When you inevitably find yourself dragged into a conversation regarding the European championships in June, you would probably be forgiven for following a familiar rhetoric of the Three Lions bringing it home and that this time really ‘feeling different’. However at the start of the month, before England and Croatia locked horns at a vibrant Wembley stadium, a frantic 10 days in Amsterdam saw the best 8 male and best 8 female national teams compete for the EuroHockey Championships.
Based at the Wagener Stadium, home of Amsterdam HC, the competition saw up to 5 games a day played back to back in a festival of the sport, all of which was broadcast live on BT Sport. With 4 of the worlds’ top 6 nations competing on the Men’s side, including the reigning World Champions Belgium, the Men’s side promised intense battles throughout the competition. Equally so, 6 of the worlds’ top 9 female sides, including the World Number 1 Netherlands competing at home, presented a daunting prospect for any side with hopes of lifting the famous trophy.
The goals flowed throughout the tournament at a far higher rate than football’s equivalent staged later in the month, with over 200 goals scored in the 40 games across both Men’s (6.05 goals per game) and Women’s (4 goals per game) tournaments. Whilst restrictions on fan numbers left the stadium far emptier than it has been at previous editions of the tournament, those that did attend were treated to 40 high-octane and intense matches that were littered with skills and goals from some of the very best players in world hockey.
The History of the EuroHockey Nations Championships
The men’s competition, as it has done throughout its’ history, began with an ominous familiarity to it. In every edition of the competition since its’ inception in 1970, the winners have been Holland, Germany (previously West Germany) on all but four occasions. From those four occasions, Spain were crowned twice whilst Belgium came in as the reigning European and World Champions after their home victory in 2019. Only on the one occasion had England claimed victory in Europe and that had come on the very same ground 12 years ago.
Only one member of that victorious side remained a part of the squad that competed in Amstelveen; Captain Adam Dixon. Despite just two finals appearances in their history, England are perennial challengers for a medal in the men’s competition and were determined to recreate history once more.
For the women, there was a similar feeling of familiarity with Germany, Spain, Belgium and Holland perennially comprising of the top 4. The latter were looking to make it an astonishing 10th victory in 14 editions of the competition, completing a hat-trick of victories on home soil.
The last time they failed to win the European Championships came in a shootout against England in London; the hosts’ second European title that started the ball rolling towards their famous victory in similar circumstances in Rio a year later.
The 2021 EuroHockey Nations Championships
With the top 5 teams qualifying for the World Cup and the bottom two being relegated, every match carried significant importance. On the Men’s side, perennial challengers Holland and Germany shared the points in a thrilling 2-2 whilst England beat the World Champions Belgium in a closely contested 2-1 with the four powerhouses of European hockey sweeping the rest of the competition to progress to the semi-finals.
In the women’s competition, perennial champions and hosts the Netherlands announced their intentions with a commanding group stage, winning all three goals with an aggregate score of 21-1. Germany women topped their pool, also conceding just a single goal whilst 2015 European Champions England found themselves in the demotion group, competing to stay in the division and earn the final World Cup qualification spot, available with a fifth-placed finish.
As the competition reached its’ conclusion, a similar feel presented itself in the medal games. The Netherlands claimed the double with both Mens and Women’s teams claiming gold on home soil against German opposition. Belgium wrapped up two Bronze medals after their mens and women teams beat England and Spain respectively.
At the wrong end of the tables, Wales were relegated from the mens’ tournament in their first outing in the division alongside Russia whilst Scotland and Italy Women suffered the same fate.
Coverage of the EuroHockey Championships
Every game of the tournament was showcased through BT Sport with live commentary from Nick Irvine, Simon Mason and Todd Williams as well as reigning Olympic Champions Helen and Kate Richardson-Walsh. As a result, fans were left with comprehensive coverage of the very best players in the world such as Frederique Matla, Christopher Ruhr, Eva De Goede and Jeroen Hertzberger.
Hockey remains one of the most popular sports in the world and with Europe presenting the most densely-populated region of elite countries in world hockey, a fast-paced an exciting exhibition of some of the very best hockey in the world. An average of over 5 goals per game has well and truly planted the seed ahead of the greatest challenge of all; the Tokyo Olympic Games.
The Future of Hockey
The EuroHockey Championships has once again managed to cement itself as the dominant regional tournament in world hockey. Within this framework, the quality of facilities and passion of fans has once again showcased Holland as one of the very best countries in the world to play hockey. After the exciting scenes of 2019’s edition in Antwerp, Belgium, the passion and excitement surrounding elite hockey is clearly there for all to see. Whilst the Home Nations still clearly have some way to go to compete regularly with Europe and the Worlds’ elite, the gulf in class has been shown to be within touching distance for the majority.
For one of the most popular sports in the world, it therefore provides a substantial platform from which to grow still further and expand upon the support and infrastructure that is so evidently and readily available with the proper funding.