Buckingham Ladies Hockey Club have won promotion to the Investec Premier Division – the highest tier of English hockey – for the first time in their history after a gripping 2-0 win over Sutton Coldfield in the end-of-season play-offs.
Having already clinched the Conference West title, Buckingham were desperate to seal a place in next season’s Premier Division following four years of play-off heartbreak, and two goals from captain Zoe Shipperley in a nervy and tight affair sealed promotion, with the final whistle sparking jubilant scenes among the Buckingham players.
Speaking after the game, Shipperley said: “It wasn’t our best performance but we were tough and resilient. Sutton pressed us really hard in the second half and we just had to dig deep.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling to secure promotion and I’m absolutely thrilled to be in the Premiership next year – bring it on! Hopefully we can continue the good work and keep moving forward.”
Buckingham needed just one win from their final two end-of-season play-off matches to guarantee promotion, but things began badly when, on Saturday, they were beaten 6-0 by Conference East champions Holcombe, a side brimming with internationals.
As in their opening play-off match, Buckingham made a poor start and were punished in the sixth minute when some sloppy defending culminated in a shot deflecting past Anna Searle in the Buckingham net.
Their frustration then grew as Holcombe extended their lead and although Buckingham fought back, Great Britain goalkeeper Maddie Hinch was in inspired form to repel the onslaught, before a late flurry of goals took the game away from Buckingham.
Determined not to let history repeat itself after coming agonisingly close last year, Buckingham took to the field against Sutton 24 hours later with real intensity as they set their sights on promotion.
The Stowe-based side began superbly as Jo Ellis and Katrina Nicholson caused the Sutton defence numerous problems, with Nicholson forcing a fine double save from the Sutton goalkeeper inside the first two minutes.
A totally dominant Buckingham were duly rewarded for their superior play when Shipperley fired home from a well-worked penalty corner routine on 21 minutes.
While Buckingham remained in the ascendancy until the interval, they had to remain wary of the threat posed by Sutton on the break but the local side stood firm to maintain their 1-0 lead.
A temporary suspension to Shipperley after the restart allowed Sutton to gain a foothold in the game and they began to bombard the Buckingham goal as they frantically sought an equaliser.
With Sutton only needing a draw to deny Buckingham a place in the Premier League, the tension cranked up in the final 10 minutes as Sutton even withdrew their goalkeeper in desperation of a goal, but Buckingham kept their composure to retain possession before, with 45 seconds to go, they won a penalty corner and Shipperley hammered the ball home to kick-start the wild celebrations as the squad piled onto the pitch.
It completes a remarkable journey for Buckingham Ladies Hockey Club, who will now compete in the country’s top tier just 12 years after they had only one team playing in Trysports Division Two.