A GROUP of Bradford hockey players have made it into a national semi-final, and they might not be the usual suspects.

Aire Valley Hockey Club, which came about as a merger between Bingley Bees and Airedale last May, have seen their Over-45 Ladies reach the last-four of the plate in the England Hockey Masters competition.

Joint-club treasurer Rachel Belk, who also plays for the Over-45s side, said: "It's the first time we've had a big enough team to enter the competition.

"We actually lost our first round cup game to Scarborough 3-2, but they'd won the plate competition a few years ago, and said we'd do well if we dropped into that.

"In our plate quarter-final recently, we beat Tamworth 3-2 in a brilliant match and that has put us through to the semi-finals where we'll be playing Harleston Magpies at the end of March, probably on Sunday, March 27.

"It should be a long road trip, as they're based in East Anglia, but we're looking forward to it."

Last year's merger has given both clubs a new lease of life, with Belk saying: "It's been a big thing for all of us.

"I was part of Bingley Bees, and we were always a small and family-friendly club, similar to Airedale really.

"Both clubs had strong junior sections but they weren't big enough, and it meant by the time we were getting to Under-14s and Under-16s, we were struggling to enter competitions.

"Some of the kids, being teenagers, just found interest in different things, but then we were both losing the others that did want to play to bigger clubs, as we couldn't put teams out for them."

But from that testing situation sprung hope, with Belk saying: "Jo Dean was Bingley Bees' youth-coordinator, and Gordon and Sarah Marsh did the same at Airedale.

"They, along with Janice Reid, whose son Charlie played for both teams, have family members at the club, and they wanted to see those young teams keep playing.

"Just before Covid hit in 2020, we'd talked about having joint-juniors teams, and we'd started sending joint-sides from Bingley and Airedale to competitions.

"We were well matched, in terms of having similar sized adult and junior sections, and shared philosophies, so we officially merged last year."

As for how that merger helped the older ladies, Belk said: "Everybody has been getting on and the teams have gelled well at all levels.

"But it's a bonus for us older ones, as people are all in different teams for Saturday league matches, but this Over-45s side offers a good way to play with the same age group.

"Some are very fit, and some are slowing down, but it's nice to keep going. For me for example, it's now 40 years since I started playing as an 11-year-old."

Aire Valley Hockey Club are still looking to improve their social media presence, but they are thriving on the pitch, with junior teams from U6s to U16s, four men's sides, three female ones, a development outfit, the women's Masters Over-45s and over 200 members in total.

They are also fundraising to build a new pitch at Holy Family School in Keighley and to find out more about that and the club, contact chairman Tim Hazlehurst on info@airevalleyhockey.club