Darren Cheesman is a very interesting character. A product of the Arsenal “In the community scheme” his life could easily have taken a wrong turn and ended up very different but for his involvement in hockey. He’s spent a year playing in Holland, scooped the English Premier League Player of the Year in 2008 and scored on his Great Britain debut in 2010. He is by no means finished there, however. The Reading star spoke to The Top of the D about giving something back, his faith and his international ambitions.
The Top of the D: Obviously you changed clubs from East Grinstead to Reading over the summer. What made you decide to make the move?
Darren Cheesman: My time at EG was a very special time in my career. What I loved there was that we went out every game and just attacked teams. It was all about making things happen. It was great. The problem for me was I never felt like I was playing as part of a particular system or structure. When I look at how Reading play, and how they’ve played traditionally, they’ve always got a pattern and a system of play. If and when I step up to play internationally the coach will want me to play as part of a system. For so long I’ve been allowed to do my own thing and play on instincts, I feel like playing here gives me the opportunity to understand better what it takes to play with other people.
TTOTD: Were there other clubs you looked at or was Reading the number one choice?
DC: I knew that because it was a post-Olympics year that people were going to be retiring from international hockey and this was my chance to get back in if I really wanted it. I knew I had to be in the best possible position and to do that I needed to question where I was. Not necessarily to definitely leave EG, but to think about where the best place for me was.
I looked at Reading, Southgate, which is close to where I live and Hampstead and Westminster. It was probably between those three. I trained at Southgate which was really good. Chris Hibbert is an amazing coach, and I’ve got a lot of time for him and his team, but the setup here [at Reading] the systems in place and the way they play made me believe this was the right place for me.
TTOTD: How have you enjoyed your time at Reading so far?
DC: The boys are really good. In training they really step up and really push you. Everyone expects nothing but the highest standards, everyone knows how we play, what their role is and what we want to achieve, and there is a really great atmosphere amongst the team. I love it so far!
DC: I don’t pick the team, so there isn’t much I can do. What I need to make sure of is that I consistently perform for Reading. I’d love nothing more than to play for England again, to play for Great Britain again, but that isn’t possible if I don’t perform at club level first. If I do that, then hopefully it makes it an easy decision for the selectors and they can’t ignore me. I know there are things I can add to the team. In and around the circle I can win corners, I can score goals too. What I am trying to do here [at Reading] is lose my bad habits and bring more people into the game from midfield and up front, hopefully that will help me.
TTOTD: What do you think your biggest asset is as a player?
DC: I always want to be the best that I can be. Every time I get on the ball I want to make something happen. Whether that’s beating a player, making a pass, scoring a goal, or winning corners so someone else can score a goal it doesn’t matter. I just want to create things.
TTOTD: You’re also quite heavily involved in coaching. How did that come about? Is it something you want to run alongside your playing career or will it be a focus when you stop playing?
DC: I’ve been coaching in one way or another since I was about 12. I learnt to play just before I turned 11 and after a year I was involved in coaching with Arsenal. At the moment, it’s about giving something back. I love the game so much, and it’s given me so many opportunities, including meeting my wife whilst out with hockey friends, and also my work is all through hockey. I just want to ensure that other people have the chance to progress themselves the way I did.
TTOTD: I know from what I’ve read about you and from speaking to a few people that religion is important to you. Does your faith help you with the hockey or do the two not really come together?
DC: It’s great. Before each game I say a prayer which helps me to focus and takes me away from the hectic build up to a quieter, more relaxed mind-set. It also allows me to focus, concentrate and understand that there are bigger things in the world. So far it’s been a very positive factor in my hockey career, helping my dedication, focus, determination, commitment even my organisation.
TTOTD: Do you still get nervous before games, or does the prayer help you to overcome the nerves?
DC: I always have some nerves at some point, if you aren’t a bit nervous you probably don’t want it enough. I know my rituals and I know what I need to do before a game to make sure I’m in the right state, physically, mentally and emotionally. One way I do this is by praying, one way is by concentrating on doing the right things in the warm up, another is I like to stand and look at the opposition and ask myself why they’ve bothered turning up. All these things put together help to increase my confidence and get me ready for a game.
TTOTD: Where do you see yourself in five years’ time, on and off the pitch?
DC: That’s really tough. Anything could happen! I think I’ll be approaching the end of my hockey career and settled down with my family. I’ve started my own business mentoring and coaching which is going really well. So hopefully that will have really become established and I’ll have people out there delivering sessions as well as me. Fingers crossed, hockey will be winding down and business will have really taken off. Oh, and hopefully I’ll have come back from Rio with a nice little gold medal, too!
TTOTD: So how would you like to be remembered when you do finally retire?
TTOTD: Lastly, can you sum up for me why you love hockey?
DC: I love hockey because of two things: I love the way the skill, speed, passion, excitement and enthusiasm of the game all combine to give us the sport we all love.
Secondly, I love the opportunities it gives you. A footballer doesn’t get to meet the types of people a hockey player gets to meet. Not many people do. I feel really lucky to have met the people I have, and I wouldn’t change it for anything.
Cheesman has already forced his way back into the international selectors’ thoughts, competing in the Champions Trophy for England last December. This season he has a Maxifuel Supersixes runner’s up medal and is one of the league’s top scorers outdoor with seven goals. In his current vein of form, it seems the Reading star is firmly on the right track to achieving his goal of being the best he can be.
If you’d like to find out more about DC17 coaching, click here.
The Top of the D would like to thank Darren Cheesman for his time and good humour in conducting this interview.