Not so jolly hockey sticks as historic league folds

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FOR previous generations of schoolgirls, hockey sticks – along with gym knickers and pleated skirts – were the staples of any winter games lesson.

But, over the years, the popularity of traditional sports such as lacrosse and hockey has waned as girls have become more likely to be enticed by aerobics, trampolining or even Pilates.

As a result, after a 100-year proud history, the Sheffield and District Women’s Hockey Association has been forced to wind up its affairs owing to a lack of interest and held its last-ever annual meeting earlier this week.

It’s a sign of the changing times for the once-popular league, which had 50 teams playing across five divisions in the 1930s and won the Yorkshire county championships three years in a row in the 1980s.

But, 30 years later, the popularity of the hockey association has dwindled to such an extent that, at its close, there were just eight clubs still competing.

Jan Taylor, who has been league treasurer since 1985, said it was the “end of an era.”

The former chemistry teacher, 60, added: “It’s a shame, because we’re losing a piece of history.

“The curriculum in schools has changed such that girls don’t just do either netball or hockey as they used to.

“Hockey just isn’t as high-profile as it once was.

“For example, my Pilates teacher tells me that she’s doing six-week sessions in schools now, teaching Pilates.

“Unfortunately, since schools are not playing as much hockey as they used to, recruitment of new players has been difficult in the last few years.”

The Sheffield and District Women’s Hockey Association was founded from “lowly beginnings” in 1919, when 10 hockey teams met in the corner of the hockey pitch at High Storrs Grammar School in Bents Green, Sheffield and decided to begin competing against each other.

“Our association was always quite working-class”, Ms Taylor said.

“The other associations tended to have clubs with their own private premises, clubs with more money.

“There’s always been that difference with us.”

She added: “When the league first started, founder member Doris Heath called a meeting of hockey enthusiasts to discuss the setting up of a league who would play home and away games, and compete for the title of league champions.

“From that meeting, the Sheffield and District Women’s Hockey Association was formed.”

Teams continued to affiliate to the league until, before the Second World War, there were 50 teams comprising five different divisions.

The Sheffield and District Women’s Hockey Association was eventually granted county status by the All England Women’s Hockey Association and, over the decades, it has produced several star players.

These include current association president Lynn Robinson, who coached the England under-21s team in the 1980s, and Val Hallam, who played in goal for the England hockey team during the same era.

“A few players have been with us for 20 or even 30 years”, Ms Taylor, from Crosspool in Sheffield, said. “They’re very sorry that it’s folding.”

The 10 teams which remained in the league at its close will now join the Yorkshire Hockey Association.

These clubs are based all over South Yorkshire – from the Grasshoppers club at Mount St Mary’s school in Spinkhill to clubs in Epworth, Barnsley, Rotherham, Dronfield and the Don Valley.

All of the documentation held by the hockey association will now go into storage in the Sheffield Archives, in Shoreham Street.

These include minutes from meetings dating back to the 1970s, although all earlier records appear to have been lost.

Ms Taylor said: “If anybody out there knows where any of our early records, prior to the late 1970s, have gone, it would be brilliant if they could get in touch and let us know.”

Meanwhile, members are also in talks with Sheffield Museums, in the hope that they will agree to store the cups which represent several years of women’s sporting history.

Sheffield Museums manages galleries including the Millennium Galleries and Weston Park Museum.

Pete Evans, Sheffield Council’s archives and local studies manager, said he was “very keen” to accept the paper records for permanent storage in the archives.

He added: “They will reflect an important part of the city’s sporting heritage.

“By placing the papers with Sheffield Archives they will be secured for current and future generations of researchers.”