Harleston Magpies’ chances of winning a third England Hockey Mixed Trophy title this weekend have been boosted by the return of former Great Britain star Tim Whiteman.
The 30-year-old, who racked up more than 50 combined caps for England and Great Britain, has recently returned to Norfolk to become a humanities teacher at North Walsham High School.
Now back in the area, the ex-Magpies player has been called up to the Magpies’ mixed team squad for the finals, and captain Leigh Sitch has revealed he will be playing for the club again next season.
“Tim is an ex-GB international and has moved back into the area,” Sitch said. “He brings a lot of experience.
“He played in our last game and it’s great to have him with the lot of us. He’ll be playing for us again in the men’s team next season.”
Magpies are bidding to complete a hat-trick of victories in the Mixed Trophy this weekend, having won the national competition twice previously in 2015 and 2004.
Sitch, who also captains the club’s men’s first team, hopes his side will have the edge during the two-day finals, which are being held at the Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre, in London.
Harleston take on London-based Spencer in the first semi-final tomorrow (1.30pm), with the winners then set to face either Midlands side Stourport or Warwickshire outfit Khalsa in the final on Sunday afternoon (4pm).
“We had our final training session on Tuesday night and everyone is feeling in an upbeat mood,” Sitch said.
“A lot of us have the experience of playing in the finals before, while the other teams who have qualified for the finals this year, I haven’t seen since I’ve been there the last four or five years.
“We’ll go there with confidence, but we’ll also go there knowing that anything can happen on the day.”
Last year, Magpies lost out in the semi-finals to Formby, who won a nervy contest 6-5 on penalties before being narrowly-beaten 4-3 by Banbury in the final.
This year’s Mixed Trophy is the 25th staging of the competition and featured more than 100 teams in action from the first round back in January.
Harleston’s route to the final began with a closely-fought 2-1 win away at Bedford, before more comprehensive victories followed over Bourne Deeping (6-0) and Letchworth (4-1).
A walkover against local rivals Dereham saw Magpies progress into the quarter-finals, where they thrashed Horsham 7-1 to book their place in the finals weekend for the fourth time in the last five years.
“It is a big competition for the club,” Sitch said. “Since we’ve started to do very well in it, we’ve seen a lot more people from the club wanting to participate in it.
“We’re a very good group of friends and we’ll go out and enjoy it.
“It would be a great achievement for the club if we could win it again. It would be the second time in three years and the third time overall that we would have won it, and it helps put the club on the map.”
Magpies make their return to finals weekend with 11 of last year’s squad, while, along with the return to the club of Whiteman, Katherine Ridley, Jess Howland, Lucy Belsey and Laura Tibbenham all come into the team.
Harleston Magpies squad (from): Leek (GK), L Sitch (c), Bedwell, Ka Ridley, Howland, T Ridley, Hipwell, Mickleburgh, Belsey, Larkin, Whiteman, Clymer, Andrews, Kinsella, Whiting, Tibbenham, Barber, K Sitch (coach), Ke Ridley (manager).