History by Glenn Paton
History of Livingston & West Lothian Hockey Club
The creation of this club in 1991 is a story of a merger of a ladies’ hockey club with a long history of playing the sport in and around West Lothian and a relatively recent men’s club which evolved in the new town of Livingston through a series of ‘accidents’ and fortunate ‘social links’.
West Lothian Ladies Hockey Club had been playing hockey on and off for over 70 years. The team grew and shrunk at various times in its history, as most sports clubs do, and was going through a longer than usual shrinking period when the decision was made to merge with Livingston Men’s Hockey Club. This decision was not easy for the Ladies and there were some very heated discussions at the time as the Ladies wrestled with the changes the merger would bring, including the loss of some important and well-loved traditions which were very dear to the longest serving club members.
While the history of the Ladies team had followed a fairly normal and predictable developmental pattern, the creation of the Men’s team was the result of rather comical accidents and good fortune. Glenn Paton had been playing National League 1 hockey with an Edinburgh club for a couple of years while coaching a good number of keen youngsters at the now, sadly, non-existent Craigshill High School. The youngsters had been enthused by one of their teachers and Glenn was asked to take over after a meeting with Head Teacher colleagues. Playing only indoor for a couple of hours every Wednesday evening in the school hall, dozens of teenagers developed very good technical skills, with absolutely no ‘real’ match skills.
In 1985, Glenn approached Edinburgh clubs to allow these kids to join their clubs but they were reluctant because transport to and from Livingston would be a managerial nightmare for them. Disappointed with this negativity, Glenn decided to hold a meeting with the kids and their parents at the Craigshill Sports Centre. The positivity of both kids and parents convinced Glenn to ‘retire’ from National League and form Livingston Hockey Club. He was then 32 years old and all the kids were around 14. There weren’t enough girls to form a ladies team and so he had to concentrate on the boys, although he continued to coach both at Craigshill. For Glenn it was an experience which would change his whole understanding of the nature of hockey. He went from only having to look after his own needs to that of 15 youngsters and running a club with no financial resources.
Bright tangerine was chosen as the club colour since no other Scottish club wore anything close to that colour. This avoided having to purchase a second strip. The hire of a cheap minibus was secured to enable the transportation of the team since Glenn was the only one old enough to drive.
The team started in East League V and ended up bottom in the first season with a huge ‘For’ and ‘Against’ goal total. No team had scored so many goals without winning very many matches – the lack of experience and match practice contributed to this. Thankfully, in the following seasons, the high skill levels of the youngsters combined with experience lead to promotion each year to East league II. However, Glenn knew that this wasn’t enough for further progression and looked around for experienced help. The first bit of fortune was that Brian Edwards, an ex-international and Broxburn player was a work colleague of one of the youngster’s fathers and was persuaded to join the club. Apart from helping enormously on the field of play, he soon brought other ex-international and Broxburn players to the club.
The merger brought economies of scale for both clubs as well as organisational issues as the leaders of the ‘new’ club battled with the required changes of organisation and managerial approach to running the club. The men’s team were in a period of growth and having only been in existence for 6 years, had few emotional attachments to the idea of holding onto tradition. The energy of the youngsters and the experience of the more mature club members helped drive development onwards and upwards.
Regular training, good coaching, mixed hockey, several hockey tours of the Netherlands and success on the field and highly entertaining social evenings led to the development of a good club spirit, and the expansion of both sections. The Club hosted a 4 Nations Youth Championship in partnership with Livingston Football Club and the Scottish Indoor Cup competition. There was a time during which no team wanted to play against strong and skilful Livi teams.
The men’s team gained promotion to the top league and went onto compete well in the new Central Leagues, won the Scottish Cup and reached the play-offs for entry to Scottish National Indoor League I. The first and only time a team from outside the outdoor national leagues had achieved such a distinction. Two youngsters were selected for the Scottish U-16 team and the Men’s 2nd XI developed. The Ladies expanded to two teams and the 1st XI worked their way up the leagues and won the Scottish Plate.
The Men’s teams have taken a downward turn in numbers and performance in the last few years as the team aged, youngsters went to university or to find work elsewhere. A democratic decision not to enter the National Leagues made it difficult to attract and keep quality players and now there is only one team which had to rebuild by entering the lowest division of the East Leagues. For Glenn that is a case of ‘deja vous’!
The club has continued to develop its youth policy with regular coaching and tournaments. This has been its life line but, unfortunately, more girls than boys participate. While this is good news for the Ladies, the Men have to work hard to maintain numbers. Preparing for the moving on of the present crop of excellent youngsters in a couple of years is the Men’s next big hurdle. The Ladies are working hard to bring through youngsters from the Ladies 2nd XI as they face the same issues which have affected the men so detrimentally.
The supportive approach to club development has created a positive ethos which encourages hockey from 7 years to the grave. Glenn became President of the International Masters Hockey Association and has played over 80 times for Scotland at Masters level. Brian Edwards and Alan Kerr have followed in his footpath and equally enjoyed tournaments all over the world. All three have won Bronze World Cup medals representing their country and look forward to increasing their number of caps at the 2018 World Cups. The Ladies have not been slow in this regard either with Trisha Main and Patsy Gallagher also representing Scotland in a Scottish Women’s Masters team with more caps on the horizon.
For a small provincial club, Livingston has done very well in supporting our national hockey teams. There have been good and bad years but thanks to the hard work and dedication of a few, optimistic and very energetic individuals on the Club Committee, the Club has and will continue to survive and re-develop over and over again.