Liam Morgan

Throughout the British sporting summer, thousands upon thousands believed that football was coming home.

A little over a week after those hopes were dashed in Russia, hockey actually did.

Not in terms of success - that moment came with the historic Olympic gold medal for Britain's women at Rio 2016 - but from a hosting point of view as the Women's World Cup began in London.

International hockey has found a home on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. The World Cup, which concludes on Sunday (August 5), is the fourth major tournament in the sport to be held at the London 2012 venue in the past four years.

It will certainly not be the last. The Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre will stage matches in the Pro League - the International Hockey Federation's (FIH) shiny-new competition launched in response to criticism over the chaotic nature of the calendar - when it is Britain's turn to host in the home and away format in 2019.

According to England Hockey chief executive Sally Munday, this trend will continue in the coming years.

"Our priority in the short term is the Pro League," Munday told insidethegames during the World Cup.

"For the next three to four years, our focus is on making the Pro League work and making it a success.

"But we love hosting events like the World Cup and European Championships and will definitely be bidding for events in the future."

Munday's enthusiasm is matched by the FIH and, judging by the fervour of the partisan crowd during England's final Pool B encounter against Ireland yesterday, it is not difficult to see why the sport's worldwide governing body come here so frequently.

A sell-out crowd of 10,000 packed into the arena, a number made possible by the decision from organisers to add extra seating to increase the capacity.

Big crowds have enjoyed the ongoing Women's Hockey World Cup in London ©Getty Images
Big crowds have enjoyed the ongoing Women's Hockey World Cup in London ©Getty Images

In comparison, around half of that number were in attendance when England beat the mighty Dutch in a shoot-out at the EuroHockey Championships in 2015 at the same venue.

The larger number of spectators naturally made for a more boisterous atmosphere. The weather might have been damp but spirits were not dampened as fans joined in with organisers' attempts to liven the mood.

Crowd participation at sports such as hockey stands out compared to others including football, where similar efforts are often greeted with obscenities rather than compliance.

Not only does this provide an ideal setting for players to go about their business but it also results in the kind of optics for broadcasters which tournament organisers are desperate to achieve.

After all, a match taking place in front of thousands of spectators makes for a much better product than a game being played in front of one man and his dog, which was the case for some major hockey events not that long ago.

Aside from the lure of a world-class tournament - and the chance to see an England team which has enjoyed copious amounts of success in recent years - there are other elements which are bringing people in their droves to watch hockey.

"One of the things that we have always tried to do with our events is give a good family experience," says Munday.

"From research we have done, the majority of our consumers and the people who buy tickets are families and what they want is more than just the hockey.

"They want an experience where their kids get the opportunity to pick up a stick, where they might be able to get autographs and where they can have some fun and games as well as watching the hockey. 

"We have always done this type of thing but for the World Cup we have taken it to a bigger scale."

The sizeable crowds at England matches so far - and the majority of those not involving the host nation - should not come as a surprise as England Hockey have embarked on a concerted attempt to capitalise on the glory of the women’s team in recent years to get more people talking about, and playing, the sport. 

This has already been realised, to a certain degree. UK Sport claim the World Cup has a television audience reach of one billion people and coverage of the event has been splashed over front and back pages in different corners of the world, most notably in Ireland following their surprise qualification for the quarter-finals.

Closer to home, Munday says they have seen an 80 per cent increase in people joining hockey clubs since London 2012, while some of those clubs and teams are now coping with a problem previously unheard of in the sport - oversubscription.

England Hockey's Sally Munday sees a bright future for the sport ©Getty Images
England Hockey's Sally Munday sees a bright future for the sport ©Getty Images

"Our ambition is we are trying to create a nation where hockey matters," Munday said.

"Those of us in this business love it and we are already converts but we want more people around the country to care about our sport.

"We want to see people reading it on the back pages, talking about hockey at work and the school playground.

"We have seen a massive spike in interest in hockey since the London Games and that again peaked after Rio.

"There is an interest and demand for people to watch hockey - we've seen that here with the numbers of spectators.

"Part of that is about giving people the opportunity to watch the national team live. They love it.

"At the heart of what we are trying to do is give the spectators and the people that pay to come here an amazing experience."

England Hockey are now hoping to retain the fanbase they have created with heavy marketing of Britain's home Pro League matches next year. Adverts for tickets, which go on sale on August 6, have been prominent inside the venue throughout the tournament.

The Pro League's main aim is to make it easier for fans of the sport to follow their national team. With the current calendar, described as "all over the place" by Munday, that is impossible.

Even the most battle-hardened hockey fans struggle to keep up with the various competitions which form the FIH's international portfolio. The Pro League is designed to address that while enticing others into the sport through its straightforward format, which Munday believes makes the event a "dream" to sell to the general public.

If the World Cup is anything to go by, British spectators will buy into the event with gusto.

Nick Butler is away.