Hockey: How Chichester’s national-league dream was realised

Jason Collins played a key role as player and coach   Picture by David Edmund-Jones
Jason Collins played a key role as player and coach Picture by David Edmund-Jones

The 2013/14 season was year two of a two-year plan for Chichester’s men’s first team to gain promotion into the National League by winning the South Premier division-one title. Here is how they achieved their dream...

BEFORE Chichester’s season began, the team saw a lot of changes. Captain Richard Blakesley moved back to his home town Horsham and passed the reins over to Jack Lerwill.

Martin Gough and Connor McLoughlin moved to Havant, Alex Baxter to Fareham and Alex Holton went off to university.

Chichester welcomed back Matt Cox from East Grinstead to help bolster the gap left by the departure of Blakesley, while Tom Phillips joined the club after finishing university in Sheffield and Ollie Baxter joined from Lewes while attending the University of Chichester.

All the chopping and changing was not ideal going into year two; however, after a successful season and with new players settling in, Chichester were showing encouraging signs of mounting a serious challenge.

Even with the two additions Chichester were low on squad numbers and this showed in the first half of the season with the first team only managing to take 12 to each game, whereas opponents had full squads of at least 14.

Chichester started the season with a strong performance away to Sussex rivals Eastbourne for a 7-1 victory, but came back down to earth with a bump losing to fellow title contenders Spencer 3-2 at home.

This was a setback, but Chichester knew they’d had the beating of their opposition were it not for an injury to Alex Thakore in the centre of midfield within the opening ten minutes which saw Chichester having to play with no substitutes for the remainder of the game.

Chichester’s next big test was against ex-National League side Sevenoaks, who also set their targets on winning the league.

In a hard-fought game which ended 3-3, it was probably Chichester who were the happier of the two teams with a yet-again-depleted squad coming back from 3-2 down to grab a late equaliser from Ollie Baxter.

Chichester won the next five on the bounce but a 2-1 loss at Oxford University was a big blow and saw them drop six points behind league leaders Spencer, which is how it stayed at Christmas - the halfway point.

Newcomer Ollie Baxter was becoming a key man in the Chichester team, his eye for goal and clinical finishing proving a hit and seeing him score 12 goals in his first 11 games and become the top goalscorer in the league by Christmas.

Important goals from Matt Cox, nine in 11 games, meant he was living up to the anticipation surrounding his return to the club.

The defence of Dan Godsmark in goal, Dan Brook, Kieran Henn and Luke Matthews were becoming a strong unit and had let in the fewest number of goals come Christmas. Brook, who had been in and out of the Chichester team last year, was proving a real hit in the right-back position and had developed massively.

After Christmas, Chichester needed to hit the ground running as they visited their two main rivals, Spencer and Sevenoaks, within their opening four games of 2014.

Chichester swept aside Eastbourne before travelling to Spencer, where Chichester had not won here for a number of years - but things were about to change. The score was 1-1 until Bejay Ranger stepped up and fired Chichester to a 2-1 victory with a thunderbolt of a reverse-stick shot.

The gap was closing and with results going there way in the next game, Chichester visited Sevenoaks and knew a victory would give them some daylight at the top of the table.

The game swung in both directions, but key goals from Baxter, Thakore, Andy Sparshott and Lerwill saw Chichester come out as eventual 4-3 winners in what was arguably the game of the season.

This victory saw Chichester go top, but with this came increased pressure. The experience of player-coach Jason Collins was rubbing off on his fellow players and some great team performances saw Chichester notch ten wins in a row, which almost saw them over the line.

Chichesters goal difference was fantastic, and having scored the most goals and conceded the fewest, they knew one win in their final three games would seal the title.

Chichester travelled to Old Georgians next and slipped up. With four Chichester old boys in their ranks, OGs had a game plan and it paid off as they won 2-1. This was probably the wake-up call Chichester needed going into their final two games.

They sealed their promotion to the National League - and South Premier division-one title - with a 5-2 victory at home against Oxford University in front of a packed home support.

Captain Jack Lerwill said: “Full credit must go to the team - they have been outstanding and we have completed our two-year plan with a small but dedicated squad.

“A big thank-you must go to player-coach Jason Collins, who has kept the team focused. His ability and experience has rubbed off on the whole squad and this has seen us over the line.

“Manager Mark Pacey has had a huge effect on the team - his devotion and assistance in organising the team has enabled the players to focus on just playing.

“Finally the team owe a huge thank you to chairman Tom Proctor, assistant coach Rob Pyewell, club coach Andy Barnes, who has coached the majority of the squad since they were juniors, and all at Chichester Hockey Club for their encouragement and assistance. Here’s to next season!”