Playing in an international double-header at the Twickenham Stoop is a special occasion for any athlete, but for married Great Britain hockey couple George Pinner and Jo Hunter, the experience really will be like no other.
Following unprecedented demand for tickets, Great Britain Hockey struck an agreement with Harlequins for the men’s and women’s teams to play their final FiH Pro League games against New Zealand at the Stoop on Sunday 23 June.
A record number of tickets have already been sold for the 14,800-capacity rugby stadium – although seats are still available - meaning it would be the biggest crowd to watch hockey in Britain since the London 2012 Olympics.
It will be the third time Great Britain hockey have played in home double-headers this season – the men’s and women’s teams having already faced Australia and Argentina at Lee Valley – and although Pinner and Hunter are always delighted to share the same turf, they know there will be nothing quite like playing together at the Stoop.
“We’ve had a few double-headers throughout the season, so it feels a bit more normal now, but making hockey history at the Stoop will be particularly exciting for me and George,” said Hunter.
“I never thought it would be possible to lay an artificial hockey pitch in a ruby stadium – it’s unlike anything we have ever done before.
“It’s just off the scale for hockey. To play at the Stoop a matter of hours after my husband with thousands of hockey fans cheering us on will be one of the most memorable moments of my sporting career.
“It’s quite easy to forget how lucky we are to experience this together. Usually we are in our own teams on game days, but now we have an opportunity to share our success on the same turf in what is such a special occasion for hockey in Great Britain.”
Pinner added: “The crowd numbers at the Stoop are going to be really special.
“I was really lucky to play for England at the 2014 World Cup in the Netherlands where the home crowd was amazing, so I can’t wait to have a similar atmosphere at home but full of Great Britain fans.
“What makes it extra special is that I will play first and then I can watch Jo afterwards – that makes it much more of an occasion for us.
“It was a relief when we both saw our names in the squad, because we always want to be a part of the double-header fixtures together.”
Playing in front of a record crowd at the Twickenham Stoop will feel more familiar to Pinner, the Great Britain goalkeeper having represented his country at the 2014 and 2018 Commonwealth Games, as well as the 2016 Rio Olympics, but for Hunter, the experience is still relatively new.
She made her first international appearance in 2013 but it took her until this month to win her 50th combined cap for Great Britain and England, however the 28-year-old admits her long battle to the top will make the double-header at the Stoop all the more special.
“Winning my 50th cap was a highlight of my personal season because it’s been such a long journey for me to get here,” added Hunter.
“Between 2013 and 2017 I had a full-time office job and was playing club hockey, so if someone had told me I would be playing at the Stoop with 50 caps to my name, I would have never have believed them.”
While the top four spots in the women’s FiH Pro League standings are already confirmed, a place in the leading quartet is still alive for the men's side, though they need to beat New Zealand and hope that other results go their way.
But with further Olympic qualifiers taking place in the autumn, hockey’s golden couple are confident that the pressure of playing in front of a full capacity crowd at the Stoop will hold the teams in good stead to book their spots in Japan.
Pinner said: “As much as the test series and friendlies are competitive, there’s nothing more realistic than when there are points involved.
“As a player, it’s so important because it’s the ideal preparation for tournament hockey, developing the right mindset for those knockout games.
“I’ve loved the first Pro League season. The traditional international calendar consists of long periods of training and short, intense tournaments, but this year, we have been challenged competitively almost every weekend.”
Hunter added: “Some players, like those who played in Rio or the World Cup, have a lot of experience in playing in front of big crowds but for others, it will be completely new.
“We have had crowds of several thousand attend our Pro League fixtures this year but the match at the Stoop is going to feel so much bigger.
“It will be a completely different atmosphere and New Zealand play a different style of hockey to European teams, so it is going to be a great test for all involved.”