Lee Valley Lions fear closure after drop in numbers

Lee Valley Lions U12s

Lee Valley Lions U12s - Credit: Archant

January is a time when most of us feel the post-Christmas pinch – but Hackney-based ice hockey club Lee Valley Lions are feeling it more than most.

Lee Valley, who are based on Lea Bridge Road, have suffered a swift decline in participation numbers, a sad reality that has placed the future of the club in doubt.

Chairman Patrick Ayling believes the Lions are one of the cheapest clubs in the country, given that its coaches and team managers are all voluntary – but, with only 75 members currently registered to their various junior age groups and monthly and annual fees paid to the English Ice Hockey Association set to increase – he is under no illusion about the challenging 12 months that lie ahead.

“Historically the ethos of the club has been to encourage kids from less affluent backgrounds in the local area to take up the sport,” Ayling told the Gazette.

“The problem is that the very same people we traditionally target can’t afford what is perceived as an elite winter sport. The club has strived for the best part of 20 years to keep the fees low, which to some extent we have achieved.

“There are clubs around the country who charge £80 per child, and as a result they’ve got better facilities and can offer more.

“This season, there’s been a lot of movement of players and the problem we have with the EIHA is that we never know how many members we are going to get each year.

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“The second the team aren’t doing well, people start abandoning ship. More focused parents move their kids to clubs higher up the league. I’m sure these things are cyclical, but this season it’s left a real shortfall, and now we’re in danger of closing.”

The Lions play in the English South Division, with younger age groups competing in the respective junior leagues. While some clubs have the luxury of fielding two teams in each age category, Lee Valley have struggled to put out the ‘three lines’ necessary for one at times this season, with the Under-16s in particular going through difficult times.

The cost of travelling to away games as far afield as Cardiff and the Isle of Wight is only one of the obstacles facing the many regional ice hockey clubs.

Ayling added: “When I inherited the club, it seemed that we had a full quota of kids, and a lot of beginners coming in aged seven – which is a great age to start – but when we started this season, we found that many players were going to other clubs.”

A big recruitment drive is precisely what Ayling and the Lions crave at the start of the new year, with plans afoot to carry out 10-minute demonstrations of the sport at primary schools across the local area.

Lee Valley Lions currently have teams in Under-10, Under-12, Under-14, Under-16 and Under-18 age groups, after which point players are offered a trial with the senior team.

For more information on enrolling with the club, contact Patrick Ayling on 07831 664 387.

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