Pendle Forest all but assured of momentous promotion

Pendle Forest's Lisa Crewe
Pendle Forest's Lisa Crewe

Pendle Forest are effectively assured of promotion to the second tier of English hockey after the weekend’s results.

Forest will play in the Investec Women’s Hockey League Conference North, with their advantage over fifth place in the North Hockey Women’s League Premier Division unassailable with four games to play.

It is a third-successive promotion for the club, who have lost only one league game in that time, and Ian Bythell, whose wife Deb and daughters Olivia and Freya play for the side, admits it has been a remarkable rise.

He said: “It’s not officially confirmed just yet, but the top four are promoted, and after the way the results went on Saturday, if we lose all four of our remaining games, fifth place can’t catch us, so effectively we’ve secured promotion.

“That means we’ll be in the National League next season – which is like the Championship in football, so it’s the second tier of English hockey.

“We believe that makes us the highest amateur team to play sport in Pendle, which is a brilliant achievement.

“And it brings everything full circle – 20 years ago we drew 1-1 at Whitley Bay, which meant they were promoted to this level rather than us, so it’s been a long time in coming, but it’s an exciting time.”

Of that side, Deb Bythell and Jan Cormack, are still going strong, along with their daughters, while the club also boast a former England international in Charlotte Hartley – a Commonwealth Games bronze medalist no less.

Both Hartley and Lisa Crewe played for Bowdon Hightown in the national league, and Bythell – who fills a number of roles at the club, including club manager, head coach and photographer, added: “It’s a momentous occasion, we celebrated our 50th anniversary last year, and for a local club from Nelson to reach this level, 20 years after going close, means a lot.

“After missing out, we didn’t have the younger players coming through and went on a downward spiral, Lisa and Charlotte had to leave for bigger and better things, but over the last four or five years, we’ve had the younger players coming into the side, Olivia, Freya, Thea (Cormack), and had three back-to-back promotions.”

After each promotion, Forest had been looking to consolidate, but they have won the title each year, and Bythell sees no reason why the club can’t flourish at the higher level again: “We have always thought the next season would be tough after promotion, but you look at the team, and we have two 17-year-olds, two 21-year-olds, and they are only going to get better, and the three teams coming up with us are all currently below us in the league table, so you would like to think we will have a good chance of staying up.”

Currently in the Conference North are teams such as Loughborough Students, Leicester, Brooklands-Poynton, Belper, University of Durham, Ben Rhydding, Leeds, Fylde, Sutton Coldfield and Timperley, and Bythell can’t wait for the team to get their teeth into the new level: “You have to pinch yourself when you look at the teams we will be playing – wow!

“You look at where we’ve come from, a nomadic team from Nelson, and it’s been hard to attract players.

“In this area, Fylde have the fantastic facilities at the football club’s new ground at Mill Farm, and they have been a big pull for players in the area, but next season we will be playing against them!”

But there is still a job to do with four games remaining, starting tomorrow at Marsden Heights against Sheffield, and Bythell hopes the team can go up in style with another league title: “We have four games left, two at home and two away, and none of the fixtures will be easy.

“Just one slip could let Wakefield in, so the last few games could be nervy, but our goal difference could be important – we are currently 25 better, so three wins could be enough.”