EHL Backstage: The two best known EHL Voices

TV Commentator Nick Irvine Talks with Stadium Announcer Howard Bentham.

Howard to Nick:

H: Is it true that you have seen and commentated on every EHL over the 10 years !
N: Yes, that’s absolutely right. It’s well over 300 games now and counting. Where have those first glorious ten years gone?

H: Why is the EHL so important to you and to hockey?
N: Well first and foremost hockey in Europe is a club based sport and the EHL is the pinnacle of club hockey. We often hear about ‘ grass roots ‘ being used to describe sports clubs but in hockey it runs deeper than that - I would say that our clubs are our bedrock. The EHL has been the sounding board for innovation and change and as such it has had a huge impact on the game worldwide with many EHL rules now embedded within the sport.

H: Why has the TV coverage been so good?
N: We have been really fortunate that we have Southfields on board as a shareholder in the EHL and throughout the ten years there has been a high level of consistency in personnel producing, directing, filming , editing etc to such an extent that all the crew are really stakeholders in the event and work long hours - sometimes in poor weather - to bring us all the drama and emotion of the sport. They are a great team to be a part of and have played a major role in the EHL success story.

H: It’s a European competition but I have heard you talk about it as a global event. How do you justify that claim?
N: Well firstly I would say look at the non - Europeans who have taken part in the EHL who have been attracted by the thought of being a part of it. Off the top of my head I can think of top players from Australia, New Zealand, India, South Africa, Canada, Pakistan, Argentina ….. then we should consider the reach of our streaming and TV coverage which is impressive and growing. Already it is fair to say that our stars are as popular amongst hockey lovers in Mumbai and Buenos Aires as they are in Brussels and Berlin . The hockey family knows no barriers .

H: What changes have you seen over the ten years?
N: Well we’ve touched on rule changes but that aside I would say look at how our rounds are being hosted and supported. In the early years we were a little unsure quite what to expect from our hosts and they were unsure what to make of the EHL in fairness. Crowds were quite modest particularly in the first round and it had an ‘experimental’ feel to it all. Now things are very different. we are seeing much more interest in round one and the past two editions (Harvestehuder and Banbridge) have been really successful events with great home support and a warm welcome for visitors. Round 1 can be a great development tool and I hope that we will receive hosting bids from countries that we are yet to visit such as Russia, Scotland and Poland so that we can make our sport grow still further.

H: Finally Nick any chance of a tip for the Final 4 qualifiers?
N: Not a chance Howard! What I will say with confidence is that we will have a great few days in Eindhoven at the new home of Oranje Rood and that no one will have an easy passage into the Final Four at Dragons! I also predict a big hockey party in the stands!






Nick to Howard:

N: So Howard can you tell us a little bit about your role in the EHL?
H: Well basically my job as the stadium announcer is to inform everyone about whats going on, entertain and excite the crowd and then announce the teams and the goalscorer.It’s a mix of information and entertainment.

N: With so many games, sometimes four a day, and lots of names - sometimes tricky ones - how much preparation do you need to do?
H: Obviously before the event I read up as much as I can about who is playing and when and start to identify names who might be key players. With so many different nationalities involved its difficult but before games I try to speak to team managers, coaches, physios , even the players themselves to make an attempt to get close with pronunciations .

N: Why is the EHL such an exciting event to be involved in?
H: Well that’s an easy one to answer! Its because we have some of the best players in the world entertaining us. They are wearing club shirts rather than international ones but the quality is quite astonishing and never fails to deliver on the promise to entertain. The best goal I have ever seen , and I have played and watched a lot - was one by Florian Fuchs when he ran from inside his own half, past four players to score a fabulous goal.

N: So you played hockey yourself?
H: Yes, I played starting in1979 as a 13 year old in Bedford 5ths and it took me a couple of years to make it to the 1st XI . Then later on in the Midlands playing with Edgbaston and Bournville in the National League as a ‘keeper. I made over 120 appearances in the National League which is something I am proud of.

N: What makes a great crowd?
H : Numbers help of course! They come expecting to be entertained and have a great time but I think sometimes you are governed by what happens on the pitch. The players have to perform and entertain and they rarely let us down. We try to engage with them through music and my voice and the players often respond to the crowd’s enthusiasm - its a wonderful relationship between players and the crowd throughout the game.

N: Do you do similar roles in other sports?
H: I am very involved in World Badminton and I have done some Test Match cricket and some matches at the Rugby World Cup in England when I did the two Wembley games including a record crowd of 89267 for Ireland v Romania! 267 from Romania and the rest a sea of emerald green!

N: You sound very enthusiastic about the EHL but what is the worst part?
NH: I know we joke about it but its got to be the weather! We’ve had some shocking days - frozen pitches, rain and howling gales.

N: How did we first meet up?
H: Well I guess that goes back to the days that you were managing at Coventry and North Warwickshire and I was playing for Edgbaston. Then there would have been the days when you were commentating on Sky Sports in those national league magazine shows but I think the first time we really got to know each other would have been the fortnight of the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002. That’s when we both realised that we really shouldn’t work together!

N: And how right we were!