With the 2013 season now in full swing, it is now time for England to look to the future. First on the horizon is the Investec World League Semi-Final in London, which runs from 22-30 June. I caught up with striker Alex Danson to find out how the new-look England squad is shaping up.
“It is a transitional phase for us so it’s important to get to know the new squad members so that you know what makes them tick. The young players who have come in are very exciting and talented, there’s a lot to look forward to,” said the London 2012 Olympic bronze medallist.
Danson is undoubtedly keen to see the impact of the players just joining the central programme, but there is a note of sadness when we discuss the players who decided not to work towards Rio 2016: “The best thing about our squad leading up to the Olympics was we had so much strength in depth. Everyone brought their own unique skills and unique personality, so they’ll all be missed in their own way. However, with those players stepping aside, there is a great chance for the new players to make their mark.”
It is not just the players who have changed. With Danny Kerry taking the role of Performance Director, Jason Lee has succeeded him as head coach, making the transition from the men’s squad to the women. England’s No.15 is impressed by what she has seen so far: “He’s still getting to know us as we are him, but it’s going well. He’s very attack minded which as a striker I love, but what’s great is he’s already picked out what he believes our strengths are and has started to set our tactics out to play to those.”
Fast, attacking hockey was one of Lee’s hallmarks during his time in charge of the men, and it appears he is looking to put the same sort of stamp on the women’s side. However, despite the obvious excitement, Danson is aware there is a lot of work ahead, starting at the Investec World League which runs from 22-30 June:
“All our pool games are against good opposition. South Africa have a lot to offer and are a good side. Spain have plenty to prove and are a relentless attacking team whilst games against Australia are never easy. It will be a tough tournament I have no doubt.” She adds, “Obviously aside from our pool there are also teams like Argentina. They have some of the best players in the world like Carla Rebecchi and Noel Barrionuevo. They’re a fantastic side, but playing against those players is why I love international hockey. You always want to pit yourself against the best.”
Knowing they are up against such high quality opposition would be daunting for most players. However, something the Olympic Bronze medallist is sure about is the advantage that the home support will give England: “How great is it for our young players to play their first international tournament at home? There’s so much to be said for looking into the crowd and seeing familiar faces. Whether they’re friends, family, people from your club, volunteers, whoever, it all helps and makes a big difference, as we saw last summer at the Olympics.”
When I ask what the target for the tournament is, the 28-year-old speaks with the calm, level head you might expect of a player approaching 200 international caps: “We are right at the start of our journey and still learning how to play together, how to implement the new tactics etc, so it’s difficult to predict how we’ll do. We need to make the top four to get a place in the World Cup, so I’d still have to say that is the target. It is definitely going to be tough, though.”
The tournament gives England another chance to show the world what a splendid venue it is for international hockey events and the FIH-All-Star player is in agreement on that point: “What I love about watching hockey in England is how inclusive it is. Whether you’re four or 74 years old, you feel like you’re part of it. You get to meet the players, there’s lots of entertainment, you’re close to the action and you get to see the best players in the world. It’s definitely a great experience.”
One suspects the experience will be even greater should Jason Lee’s new-look England squad come out on top and qualify for the World Cup.
Written by Ross Bone – The Top of the D
Ross runs a specialist hockey blog for fans, players and beginners alike. Follow him on Twitter @TheTopoftheD and read some of his feature interviews here.
Support England in their quest for World Cup qualification at the biggest international hockey event of the year. From 22-30 June 2013 the Investec Hockey World League semi final will take place at the University of Westminster Sports Ground in Chiswick, London.
Enjoy a fantastic day out for family, friends and hockey clubs and re-live the magic of the 2012 Olympic Games as the heroines of last summer star in the capital once again.
Tickets are cheaper in advance. Family ticket discounts available. To book call 0844 499 32 22 or visit www.englandhockey.co.uk/investecworldleague
Win a pair of hospitality tickets and enjoy top price tickets to all four matches, a delicious three-course lunch, complimentary bar and exclusive match interviews and insights from legends of the game.
In addition to this fantastic prize, there are also five runners up prizes of grandstand tickets to watch all the action on Saturday 22nd June 2013. Click here to find out how to win
Winners shall be selected at random. Closing date for entries will be midnight on Sunday 9th June 2013