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Plymouth Marjons flying high in Men’s Conference West

Photograph: Plymouth Marjons Men's 1s team shot by Matt Puttock

Rod Gilmour of The Hockey Paper speaks to Plymouth Marjon, who are flying high in Men’s Conference West 

“We are a solid squad of 13, but 13 good friends working together trying to make ends meet,” says captain Matt Puttock. “We love our away days, four hours to Havant, Fareham, Chichester. It’s the joys of being down at Plymouth.”

Marjon, third in England Hockey Conference West, will be on the road again this weekend when four cars make the eight-hour round trip to table-toppers Havant following a 2-2 draw at home in the first half of the season.

It’s been some season for the Plymouth side. Puttock is also player-coach since Christmas, while they head back to Hampshire after starting February with a 4-0 win at Fareham. “We are doing well this season and beyond expectations after last season when we stayed up by the skin of our teeth,” said Puttock, a 27-year-old maths teacher. 

Puttock admits that Marjon were “the worst team in the National League”, having stayed up by virtue of being the best ninth-placed team. “Now we are at the heady heights of third in the table, we must be doing something right,” he added.

He can’t pinpoint the reason for the turnaround and upward trajectory this season, but suggested that they are still to find their form in their title pursuit of Havant. He added: “I don’t think we are playing any better, we are scoring a few goals and conceding less. We are a year more experienced too. When we first got to the National League we only had two players who had played there before.”

Puttock, whose partner is Marjon women’s 1s player Esme Ansley, Giselle’s sister, joined the club in 2014 when he moved to the university. Starting in the men’s 3s, he was originally a goalkeeper before moving outfield when he became a student.

Now he leads an increasingly tight defence marshalled by Ben Blundy, an England men’s over-35 Masters World Cup winner, who has kept several clean sheets of late and is, says Puttock, a “big influence” on the team. Up front, John Tew is approaching 10 goals for the season as a specialist at short corners, one of the team's strengths.

The club is missing the services of Jamie Oxley, now at Old Loughtonians, a club flagbearer over the years who was pivotal in raising funds for a second pitch at Plymouth Marjon Hockey Centre. “Trying to replace Jamie is a big thing for us,” said Puttock. “He was a coach, slash manager, junior secretary, club development officer, umpire. He is everything you need at a club, especially down here, who is willing to be a bit of a badger.”

Marjon started in 1993, back in the days when the university had a strong hockey side. The hockey scene in the city is now largely focused on Marjon and newly-formed side Ocean City HC, amalgamated from several men’s, women’s and junior clubs and which trains and plays at the same venue. “It’s difficult with pitches,” Puttock says of the accessibility. “I was club captain and involved in the finance side and our biggest expense is pitch hire and not having a clubhouse.”

With one side promoted to Division 1 next season, Puttock now hopes that squad ambition is matched should they win the title - despite the geography of the club.

He said: “If we went up we would likely play Bath and every other game heading to London. I’m not sure we could financially sustain playing in the league above, As much as we wanted to, it would be a massive stretch.

“I would love to achieve it and I would love to see that ambition, as I think it’s the only way to get more people involved in the club to a higher level, to get more crowds, sponsorship and visibility. 

It’s almost like we are spreading ourselves too thin, with three clubs down this way who are all doing pretty well and trying to sustain National League status. It’s about trying to make sure we are getting the best hockey we can down here."

Riding high alongside Havant, Chichester and Isca - four points separate the top four - Marjon are enjoying the season trip so far, a far cry from their usual uninspiring route along the A30 (without any services).

“It’s about getting everyone in the mindset,” concludes Puttock, “to get people understanding that we are a small club trying to do our best, making much of the advantage of teams travelling down to us and making a fortress of Plymouth Marjon.”

Saturday: Havant v Plymouth Marjon, 2pm