Blackpool Hockey Festival – one of the Europe’s biggest, boldest and oldest hockey events – heads back to Blackpool for the 67th annual five-day celebration of the world’s second most popular participation sport, field hockey.
Thirty one teams, including local sides, and 600 participants from across the UK & further afield, see the traditional Easter hockey festival, which runs from Good Friday through to Easter Monday, as the bully-off to the international touring season.
There is no men’s or ladies’ section this year and the festival is likely to become a fully mixed festival from next year. The format is 11 a-side on a full pitch with each team playing 15-minute games over the first three days, with the introduction this year of quarter finals so any of the top eight teams can actually go on to win the festival on Easter Monday.
The playing facilities comprise 2 sand-dressed artificial pitches in Stanley Park and 2 grass pitches at Blackpool Cricket Club.
As well as thrashing the opposition the emphasis is on having fun – and fundraising for Blackpool Carers Centre, which supports the festival with volunteers.
This year the prestigious President’s Dinner will be held at the charity’s HQ Beaverbrooks House, on Newton Drive, on Wednesday 28 March.
The event gives the festival president George Robson the chance to thank key local figures who make the festival a success. The formal dinner also features speeches and the presentation of awards such as the Centenary Trophy to an individual or group that has given sustained help to Blackpool Hockey Festival.
The festival usually attracts around 1000 visitors including players, umpires, committee members, spectators, supporters and others, and adds up to a substantial early season boost for resort coffers.
It also boasts its own ‘Barquee’, a hockey player only venue, with Bierkeller style seating, sound and lighting, hosting social events opening with the pre-festival session on Thursday (March 29).
The festival was held for the first time in March 1952 after Lancashire county goalie George Greaves, a Warrington bank manager, suggested Stanley Park as the perfect place for a hockey festival because of the number of grass pitches.
For the first five years no games were permitted on the Sunday, Easter Day. In 1956 Blackpool Council permitted one game only – an elite clash between the Festival Select and the County Select. Full Sunday fixtures were introduced in 1968. Clubs and touring squads have returned year after year. This year they come from as far as Germany.
Festival secretary David Gee, who lives locally, says it’s a huge event and generates a lot of revenue for the local economy.
“There couldn’t be a better place than Blackpool when you look at the facilities.
“With 31 teams and over 600 participants, umpires and committee this is sure to be a brilliant Festival with several brand new teams attending. We welcome back The Boozarinas from Germany after they had such an amazing time last year. We also welcome teams from the Isle of Man, Scotland and Northern Ireland – just the Welsh to come now!”