Surbiton men’s hockey team face title rivals Old Georgians on Sunday in a clash which could determine who leads the competition ahead of the winter break.
Having won their first seven matches, Surbiton have since come unstuck against fellow title rivals.
The reigning champions failed to capitalise on seven corners in their 2-1 defeat to Hampstead and Westminster before coming from 2-0 down against arch rivals Wimbledon to draw 2-2.
Head coach Mark Pearn, 44, is hopeful rather than expectant about this weekend’s match and for the season in general, which sees Surbiton have the opportunity to achieve a fourth Premier Division titles in five seasons.
“It’s a new group for us and obviously it takes time for the team to jell,” he said.
“Before this year, our target would always be to win the league but this season we haven’t got any expectations, we just want to be in and amongst it by Christmas.
“Old Georgians have brought a lot of international players to jump start their club and break into the top four permanently.
“They have the former Great Britain goalkeeper and if he gets on a good run of form, it’s going to be difficult to score, so it’s going to be a tight game.
“We’ve been at the top a little while now and because of our success the opposition have that extra fire and desire to beat us.
“It’s a nice situation to have.”
Before his switch to coaching, Pearn played at the highest level with 246 international matches and 74 goals for England and Great Britain.
Pearn said: “Playing for Team GB at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 was probably the highlight of my international career.
“The first match of the tournament was also my 100th international cap and I scored quite early on.
“I think I lost my mind for a minute or so, that was a brilliant moment.
“I still get a buzz with coaching but it’s more about the long-term objectives.
“I don’t get the same highs and lows as the players do, for me it’s more about achieving over a longer period of time.
“It’s great to still work at the top of the game and it’s a privilege seeing some of the young stars coming through at Surbiton.”
Among the young players Pearn has helped develop is Zach Wallace, who made his senior international debut aged 19 for Great Britain and has since gone on to play hockey for Holland based side HGC.
“Surbiton had earmarked him for success before I joined in 2016 but it was really fulfilling to help him make the next step,” he added.
“I feel proud that 30 Surbiton Colts players have featured for the first team in the past five years.”
However, the overall health of hockey is poor with the number of adults participating in hockey more than halving since 2016.
The covid-19 pandemic exacerbated that trend.
Pearn said: “It’s noticeable that players haven’t returned since the pandemic, other clubs have failed to fill teams and have adopted measures such as combining teams in order to fulfil their fixture obligations.
“At Surbiton, we seem to be quite robust, we’ve done our best to get the casual hockey player playing through our social hockey initiative and we’re lucky to have supportive members.
“Financially we’re in a strong position and the club’s master plan for rebuilding our facilities by 2024 are still on track.”
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