So the big competition is over, the Cup has been awarded and the crowds have all gone home. The smiles on the faces of our players as they lifted the trophy will linger for a long time, so many of them have worked so long and hard for this, their first triumph at international level.
You may have already worked out that I am not talking about that incredible World Cup that has recently concluded in Holland No, I am talking about the European Club Champions’ Trophy won in the end by humble little Leicester Ladies Hockey Club.
For someone who’s been with the club since 1977, won national and European medals as a player and seen the team have its period of dominance of English hockey, this was something else. Even that star-studded side never won a European competition, often coming away with silver or bronze but never gold.
Admittedly, this was the second tier of European hockey. Having lost on penalties to Reading in 2013, Leicester faced the likes of Royal Antwerp of Belgium, Complutense from Madrid and Ukraine’s Sumchanka. Not quite Den Bosch or Laren or Rot Weiss this time.
Having won through to the final by winning their group games, Leicester, minus internationals Nicola White and Hannah MacLeod away with England, faced Izmaylovo of Moscow. With nine Russian internationals in their starting line-up they’d looked good throughout and when they took an early lead things appeared ominous. The gutsy Leicester squad had other ideas and with immense performances from the likes of Kerry Whitehead, Josie Inverdale and skipper Ness Hawkins they turned things around. Hannah Fair scored at a penalty corner and from the spot and, in the end, 2-1 flattered the Russians.
Off the pitch there was an equally amazing performance. We’re a women’s club with about 130 members, most of whom are U16s. We have no clubhouse or bar to generate income. The glue that holds the club together is affection. Affection for each other, the shirt, the heritage. Only a few weeks before the competition Leicester became what I am told is the only hockey club nationally to have been given Freedom of the City for raising the profile of Leicester and of women in sport. You cannot begin to imagine how proud that made me, made us all, feel.
When we were told England had been requested to host the Trophy there was a period of disbelief. How would we cope? The European Hockey Federation is a demanding body with high expectations, we don’t even own a pitch for what’s its sake! There was moral support from England Hockey and, after discussions with our home landlords fell through, Loughborough University rode over the hill and were superb partners. They provided value for money, volunteers by the dozen, logistical support and the vice-chancellor, Bob Allison, hosted our clubs’ reception.
We had great young ball patrollers, many from the club itself and club members past and present were just bloody brilliant. Club president Sarah Treanor and fifth team stalwart Rosemary Jacques ran the show and the rest of us chipped in willingly. Oli Rogers, Alan Hames and camera crew did a great job of getting us live streaming on YouTube and Jo Mould joined me as pundit to my commentator.
Special thanks must go to all the sponsors, companies and individuals, and to both Leicester City Council and Leicestershire County Council who took most of our financial fears away with much-valued funding. The weather was mostly kind, decent crowds attended, nobody had a total breakdown, the EHF seemed happy and we only went and won it!
There’s an inevitable feeling of flatness and what next? We know tough times lie ahead as the centralised programme sucks players southwards but we are recruiting well for next season, believe we can compete and have some great talent coming through. The future could still be orange.
Why the title of this piece? Well, Jo Mould and I had a Test Match Special moment when I realised that I had called Belgian player Vanregemortel, Vanrigormortis. Cue a couple of minutes of uncontrollable giggling from the pair of us. Maybe I’ll leave the microphone to Mottie!
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