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The autumn leaves were already visible on the Sugden Road turf but after six months and a whole summer devoid of any hockey, there was an air of inevitability as Surbiton returned to winning ways.
Already they look favourites for an eighth straight domestic title - Surbiton received their seventh after Saturday's 3-0 win over Buckingham - thanks to a fresh injection of faces over the summer and despite missing two Great Britain internationals through injury.
Lottie Ross, a tax associate and GB under-23 international, returned from university hockey to score a double in a typically rusty opening clash between the outdoor and indoor champions, the result only becoming evident as Surbiton took control in the last quarter.
"In the last eight years we've had seven draws and a scrappy win and that was probably our best game first up," admitted coach Brett Garrard, into his 12th season at Surbiton. "We've notoriously not been ready and I didn't feel ready before but we controlled the game second half and they are a disciplined team."
This rejigged season will see two phases completed. The 11 teams will play each other once before Christmas before the league splits into the top six and bottom five. There will be no play-offs for the first time and the season will be a straight fight for league wins.
"This is a very unique league in the fact there are no play offs. My philosophy through a normal season is to build, trial, give younger players an opportunity whereas every game is now our play-off final. We've never had to do that week in, week out and we've got 14 more to go."
The very fact that hockey returned at the weekend was due to the sport being classed as grassroots over an elite one. Six years ago, England Hockey officials expressed to Telegraph Sport that it was hoping to follow rugby and turn the sport professional. Keeping the sport amateur has certainly saved the sport - and clubs - from facing financial ruin. "We would have been broke," admitted Garrard. "The current situation has pushed everyone."
Surbiton board member Fred Moore, added: "The grassroots nature has been our saviour."
With hockey camps, mixed summer leagues and an owned facility, summer revenue was looking thin on the ground during lockdown.
"At the start it looked like it was going to potentially be very uncertain," said Moore. "We were ready to go when groups of six came in. We could replace our summer income with that. It was a great help to us and for those educating at home.
"We were flat out through the summer. We thrived on giving family groups pitch space and social bubbles could come together. There was a great release to help people get out and about."
Surbiton are still set to field both teams in the first dual gender Euro Hockey League next Easter and the club admits that the long-term commercial outlook remains a worry.
"It would otherwise be a very different picture right through down to the participation," added Moore of past talk of professionalism. "The amount of work the volunteers have done is staggering."
Race for the top six
East Grinstead started their race for a top six place in familiar fashion, as goals from Sophie Bray, last season's top scorer, and Tess Howard handed the West Sussex side a 2-1 win at Clifton Robinsons. While coach Mary Booth has retained her firepower, Holcombe saw mass departures over the summer - three to Surbiton alone - and the Kent side fell to an opening 1-0 defeat to Loughborough Students, GB international Izzy Petter scoring the winner. Hampstead & Westminster recorded a 2-0 win at Beeston with second half goals from Holly Hunt and Lucy Hyams.
Nottingham-based Beeston are the most northerly club left in this season's top flight. For the first time since the Women’s Hockey League was formed 31 years ago, Bowdon Hightown are playing Division One hockey this season, with this season's Premier Division teams clustered in the South, West and Midlands. This season is also a first without a main sponsor following Investec's decision to end its decade-long partnership with GB Hockey. The national governing body is hopeful of announcing new deals soon.
Wimbledon welcome for Danson
There was a welcome sight on the sidelines at Wimbledon's first game back in the Premier Division on Saturday. Alex Danson, the club's new assistant coach, was involved in her first live game since the 2018 World Cup. During her long recovery from her well-documented mild traumatic brain injury, Danson was only able to watch 20 minutes of one of Great Britain's Pro League matches before being forced to leave the venue.
Now retired, here she was in her new non-playing role as Wimbledon secured a 4-0 win over Swansea, the first Welsh side in either gender to play top flight hockey. Danson admitted to nerves, started the weekend off with the same pre-match breakfast she had as a player and said it was an "amazing" day in all.
"I feel at peace with the decision I had to make after a few months," the England great said of her decision to turn to coaching. Last month, Danson revealed she was pregnant with her first child.
Can hockey stave off coronavirus?
In the Dutch Hoofdklasse, the world's best league, there has been a postponement each week thus far due to players falling to the coronavirus. Surprisingly, the Dutch federation has not put resources into pre-match testing and it remains to be seen if the English top flight can keep matches intact.
Temperature testing for teams will only be in place at Buckingham, where the team plays at Stowe school, while some clubs have expressed fears when university-based sides travel and a potential outbreak occurs. Brett Garrard says that clubs need to be "more sympathetic" over rules which state that teams face a 3-0 defeat if fixtures can't be fulfilled.
"If things worsen, which I think they will, there is a degree of understanding for those clubs," he said. "If a team came to me with six players out then it's only fair to postpone.
"We've only got 15 games all year. Georgie Twigg and all our club players want to play as much as possible and they don't want a 3-0 win because a match has been postponed. I think you will see more teams enter the Cup and it will be more meaningful."
Beeston seek European berths
Speaking of Cups, Beeston Ladies became the first (delayed) elite winners of the season earlier this month as they lifted their first T1 Championship title - otherwise known as the England Hockey Cup - by beating Clifton Robinsons. The club followed that up with the men's trophy and with only league placings offering European spots, Beeston believe that there should be more incentives for Cup winners, in a competition which has lost its lustre in recent years.
David Griffiths, Beeston's deputy chairman said: "I strongly believe there should be a European place awarded to the winners of either title. That would make clubs take both competitions seriously and focus their minds.”
The European Hockey Federation said that for all 2021 EuroHockey club events, it is up to member associations to choose participating teams. "They are free to decide their own procedure for selecting their first and second club entry," a statement said.
Women's Premier Division
Results: Beeston 0, Hampstead & Westminster 2; Clifton Robinsons 1, East Grinstead 2; Holcombe 0, Loughborough Students 1; Surbiton 3, Buckingham 0; Wimbledon 4, Swansea 0.
What's on this Saturday: Buckingham v University of Birmingham, 12pm; Swansea v Holcombe, 12pm; Clifton Robinsons v Wimbledon, 1.30pm; Loughborough Students v Surbiton, 2pm; East Grinstead v Beeston, TBC *All times as currently published by England Hockey