Southgate People – Neil Prior

Neil Prior is a familiar face to many of us at the club. Our Treasurer and Mens Chair of Selectors- Neil does a mammoth job in keeping the club running smoothly and all of us playing. This weeks interview takes us back to Neil’s playing days at Spencer and Bromley before the move north to the river to his hockey home at Southgate. We delve into details for the greater London league and his hopes and ambitions for the club as we move into next season and beyond.

Neil can you take us back to what led you to join Southgate and your early impressions of the club?

I have always been a hockey player and come from a hockey-playing family. I played with my father as a young teenager for Spencer, then when I was a young adult I joined Bromley (before it merged with Beckenham) and played there for 16 seasons. When I started a family I took a break for a few years and moved to North London. My two children (Imo and Oscar) started playing hockey at school and were mad-keen, so I (naturally) encouraged them and took them up to our local club – which from my playing days I knew to be Southgate – on a Sunday morning to see what-was-what. The place had a real buzz about it, just being at the side of the pitch and seeing the fabulous facilities at Southgate re-sparked my desire to play again. So,  I started with Pistons in the Summer (2010 I think) and this was quickly followed by playing for the Flagons the following season. 

As well as being Club Treasurer you are also Mens Chair of Selectors. Can you tell us a bit more about the art of selection and what the challenges are as you approach the task over a season.

I like that you call selection an “art” as it does sometimes feel that it is. In simple terms get to know the players, the opposition, the level of hockey being played, the ambitions of the teams and individuals. For away games, when you are struggling for players, knowing where members live and what their time pressures are that day also helps! I have found that playing alongside, umpiring games and watching plenty of matches has given me a pretty good insight into being able to assist the Captains into selecting the most suitable set of players available.

As Treasurer you have over the last 12 months guided the club through a tricky period of closure due to Covid how much has the pandemic impacted on club finances?

Thanks, but I wouldn’t say I have done much guiding. These are tough times and many members’ financial situation has been badly impacted. Despite this, those that have been able to, have been very patient with the Club as regards “value-for-Subs” and not demanded refunds due to the lockdown, recognising that in order for the Club to continue to thrive and offer the facilities that we have all before accustomed to, the funds need to be there in the long term. I am happy to say that thanks to our supportive membership our club finances has not been adversely affected due to the pandemic.

Now looking forwards what are your ambitions for the club moving into next season and beyond?

Next season will be exciting as there is a countrywide League Restructure taking that will herald a new era for club hockey in this country. Outside of the existing National League structure (applicable to our M1s and L1s) all adult teams will part of the redrawing of the league structure and a new Greater London League is being created. The major landmark of this will be that, for the first time, the London based clubs will be able to feed into the National League without having to move to a regional league (as was the case for our M2s who have played the past two seasons in the South League). The Greater London League will be a region in its own right. For all teams the new league will be a good thing as one of the goals of the new structure is for travel times to away games to be reduced as much as possible without compromising the standard of hockey being played.

Recognising (on the Men’s side) that our foray into entering a few teams into the East League was good for our membership, we will still be maintaining a presence of teams in the East League in addition to making a big commitment of teams – Men’s and Ladies – to the new Greater London League.

Settling into the new structure will not be without its challenges but I believe that our various teams are going to be well placed and spaced to allow for player growth, better hockey to be played and for our facilities to attract more new members.

Immediate ambitions for the Men (as the Men’s CoS) will be for the M1s to be promoted to the Premier division, the M2s to be promoted to the National League Conference and to all subsequent to be challenging for promotion from their respective divisions. Is that too much to ask!?

Away from hockey you also have a full time job, can you tell us a bit more about life for you away from the club and how on earth you find time to juggle any other hobbies around 2 jobs for SHC and your full time one!?

First, it needs to be acknowledged that I have a very supportive and understanding wife (Jane). Secondly, I am not a very good sleeper, so find myself doing emails and spreadsheets at all hours – work and hockey. That said, yes, the juggling act with my full time (paid) job can be a challenge particularly since I started a new one 18 months ago and I now have a boss!

In terms of hobbies – I play a bit of golf with Oscar, I am enjoying family walks during lockdown, I have a passion for classic cars and when, we are allowed to travel, I like lying on the beach and swimming in the sea (but so much the cold stuff that Neil Murphy talked about in the Newsletter a few weeks ago!).

Finally I know you’ve had some bad luck with injuries for the past few years which must have been hugely frustrating- do you have hopes you’ll be turning out in red and black colours before too long?

My injury woes could fill a whole separate section! I’m afraid it is a little more than bad luck – my last injury (during a pre-season friendly in September) landed me in hospital for five days and was a very concerning development in complex injury history. Suffice it to say, it is officially Doctor’s Orders that I am unable to play and so I will have to make do, much to my eternal regret, with sticking to umpiring and admin in my hockey life.