. The EHL has really delivered on its promise.