Hockey legend charges forward at Durham
After nearly 30 years away, in 2003, Gavin Featherstone, alumnus and former England National Hockey captain returned to Durham as Senior Coach of the Durham University Hockey Club.
Whilst studying at Durham in the 1970s, Gavin captained the 1st XI Men's Hockey Club, became President of the Durham University Athletic Union (an experience Gavin deems as the most valuable he gained at university, irrespective of hockey or academia) and played hockey for the British Universities Team.
"I would have liked to play other sports too but I had to get a degree", Gavin laughs.
Gavin left Durham to play for England where he was team captain at all levels before moving into coaching.
When he returned as Senior Coach in 2004, Gavin set a target that within four years he would get both the men's and the women's teams into the National League and that the teams would win some British University titles. Though many were sceptical of such ambitions, Gavin remained confident, and rightly so.
"It was like trying to awaken a sleeping giant. The club was very sociable but needed to reach a certain level of achievement. Our hockey players take their chosen sport seriously with a view to achieving national status."
In Gavin's first two years as Senior Coach he raised the standard of the women's team to national level, and over the last two years the men had to aspire to joining them in the National Hockey League, an aspiration that was achieved at the end of the 2007/08 season. This remarkable achievement can be attributed to the investment of time, energy and money in the past few years.
As a consequence of the great success of the teams, individuals are now prospering and gaining more recognition themselves. Prior to his return to Durham in 2004, Gavin was the last Durham student to play for the England team, some 30 years ago but now there are five players from Durham University Hockey Club who are in the England or Scotland Under 21s.
Gavin is convinced that Durham's hockey players can attain the next level to become firmly ranked alongside Loughborough and Birmingham as the three major university powers in hockey. In fact in October this year Durham visited Loughborough in the BUCS competition to win 2-1 against a Loughborough team which contained twelve England U21 world cup players. However, as an institution Durham receives only a fraction of the government funding for sport than the other two, and therefore the club's achievements are all the more remarkable and its targets all the more challenging.
The Senior Coach's project for the next four years is to sustain the progress and continue to win national titles in university hockey. However, the world doesn't stand still and Durham University Hockey Club faces huge challenges to stay at its current level, let alone to progress higher. If the Club does reach a higher ranking it will be a great achievement and Gavin for one is looking forward to the challenge.
Durham University Hockey Club facts
> Durham is one of just three universities in the country to have a male and female team play in the elite of British hockey in the National Hockey League
> The Club's facilities include two highspec surfaces, one an Olympic level nylon waterfilled pitch, the other a sand dressed pitch with an adjoining training track.
> The University runs one of England's most successful hockey summer school.
Gavin Featherstone has coached England men's and women's U21s to World Cup level and has taken the USA and South Africa men's teams to the Olympics in 1984 and 1996 respectively.
Gavin studied for an Arts Combined degree from 1972–1975.