Five years ago, the village didn’t have a men’s hockey team to speak of, yet Cranleigh Men’s 1s have just recently clinched the Surrey Open Premier Division – a remarkable fifth league title in as many years. Despite the final two games of the season being cancelled, following England Hockey’s decision to abandon all play from March 14th, the League’s committee met at the end of April and decided to freeze the standings at that point, leaving Cranleigh in 1st place, 3 points clear of their closest rivals.
When the team was founded in 2015, Cranleigh began their competitive fixtures, by default, in the lowest tier; Surrey Open Division 5. For many of the team, the season represented a return to hockey after several years ‘on the bench’, but with plenty of experienced and skilful (albeit rusty!) players forming the backbone of the team, aided by a few youngsters boosting the team’s energy levels, Cranleigh strolled to the title, winning 15 of their 18 games, and ending their inaugural season with an impressive +78 goal difference! The following year saw a similar outcome, the Division 4 title being secured so nearly with an unbeaten season, snatched cruelly from their grasp in an agonising 4-5 defeat in the very last game. So commanding had many of the team’s performances been – winning several games by 7, 8 and even 9-goal margins – that the League took the unusual step of promoting Cranleigh two divisions, in the hope of providing them with stiffer and more appropriate competition.
12 months later, and Cranleigh were toasting yet another triumph. What should have been a season of much greater challenge saw a highly successful recruitment drive strengthen the team significantly. Not only did Cranleigh end up topping Division 2 by six points, winning 18 of their 22 games along the way, they also racked up a monstrous 116 goals in the process, often blowing opponents away by half-time with their rampant attacking play.
With promotion into Division 1 in 2018/19, came a noticeable shift in the standard of hockey being played. The team’s reputation was growing, and squad numbers increased as a result, allowing for a second team to be formed. Not only did the influx of new recruits help to bolster player numbers for both teams, but these new players also helped maintain a healthy competition for places in the 1s. On the pitch, Cranleigh were rarely challenged, except for some highly charged meetings with Surbiton 6s and also Croydon and Old Whitgiftian 3s, who both pushed Cranleigh hard all season. Come April, however, it was a familiar story, with Cranleigh 1s taking the title by five points and falling only 3 goals short of a second successive season scoring a century.
And so, to this year’s exploits, which most certainly saw the team’s abilities more stretched than ever before. Despite occasional difficulties with player availability, leaving the team playing more than one game without a full complement of 11, they overcame some incredibly good teams, pipping Leatherhead 1s to the Premier Division title. Whilst everyone would have much preferred to see the season through to its full conclusion, and had the chance to celebrate another successful year with a drink or two in the Horseshoes, the team met up recently on Zoom to receive their trophy, virtually, and announce player-of-the-year awards. It should also be noted that the 1s weren’t the only team raising a glass to a successful season – the 2s also secured promotion from Division 5!
With so many promotions racked up, you would be forgiven for thinking the club is all about winning. “That couldn’t be further from the truth,” explains Club Chairman, Sam Watkinson, himself a regular player. “We started out wanting to offer regular hockey to men in Cranleigh and local villages, inspired by the long-standing success of the Ladies teams. It was never our intention to form a promotion pushing team! Although we have some very good and competitive players, our success has come about because of our focus on the basics of wanting to get people into the club, trying to give everyone a game, and enjoying each other’s company and camaraderie on and off the pitch, whatever the result. It just so happens that, this far, results have mostly gone our way!”
So, “what comes next?” after you win the Premier Division, I hear you ask! Well, whilst being promoted into Surrey Division 3 may sound like a step down, it represents entry into the lowest division of a whole new tier of hockey, which will no doubt bring greater challenges and, who knows, perhaps even another title come next Spring. On the team’s recent run of form, it would be brave to bet against them continuing their meteoric rise! We hope the team is soon back on the pitch and wish them every success for the season ahead.
If you would like to join Cranleigh Hockey Club – as an eager beginner, a seasoned pro in their prime, or someone of maturity looking to dust off their stick after too many years away from the game – the club runs one Ladies’ team, and two Men’s teams and boasts the lowest registration fees in the Surrey Leagues, including generous discounts for students and under-25s. The season runs September to April, and training sessions are held each Wednesday at Cranleigh School AstroTurf – also where home matches are played on Saturdays. All abilities and ages are most welcome, and there’s no obligation to sign up – so why not join in a training session or two; we can even lend you a stick! If you’d like to come and see for yourself, visit our website http://cranleighhockey.com, or send an email to: