• England Hockey Leagues

Oxted looking to keep top six destiny in their own hands

Oxted may not be a star-studded squad but are on the cusp of top six place in the Men’s Premier Division, writes Rod Gilmour of The Hockey Paper.

As Oxted settled into their new home at Caterham School this season, one passage of play won’t be lived down for one team-mate, who 'pushed an acorn instead of a hockey ball' during the opening match of the Men’s Premier Division.

The player will remain nameless here, just like many of Oxted’s players may be to the wider hockey community. Yet, that’s just how the Surrey side like it since they were promoted for the first time after a 23-year journey to reach the Premier Division.

Oxted are in control of their top six destiny. They hold sixth place knowing that two wins from their remaining matches - starting with Saturday’s trip to Hampstead & Westminster - will secure a top berth in Phase 2 when the top flight resumes in February.

“Having no senior international players, I’m not sure many in English hockey could name any of our players, which isn’t a bad thing as we aren’t that high profile,” says Owen Williamson, Oxted’s 23-year-old full back. “But that’s what motivates us week in, week out. Especially up against the big teams where squads are stacked with star players, with a lot of quality."

Williamson, who started out at Reading HC, said the Oxted ‘sales pitch’ when he moved on from Loughborough University was that the Surrey outfit was primarily a family club. “Since they have moved to the Premier Division they have always had this feeling of being massive underdogs in the league,” he adds. 

Oxted are looking to make the top six after a fine start to the season. Image by Debbie Christopher

This season Oxted moved to Caterham School - where GB captain Zach Wallace is a former pupil - with a similar set up from where they had risen through the leagues. Like all his team-mates, Williamson works full-time (at a media agency) which, he admits, makes life tough during the week for Tuesday and Thursday training.

“The goal from when we first moved up was to stay in the league,” says the defender. “This season we have tried to turn that hope into an expectation in terms of the top six. Our coaching staff have tried to shift in that direction, introducing GPS and a full-time physio and becoming more professional.”

Oxted coach Nick Giles says Williamson is pivotal at the back. "He plays at a high-level standard every weekend. He’s calm under pressure, comfortable when we are pressed and is a coach’s dream," admits Giles.

“We are pretty good at working out from the back. The big thing we have is the belief that we are able to compete. We won’t just sit back and defend for the whole game and close ourselves off. We are going to have a go at teams. Owen gets what the club is exactly about and throws himself into everything we want to be.” 

Williamson admits that former captain Mark Galloway, a centre midfielder, has left a legacy for the club before retiring at the end of the season and says ‘extremely personable’ current skipper Jamie Batten has carried that on.

“Mark had been playing for years in the National League and I think he decided it was his time,” says Williamson. “He has left a fantastic blueprint for how to balance work, social life and hockey. He was a brilliant captain when he was here, really dedicated and always there to put an arm around you and have a chat about anything.”

The defender’s journey has taken in Reading, Surbiton juniors (where he attended Kingston Grammar School) and playing at Teddington for one season. “Surbiton was a stacked squad and instead of getting the odd game, moving to Teddington was a special experience and I was the youngest guy as well,” he recalls.

Matt Daly was his player-coach at the club. “He was a great help,” continues Williamson, “as a young player joining a men’s team, it can be a weird transition but he was amazing at integrating me into the squad. I was the youngest by three or four years and he made sure I got to know the guys there and I owe him a lot.”

Oxted are enjoying the Men's Premier Division after a 23-year wait. Images by Debbie Christopher

Last season, Oxted missed out on the final day to East Grinstead for a place in the top split league, with the clubs playing each other again on the final weekend.

“The structure is way better than last year,” admits coach Giles, head of hockey at Trinity College, Croydon. “There was a split and you didn’t have much to play for after Christmas. That was a little bit frustrating as we weren’t really in danger of being relegated.”

Starting the season with six injuries, Oxted have found their stride, with two wins in their last four and Williamson scoring a double in a 4-3 win over Holcombe last weekend.

“It’s going to be pretty tight going into these last few games,” says Giles. “If the teams below have one win then it could become quite level. It could be really interesting going into the last game before Christmas."

Saturday: Hampstead & Westminster v Oxted, 6pm