Monday, 29 October 2012

KHC Dragons 2 v 1 Saint Germain HC

Friday 26th October 2012
Euro Hockey League Round One Group B
East Grinstead Sports Club, East Grinstead
Admission: €14.70
Programme: £5.00
Attendance; 1000 (estimate)

Having watched – and thoroughly enjoyed – two games of hockey at the London 2012 Olympics in the summer, I was very interested to go and watch hockey’s version of football’s Champions League being played over three days in East Grinstead. It would also be of interest to me as the hockey action I watched in the summer was the women’s version, whereas the Euro Hockey League action would be a men’s tournament.

This event was being held at East Grinstead Sports Club, the first time that any stage of the Euro Hockey League would be hosted in England. The ground is located about a half hour walk southwest from East Grinstead train station, with the waterbased artificial hockey pitch in the middle of various sports pitches. Spectators were guided from one corner of the pitch down one length, where a large uncovered temporary stand was placed on top of the three rows of uncovered seating that spectators usually make use of. Spectators were not allowed anywhere else around the pitch, but the venue was pleasant, nestled in amongst trees in a very rural and peaceful location. To cater for the much higher number of spectators than usual for this event, a large sports hall close to the pitch was open with a bar and various stalls, and outside were various refreshment tents. Tickets could be purchased at a reduced rate online – although payment had to be made in Euros – although as it turned out, I need not have bothered purchasing a ticket, as my ticket was not checked all day. Programmes were available at an expensive £5.00, although it was an excellent, informative publication of 48 pages.

The initial stage of the Euro Hockey League is hosted at two venues, with 24 teams divided into eight groups, half had already played out a tournament in Barcelona, the other half at East Grinstead. To qualify for the next stage of the competition, teams must finish in the top two of the three team group, with games being played between Friday and Sunday.

Although my ticket covered all four games to be played on the Friday, I decided to miss the first one with a 9.30 start, and arrived about an hour before the start of the second game, with Belgium’s KHC Dragons playing France’s St Germain HC. St Germain finished as runners up in the French league, but had not qualified for the two EHL tournaments. The KHC Dragons were runners up in the Belgian League but have qualified for the last three EHL tournaments, and claimed the bronze medal in last year’s tournament, the first Belgian side to claim a medal in the EHL.

On a cold day with intermittent light showers making conditions feel even colder, it was the French side who took the lead on 8 minutes, when a long ball played forward was not cut out, finally reaching Jean-Baptiste Pauchet on the touchline, who had plenty of time to get into a good position before firing past the keeper. However, the Dragons were back on level terms inside the first quarter, when they were awarded a penalty corner on 16 minutes, and the ball was duly smashed home by Loick Luypaert. The game became something of a stalemate during the second quarter, and so the scoreline remained 1-1 at half time.

Still the match remained a tight affair throughout the third quarter, but midway through the final quarter, on 58 minutes, the Dragons took the lead with a simple goal from close range by Jeffrey Thys. They held out fairly comfortably to claim a narrow victory, although Saint Germain also claimed a bonus point for not losing by more than two goals..

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