Canterbury Ladies have made a superb start to the season. They currently sit proudly on top of the Investec Women’s Premier League and as a result of their free-scoring run of form they are yet to taste defeat. A huge factor in their success is the form of talismanic captain, Susannah Townsend. The 23-year-old Great Britain international has been in scintillating form this time out, The Top of the D caught up with her.
The Top of the D: Canterbury have made a good start to the season, what do you think the main reasons for that are?
Susannah Townsend: We had a long preseason. The team trained for around five weeks together. A lot of us have played together for a while now and we have a few younger players coming from the academy. Canterbury are quite a traditional club so we have a lot of players who have come through and been around the squad, sat on the bench when they were 15/16, like I did, like Mel (Clewlow) did so they know how we play, they know how we train. This year is not particularly about individuals it’s about the team. It’s all clicking into place.
TTOTD: Which players do you think will have a big influence for you this season?
ST: Eliza Brett, I think she’s only 18, she plays England U18s and she’s suddenly grown and started to really find her way on the pitch. Her pace is very threatening and scary to defenders. She knows where the goal is too. Teams are starting to pick up on that when they do their pre-match plans for how to stop us.
Lucy Hyams is currently training with the GB youth teams. They have the World Cup and Youth Olympics coming up. She’s scored some wonder goals already. For me those two are our biggest threats.
We also have Jade Mayne. She’s just been at the Champions Challenge and made her debut against Reading (scoring twice.) If you watch her, she also has a lot of pace, and great tight skills which cause defences real problems.
TTOTD: That’s something that struck me watching Canterbury; you have a lot of pace going forwards.
ST: We’re a counterattacking team, but sometimes we come unstuck. We all pile forwards and we leave a few holes at the back, but that’s how it is.
TTOTD: What are Canterbury’s aims for this season?
ST: We haven’t been in Europe since 2007, so our aim firstly is to win the league and qualify for Europe. Traditionally that’s where Canterbury men and women have been so we want to get back to that. We’re building at the moment, with our young team, but we set out what we think we can achieve and with the talent we have we believe that our aims are high, but that we can definitely achieve them and get that top spot.
TTOTD: Which teams do you think will be the biggest threats to you?
ST: It’s the same as usual, Reading and Leicester. Also Surbiton are a big threat. I think this year the league is a lot closer than it has been. Teams like Sutton Coldfield are in the mix as well. It’s going to be tight until the end, which is good, because it makes the league more exciting and a lot more competitive rather than having a runaway leader like in previous years.
TTOTD: Have you started planning and training for Rio or is that not in place yet?
ST: We had some time off like the Olympians did; mentally and physically you need that break. Now we have training programmes set we’re starting to go back to Bisham to start talking to the nutritionists, strength and conditioning coaches etc. We have stuff in February and April coming up so we’re slowly getting back into it. Obviously those of us who didn’t quite make the Olympics are a bit further ahead as we came back sooner, but we have 4 years till Rio so we’ve already begun preparing.
TTOTD: Where do you see yourself in hockey terms in five years?
ST: Still captain of Canterbury, and hopefully being an integral part of the Great Britain squad. I went into the programme for London and I pushed until the end, but it wasn’t to be. For me, it’s now about concentrating on the next challenge. I was disappointed when the selection happened, but now I have four years to make sure I’m not just a bench player, but someone who is a main player that other teams are scared of.
TTOTD: What would you say your biggest asset is?
ST: My pace through midfield and my change of pace. I’m known as someone who picks the ball up and is always looking to go forward. Sometimes, I should probably look back more often, but I feel my change of pace can break a line and cause teams problems.
TTOTD: That fits in well with what we’ve already said about Canterbury’s style of play, it obviously comes in part from you driving them on.
ST: Sometimes it might be better to rein me in a bit then we might not leave as many gaps at the back!
TTOTD: Who would you say the best player you’ve played with is?
ST: [Without hesitating] Mel Clewlow. I’ve played with her since I was 14 we seem to have a connection on the pitch. She always seems to be able to find me and I’ve always found her very easy to play with. She was my captain for a very long time, and has helped me on and off the pitch with selection, with how I’m training etc. She’s been a real role model and when you’re close off the pitch it helps on the pitch. That bond makes you play better with each other.
TTOTD: Presumably with Mel, she’s been there and done it, so you can rely on her to give you advice as well?
ST: Exactly. I use her probably more than I should, but she’s always a big help and it’s nice to have someone outside of the programme, but who understands what’s going on inside.
TTOTD: And who’s the best player you’ve played against?
ST: That is a tricky one. I’d still have to say Helen Richardson. I know I’m staying with GB players but if you’ve seen her play, she is capable of taking you out of the game without touching the ball. Watch the way she moves her body. It’s something a lot of players can’t do, but if you watch Kwan Browne, or Ashley Jackson, they can do it too. Young players now feel like they have to touch the ball all the time, whereas Helen will drop her shoulder, or move her body and make it impossible to defend against her. One of my big areas for improvement is defence, so when I see her coming, I’m thinking ‘How can I stop her?’ It’s beautiful to watch but no fun to play against!
TTOTD: What is your biggest achievement?
ST: Becoming Canterbury captain is right up there. Mel [Clewlow] stepped down and I hope to be captain of the club I love for a long time. It’s a massive honour and I feel like it’s helped my game as I’ve had to take more responsibility.
ST: Someone who loves the game and has a passion for it. Also someone who can break defences down better than anyone else around!
TTOTD: Lastly, why do you love hockey?
ST: I love hockey because it’s a team sport. I’ve tried individual sports and it’s hard by yourself. When you’re with a team it’s great to have someone to help you, pick you up and take you through the bad times and the good times. Experiencing those things with people you love being with is one of the greatest things in the world.
Townsend’s determination and drive is clear to see throughout the whole time The Top of the D was speaking to her. With her pulling the strings, Canterbury have a chance of achieving great things this season and in the seasons to come.
The Top of the D would like to thank Susannah Townsend for her time conducting this interview.