By Rod Gilmour in Amsterdam
Co-captain George Pinner has called on England to produce “real fight, a lion-hearted one” on Friday as they attempt to reach the EuroHockey Championship final for the first time in eight years.
Bobby Crutchley’s side will have to do so against the host nation, with the Netherlands holding a seven-year winning record over an England side.
In fact, England’s last Euro title victory came when they won the 2009 edition – only Barry Middleton, approaching 400 international caps, and Adam Dixon remain from that side – and edged out the Dutch in the semi-final.
In a shortened tournament and games coming thick and fast here, England men produced enough to qualify through to the last four.
They have played more composed hockey with each game, culminating in that ever-so-tight finale against the Irish.
The reason, says Pinner, is down to England’s newly-found team identity: three captains and a new sense of belief.
Before the Rio Olympics, the players – with the help of team psychologist Kate Warriner – looked at the team ethos applied by the likes of the All Blacks.
This identity search didn’t prove fruitful – initially. “We did the work a bit too late and we looked at what other people were doing,” Pinner said on the eve of their semi-final.
Then, in the Rio aftermath of a ninth-place finish, came the calling.
Pinner, who was forced into a fine late save against Ireland to keep England’s title hopes alive here, said: “We questioned why three [captains] and we said ‘why not? This team wants to do three’.
“We’re still learning and growing and this is the first time this team is finding itself in these scenarios.
“We’re still finding our identity and we won’t ever stop evolving. It is something that will morph over time.
“Last cycle we were brilliant for a few years and we didn’t know that we were slightly slipping. Here, we have been constantly keeping our finger on the pulse.”
— nicky pinner (@pudsey136) August 21, 2017
Now, they find themselves in a similar situation to the women’s side. In a semi-final against the Dutch – but the chance to go one better.
“Real fight, lion hearted, winning and copying our girls, that’s what we want,” added Pinner.
The Olympian and Ipswich Town fan will also be buoyed by not only his family and England midfielder wife, Jo, but also by at least one Dutchman in the crowd on Friday.
Former Dutch and Ipswich great Frans Thijssen met up with the goalkeeper this week. Pinner’s grandfather was close to the late Bobby Robson, who signed Thijssen at Ipswich.
“Frans used to deliver whenever it mattered – eight pints down or just on a Saturday,” he mused. “He is probably the only Dutch guy in the stadium properly rooting for us!”
Meanwhile Belgium and Germany contest the other semi-final, Olympic silver and bronze medallists respectively.