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Captain’s Log: Mark Portnell, Gloucester City Hockey Club

Gloucester > Sport > Hockey

Author: Roger Jackson, Posted: Wednesday, 25th September 2019, 09:00, Tags: Captain's Log

Mark Portnell Mark Portnell

Mark Portnell is the men’s club captain Gloucester City Hockey Club for the first time this season.

And that’s good news for one of the bigger clubs in the area because he’s keen, ambitious and wants the best not only for himself and his team-mates but for the club as a whole.

The 28-year-old is going into his fourth season with the club having joined just before the 2016/17 campaign when he moved to this area.

And while in many ways he may be a relative newcomer to the club he’s certainly made a big impact on and off the pitch.

On the pitch he plays up front or as an attacking midfielder – “I can defend but I’m better as an attacker,” he said – but while he is clearly a very decent player it’s probably fair to say that he’s made an even bigger impression off the field in his three seasons at the club.

That’s because he’s one of those players who has a very clear vision of what he wants to achieve with a club and – just importantly – the way he wants to realise those goals.

And he’s not just a talker, he’s a doer too because last season as well as playing he coached the men’s 1st XI and the previous two years he had coached the 2nds, 3rds and 4ths. He’s also coached the club’s junior boys as well so clearly plays a very big role at the club.

Now he’s captain of the men’s section which is another key position, of course, having taken over from the long-serving James Burrows.

“I was voted in at the AGM in May,” said Portnell, who works in the technology industry and lives in Gloucester. “James was looking to step down after a number of years in the role and I put my hand up.”

Portnell won’t be coaching the 1st team this season – “I only did it last season because we couldn’t find a coach,” he said – and is looking forward to a successful campaign after they won promotion back to the Championship in the South West League in 2018/19.

A big reason for Portnell’s optimism this season is the arrival of new 1st team coach Laura Smith, a lecturer at Hartpury College.

“She’s newish to the area and prefers coaching men,” explained Portnell. “She’s young, ambitious and has had some real interesting experiences.

“Her views on how to develop a team are the same as mine. She won’t just coach the team, she’ll push the team and I’ve got loads of confidence that Laura can take it forwards.”

That process has already started, of course, after last season’s promotion – the men’s flagship team had been relegated at the end of 2017/18 – and followed a period when Portnell said the men’s section had been stagnating.

So what are the key motivating factors behind Portnell’s hockey philosophy?

“When I took over as coach I wanted to shift the culture from one of blame and negativity,” he explained.

“I tried to turn it around, I wanted people to take responsibility but also to encourage their team-mates if they made a mistake rather than blame them.

“It was a massive shift of dynamic and the players said it was so much better.

“Before that we had a toxic culture. That was no-one’s fault, it’s what happens when a team stagnates and there are no new players, no new coaches and no new ideas.”

As well as bringing in Laura Smith, Gloucester have also recruited a number of new players this season and Portnell continued: “A lot of them are a good standard and will generate competition for places. We’ve got a new, positive, constructive atmosphere and my focus is to try and build on those foundations.

“We want to maintain the enthusiasm, momentum and culture change going forward.”

Portnell’s concern isn't just the 1st team, he is clearly very much interested in the club as a whole.

“The 2nd XI is very important to the health of the club,” he added. “We need them to step up a level or two to make the transition from 2nd team to 1st team that much easier. We need to close the gap.”

The 2nds, just like the 1sts, were promoted last season after suffering relegation the year before – they’re playing in De Cymru & The Marches 2 in 2019/20 – and Portnell will follow their progress closely this season, just as he will the 3rds and 4ths.

And again it’s not just talk because one of his aims is to establish a 5th XI at the club in the next couple of years, saying: “The message I want to get across is that you can enjoy playing hockey at Gloucester at any level, we want to be an open and inclusive club.”

Portnell is clearly one of the driving forces behind the new ambition at the club – he’d like the 1st team to win promotion in the next two or three years and the 2nd and 3rd team to gain promotion this season – but he’s the first to say that it is no one-man operation, singling out chairman Anton de Leeuw in particular as someone who does so much good for the club.

“When the two teams got relegated at the end of the season before last I was thinking of moving on,” admitted Portnell.

“Then Anton took over as chairman. I’d had a lot of conversations with him during that season, we were having a tough time. It was frustrating because the club were in a bad place and no one would admit it.

“Anton felt as passionately about it as I did, so I thought I’d give it one more season to see what impact he had.”

And Portnell wasn’t disappointed because as well as the two men’s teams winning promotion, the ladies’ section also enjoyed a string of promotions.

“He’s had a massive impact,” continued Portnell. “He’s been the driving force behind the new momentum at the club. He has empowered others and nurtured the momentum.

“There’s a vibrancy, an engagement from members. He’s changed the club dramatically, there’s now a completely different atmosphere.”

Portnell hopes that this feelgood factor is there to stay, of course, although he knows that as captain it will not all be plain sailing.

“There will be some difficult conversations when I have to tell players that they are not playing in the team that they’d hoped to be,” admitted Portnell. “But hopefully with the new culture at the club they will understand the reasoning behind any decisions that have been made.”

Despite all the extra responsibility that Portnell has taken on over the past few years – he was a coach during his time at Edinburgh University and has also coached Newent Ladies – he still sees himself first and foremost as a player.

“My priority is playing,” he said, “then coaching, then umpiring. I do enjoy coaching, I enjoy the psychology element, developing a team and developing the right culture.”

And while he has certainly played a big part in the improved culture at Gloucester, he is certainly not resting on his laurels and has one eye very much on the future.

“I’m trying to generate a player pathway for the juniors to come through,” he said. “I was coaching the under-16s last season and one of my aims is to link up with the junior club captain and get a number of the youngsters to play for the adult teams, they are the future of the club.”

More immediately, Portnell has a big season as men’s club captain so how does he view the coming campaign?

“It’s an interesting time,” he said. “I’m really excited but nervous as well.”

Anyone wanting more information about the club should visit http://www.gloucestercityhockey.co.uk/ or get in touch at secretary@gloucestercityhockey.co.uk

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