W1 Visit Reading On Saturday
By Colin Pike
Saturday sees the start of a brand new era for Surbiton Women when they visit Reading (push back 6 pm) on the opening day of the 2023-24 Vitality Women's Hockey League Premier Division season.
With legendary Head Coach Brett Garrard having taken up a new challenge by joining the Old Georgians Men's coaching team after guiding Surbiton Women to eight successive national league titles having started his tenure when the team were in South Clubs' Women's Hockey League Division One in 2009-10, Dave Beckett returns to Surbiton after coaching East Grinstead men after playing a part in Surbiton Men's success in recent seasons.
Reading Women also have a new coach with Rob Foxall-Smith aiming to build on the Berkshire club's progress in their first season back in the Premier Division, having won Division One South in 2021-22.
The meeting at Sonning Lane will be the third time the teams have met on the opening day of the season and the first time that Reading have hosted. Reading were Surbiton's first-ever opponents in the Premier Division in 2012-13, making an immediate impact when Sarah Page scored in the second minute. A second goal from Chloe Palmer and late goals from Natalie Maclean and Bethan Jenkins earned Surbiton a stunning 4-0 victory at Sugden Road and set them firmly on the way to a top four finish in their debut season.
The other opening day encounter ended in a goalless draw in September 2014, during a spell when Surbiton habitually started the season by drawing their first game.
Otherwise, Reading have historically struggled against Surbiton, only winning once in October 2013 when Alex Danson-Bennett and Rebecca Halle earned a 2-1 victory at Sugden Road.
Incredibly, Halle's goal is the last goal that Reading have scored against Surbiton in the Premier Division regular season, although Reading have since found the net in the end of season Championships. Dirkie Chamberlain scored Reading's consolation goal in a 4-1 semi-final defeat in 2014 at Sonning Lane and the following season, Helen and Kate Richardson-Walsh both scored in a thrilling 2-2 semi-final draw at Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre, only for Surbiton to prevail 4-2 in a shootout.
Surbiton have won their last four matches at Sonning Lane and would have won the very first meeting in Berkshire in February 2013, if Danson-Bennett hadn't snatched a late equaliser to earn a 1-1 draw after Vicky Bryant put Surbiton ahead.
Three of the last four victories have been by a 1-0 margin, with the other ending up 2-0 to Surbiton.
Last season, Surbiton won the only meeting 4-0 at Sugden Road, Giselle Ansley, Hannah Martin, Jess Dyson and Izzy Petter all on target.
Elsewhere on Saturday, East Grinstead, having ended Surbiton's run of championships last season, begin their defence at home to Bowdon, who return to the Premier Division after winning Division One North last season.
The other promoted team, Isca & University of Exeter, the Division One South champions, make their debut in the top flight by hosting Clifton Robinsons.
Hampstead & Westminster travel to the University of Birmingham and there is a Midlands University derby as the University of Nottingham welcome Loughborough Students to Nottingham Hockey Centre.
Beeston start their season at Wimbledon.