View form the Inside – Matt Lloyd

What would you do if you had to do everything using only your arms? Seems an odd question but this is what I was pondering as I prepared to speak on the phone with Matt Lloyd.

 

Lloyd, who was born with spina bifida and club feet is the chairman of GB Sledge Hockey, the governing body of the Paralympic equivalent of ice hockey in this country. Sledge hockey is a sport for able-bodied and disabled athletes (apart from in Paralympic competition) that sees the participants strapped into a sledge with two specially made sticks that players use to propel themselves across the ice surface. The rules are virtually identical to ice hockey but everyone’s sitting down and, as Lloyd himself puts it, “the goalie glove is covered in spikes, it’s like something out of Rollerball!”

 

The profile of sledge hockey is rising across Britain with the aim of qualification to the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi and obtaining a medal in 2018 in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

 

Basingstoke is now home to the Battle Back Bisons (B3), a team set up as part of the Battle Back initiative which uses sport in the rehabilitation of injured service personnel. The extra s on the end, Lloyd revealed was because a general involved with B3 was incorrectly told the plural of Bison was Bisons.

 

Matt took some time to speak to Banners On The Wall about how he got involved in sledge hockey, how he’d fix British ice hockey and what plans there are for sledge hockey in Basingstoke.

 

Obvious starter, what drew you towards ice hockey and eventually to the idea of getting into the sledge?

 

When I was 18, all my mates played inline hockey and I couldn’t wear roller skates because of my feet so I got stuck doing all the other bits like writing match reports and doing other jobs on the night. When my family and I moved to Hull, we were looking for something to do as a family and ice hockey has always had a family friendly atmosphere. I heard about sledge hockey and at the time there were only three teams; Hull, Cardiff and Nottingham . I decided that I wanted to give it a go, and told them that I wanted to play but would only do it if I got to go in goal which was handy as they had no goalies. In 18 months I was in the Paralympics in Turin.

 

You became chairman of British Sledge Hockey in 2005, how has the sport developed in the last 6 years?

 

It was a mickey mouse organisation when I started and I was essentially a name on a bit of paper. It was only in 2009 when started to get our act together. When it became clear that we weren’t going to qualify for Vancouver 2010, we had to act and we’re making great strides now towards qualifying for Sochi 2014. At that point in 2009 we had 11 people in Britain playing the sport. It’s very different now.

 

When things were really going badly did you think about leaving the sport?

 

Yeah and I offered my resignation at least once but I’m still here. I’ve sadly had to retire from playing due to my position with GBSH. It’s too big a conflict of interest for me to be in charge and play for the national team sadly but I’ll be with them when they get that medal.

 

 

British ice hockey is a bit of a minefield for all the politics, have you experienced many or any issues dealing with your able-bodied counterparts?

 

Lets put it this way; a year ago IHUK and GBSH had discussions about becoming one governing body, they didn’t go well. There is currently no communication between the two parties.

 

As you’re a fan of ice hockey as well as the head man for sledge hockey, what ideas in terms do you think British ice hockey could take from British sledge hockey to improve its setup?

 

The single biggest thing for me is having the one aim and that’s GB being successful as a national team. Everything from having an 8 years old player starting out should be aimed towards getting that child to be a world-class player and to play in the Olympics.

 

I understand why the EIHL operates as it does but if they had an overarching aim it would be better for the sport. What is the aim of EIHL?

 

I would have 1 national governing body. Take volleyball from example, ice hockey could learn a lot from volleyball. They have no pro leagues in this country but the setup is there and they’re better because of it, getting funding for the teams for London 2012 and beyond.

 

You’re credited with being the brains behind the creation of Inline Sledge Hockey. Is it weird to be considered as the innovator and inventor of a sport?

 

It is especially when you go to meetings and it’s acknowledged as part of the sporting landscape. They talk about it like it’s a proper sport.

 

Sledge hockey has now come to Basingstoke in the form of the Battle Back Bisons, how did that come about?

 

We (GB Sledge Hockey) went to the MOD and Battle Back in 2009 when there were 11 players on the whole country. We went to them and put forward the case that it would be good rehab for injured soldiers in terms of how physical it is and how they can let out their aggression. They agreed and we went from there.

 

We’re actually looking to set up a Basingstoke Bison sledge team as well so there will be two teams in B3 from the Battle Back side and a Bison sledge side.

 

There’s now the Planet Ice Sledge Hockey League where multiple games are played on one day, what can spectators expect if they go along to watch?

 

What other sport allows you to hit someone with an ice pick? Anyone can play it and it is properly fast and physical just like ice hockey. There’s 3 games on any match day so you get a chance to see some good action.

 

As Basingstoke now has its own sledge based Bisons and we’re about to have some Bison as well, is there any one player that fans should keep an eye on?

 

Peter Hull, who was a swimming gold medallist at the Barcalona Paralympics. I’ve seen him on the ice and he is going to be amazing.

 

 

We always try to end on a light note; you’re known on hockey forums as “Sledgewomble”. The sledge bit is obvious but Womble?

 

I moved to Leicester when I was 11 and people just started calling me Womble and it’s stuck with me ever since. People from Leicester are odd.

 

 

You can stay updated with everything happening with sledge hockey in Britain at their website, www.sledgehockey.co.uk as well as on Twitter @sledgehockey and hopefully on a medal podium in 2014 or 2018.

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