Youth and Junior Awards Revealed
Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

The Higgins Group plc Youth and Junior Awards were presented at the Hockey Writers’ Club Awards function yesterday, 17 January 2012, with Joanna Leigh taking the Youth (18-and-under) Girls’ Award and Joseph Sharp the Boys’ Award.

Martha Baker took the Girls’ Junior (16-and-under) Award and James Albery the Boys’ Junior Award.

A record gathering was at the Royal Thames Yacht Club in Knightsbridge to cheer on the winners and FIH President, Leandro Negre and Great Britain Hockey President, Richard Leman were there to inspire the guests with their stimulating speeches.


Youth Award Girls: Joanna Leigh (Clifton).


Joanna Leigh receives her award from Richard Leman, President of GB Hockey

Jo captained the England Under-18 team to a bronze medal at the European Cup last July and is a member of the England Under-21 squad. Another player off the Martin Jones conveyor belt at Repton, Jo played for Cannock’s first team helping them stay up in the Premier Division by scoring eight goals in her debut season. She moved on to study geography at Bristol University where she has carried on scoring the goals for Clifton. She was selected for England Under-21s in a three-match series against Scotland at Lilleshall in October, when she scored two goals. The following month she was selected to train with the full senior indoor squad. Jo is always keen to put back into her sport and has helped over 100 children at Repton summer camps.

Jones, Repton’s director of hockey and men’s coach at Beeston, said: “I am confident that Jo will become a senior international player and I look forward to see her becoming a goal-scoring midfielder for England and Great Britain.”

Jo said: “I try my best at scoring goals. I suppose the ultimate aim for me is Rio 2016. I love  travelling – it’s one of the perks. The Europeans were an absolute highlight for me. But next year is a big one too with the junior world cup in mind.”


Youth Award Boys: Joseph Sharp (Belper).

Joe deserves this award on bravery alone. Born into a hockey family, he started running round with a stick at five years old going to mini-hockey with his three elder sisters (Alice has twice won the Higgins award) and his mum, Jackie.

Richard Leman presents the Award to Joe Sharp

“So he didn’t have a lot of choice,” said  chairman of his Belper club Nick Fox. “From the outset it was clear he had a natural talent. Joe’s greatest attribute is his desire to win and his professional attitude on the pitch.”

Joe, of Ecclesbourne School, started playing national league with Belper soon after his 15th birthday and was selected for the England Under-16 squad. But it was last July, playing as co-captain for the England Under-18s in the European Championships at Utrecht, that he suffered a life-threatening depressed skull fracture after being hit by a lifted ball. Dad Jerry is a doctor so knew the implications. Thankfully, after neuro-surgery, he made a complete recovery, and played for the Belper 2nd Xl to get fit. He is now back playing for their 1st X1 and says: “That injury is all in the past. I don’t think about it when I am playing.” That’s not quite what mum said, adding “He had only been on the pitch for a few minutes when the incident happened. He was conscious when the paramedics were called, and he went to the hospital. The facilities were fantastic. He was in theatre the next day. He had to wait for three months but he is absolutely fine now. Yes, I am very proud of my son.” Next up for Jo is selection for England’s Four Nations tournament in Holland at Easter. He will donate his award to Belper to help with coaching and equipment.


Higgins Group plc Junior Awards (Age 16-and-under)


Martha Baker, unmasked, receives her Award

Junior Award Girls: Martha Baker (Beeston).

Martha started playing at the age of nine and the Beeston club realised that Martha was not quite suited to playing “proper hockey”.

Says Natalie Hardwicke, Beeston’s girls co-ordinator: “Initially she played outfield until we saw the talent she showed with her feet!

She has been playing in goal ever since and has gone from strength to strength.”

“Now I just take people out,” jokes Martha, who is studying at Bramcote Sixth Form College, played for England Under-16s last year and was given the honour of being captain on the final day of the Four Nations European tournament in Valencia. No mean achievement for a goalkeeper. She has also helped coach the younger goalkeepers at the club for the last two seasons.

“I didn’t get into the England Under-18s because I was a year young. Hopefully, I can do that next year with the 2013 Europeans in mind.”

Martha is thrilled with her award – and the £200. “It will go towards my travelling to Malaysia next month and I am going to treat myself to a new goalkeeper’s helmet.”


Junior Award Boys: James Albery (Cambridge City).

James Albery (Cambridge City): James, a pupil at the Leys School, and formerly of Old Loughtonians, was England Under-16 captain and has played in 12 internationals. He was in the England Under-18 team that won gold in the UK Schools Championships in Sheffield.

James Albery takes his Award from GB President Richard Leman

“So far my most memorable moment was with England against Germany at Lilleshall,” he says. “I was playing centre-midfield. We lost 5-1, 7-0 and then we were 2-2 in the last game. Though we lost 3-2 in the last minute, it was a really good game.”

James added: “Playing at an Olympics is my goal, Rio a possibility. This year I want to play as many games at Under-18 level as I can. My thanks to the Higgins Group. I don’t know what to do with the money yet. I just want to keep going in the right direction. I would not be in this position without my mum and dad’s support (Tim and Jackie) and also to Nick Thompson (coach). I genuinely don’t think I would be playing for England without his guidance on and off the pitch. All his coaching has been second to none, I can’t thank him enough.”