Jason Lee’s England side have high hopes heading into the Rabobank Hockey World Cup at the end of this week. The team ranked third in the world are off to The Hague confident they will come home with a medal, maybe even a gold one.
They have a good blend of youth and experience and plenty of goal threats, too. One of the new batch who will be up there to fire the goals in is Sophie Bray. Bray has shown glimpses of real quality in her fledgling international career, displaying a great poacher’s instinct and coolness in front of goal that cannot be taught. The England star has just signed for East Grinstead but has been playing her club hockey for MOP in the Netherlands for the last three seasons. The Top of the D caught up with the baby-faced goal machine to see how she feels about returning to her adopted home with her international side.
The Top of the D: Holland is a country you know very well, what can the team expect from the Dutch fans, public, players etc. when they arrive at the competition?
Sophie Bray: The hockey culture over there is massive. You’ll see a sea of orange at every match they play. They love the sport and I’m sure we’ll see some huge crowds in games where the Dutch are playing but also in some of the other games. The build-up has been huge already and I’m sure the Dutch will give us a tournament to remember.
TTOTD: Does your insider knowledge of Dutch hockey give you an advantage?
SB: I think I know the way they play from playing against those players week in, week out. I can maybe understand what they say to each other and pass that on, but hopefully I’ll be able to play my own game. It’s important to focus on ourselves and not what others might do.
TTOTD: How is English hockey and the England team thought of in Holland?
SB: They see us as a rival, even more so after the Euro semi-final when we knocked them out. They have learnt a lot about us and what we can do so I am sure they will show us respect, but be prepared to face us.
TTOTD: What have you learnt from your time playing in Holland? Has it made you a better player?
SB: I look back on the three seasons I spent there and I feel I’ve learnt a lot technically. We had four sessions a week where I was always learning new skills, things I would never have thought about doing before. The coach is a drag flick specialist but also a great tactician. I learnt a lot of different game plans and it’s been a really valuable experience.
TTOTD: How hard has it been playing abroad and juggling the central programme with that?
SB: Now I’m back in England full time it’s been a bit easier. There was a period from last summer to Christmas where I was flying back and forth. It was tiring and you feel like you’re living two different lives. No one actually knows where you are a lot of the time or what you’re going through. You get used to it but it definitely wasn’t ideal.
TTOTD: How do you rate England’s chances? What are your expectations?
SB: We’re very physical and tough to beat and also very determined. I don’t see any reason why we can’t lift the trophy at the end of it. We wouldn’t be going there if we didn’t think we could win it.
TTOTD: If England beat the Dutch at any point, especially in the final, will there be any of your Dutch friends in particular you will be giving some grief?
SB: Definitely a few people I’d be having a word with. I wouldn’t be too harsh; I’d keep it light but not rub it in too much but I would want to say something!
Bray has been in excellent form in the warm up games, netting three times in the past two matches against China. Her teammates and the England fans alike will be hoping she can carry that scoring run on in The Hague and help to fire England to glory.
The Top of the D would like to thank Sophie Bray for her time and patience in conducting this interview.