This article originally appeared on the England Hockey Website on 14/06/2013.
With London 2012 fast becoming a distant memory, it’s 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’s a transitional phase for us so it’s important to get to know the new squad members and understand what makes them tick. The young players who have come in are very exciting and talented, so there’s a lot to look forward to.”
Danson is undoubtedly keen to see the impact of the players who are 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’s a great chance for the new players to make their mark.”
It’s 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. Danson – 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 make the most of them.”
Fast, attacking hockey was one of Lee’s hallmarks during his time in charge of the men, and it appears he’s looking to put the same sort of stamp on the women’s side. However, despite the obvious excitement, Danson is aware that there’s a lot of work ahead, starting at the Investec World League.
“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’ll 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 Luciana Aymar, 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’re 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’re 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’s 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.
My thanks to Alex Danson for her time and patience in conducting this interview and to Jennie Byass at England Hockey for allowing me to publish this on my site.