Unsung hero Lily Rowntree urges UK citizens to take up a sport

‘I’m so passionate about trying to get people into the sport’: Unsung hero Lily Rowntree has a plan – get people into hockey just in time for sport to return as the pandemic eases

  • Lily Rowntree has outlined what hockey means to herself and her young family 
  • She met her husband Paul while playing in London and has never looked back 
  • Their two young daughters are now both heavily invested in the game
  • Rowntree has urged people to take up a sport with pandemic’s end in sight 

I have always played hockey — it’s good for all ages, shapes and sizes and it’s one of the more gender-equal sports.

My husband Paul and I met playing club hockey in London and when we moved to York it was a no-brainer to join the club.

I was actually pregnant with our first child but as soon as I had Emily I joined the ladies fourth team. Then I had my second daughter and dipped into the 5s and 6s. I’ve worked my way up to the 1s gradually!

Hockey is everything to Lily Rowntree and her life has been shaped around the sport she loves

Paul plays, Emily is now in the Under 10s (which Paul and I coach) and Sophie, our littlest, is playing beginners.

There are loads of brilliant people — I’m just one of those that helps out. And I’m really lucky because I’m not working at the moment and I wanted to get into volunteering anyway. So when a friend said there was a vacancy for fixtures secretary I took it on.

I used to work in HR and I like being organised. I’ve expanded the role — possibly because I’m a bit of a control freak — so as well as organising fixtures, I also manage the pitches. Before, anybody was booking them and it was a bit of a nightmare. It is quite a lot of bookings — we have between 600 and 700 players — but I quite enjoy it.

Every Sunday evening I used to put aside a couple of hours, maybe with a glass of wine, and send out my emails.

But you’re constantly on call. I keep an anxious eye on my phone to see if anybody turns up at the wrong place. It’s probably more hours than I realise.

Rowntree and her family, husband Paul and daughters Emily and Sophie, all play hockey

Rowntree and her family, husband Paul and daughters Emily and Sophie, all play hockey

I keep a keen eye on the weather and if it’s going to be below three degrees you’re looking at a potential frozen pitch.

At the beginning of the pandemic, you could see the seriousness of it all. And I don’t know whether it’s my HR side, but alarm bells were ringing. I thought, “We need to make sure that we do this properly”.

I took on the role of Covid officer but when it all started I was in Scotland on holiday. We had a car accident and all of a sudden I was hanging off every bit of battery on my phone and other people’s laptops, trying to get all the Covid stuff organised.

It was about developing really clear guidelines for our players.

We made sure there was hand sanitiser and the pitches had a one-way system. That sounds straightforward but when people are used to congregating it’s quite hard to snap them out of the routine.

Everybody had to sign a player-participation form and also a self-assessment every time they played. I checked over 600 people to make sure they filled in the right forms which was a bit of a nightmare.

It got tricky because one league could have different clubs in multiple ‘tiers’. We’d normally have 16 fixtures each weekend for seniors so you had to figure out: which games can we actually play? That was a big headache!

She is passionate about trying to get people into sport during lockdown and once it is over

She is passionate about trying to get people into sport during lockdown and once it is over

What has given me the most sleepless nights is knowing that people can become complacent. I was like the Covid police — making sure, without nagging, that people don’t forget.

It’s also been tricky celebrating goals, saying, “We can’t be hugging!” I’ve been a little bit of a party pooper.

But we didn’t have a single case where somebody caught Covid from another player through hockey.

Once this is over, I’ve got a plan. I’m passionate about trying to get people into the sport and during lockdown England Hockey are doing a lot of coaching courses online. I’m currently doing my level two.

Whether it ends up being a career, I’m not sure. I’ve got other hobbies — I’m chair of York Symphony Orchestra — but I’d like to do as much as possible to help both juniors and seniors access the sport.

Lily Rowntree was speaking to Sportsmail’s Daniel Matthews