Have there been two more popular winners? Sophie Bray and Sam Ward have been voted UK hockey players of the year for 2019 by members of the Hockey Writers’ Club (HWC) following Wednesday’s awards lunch in London.
Bray was honoured as the Investec women’s player of the year award for the first time, after she previously won the HWC junior award in 2007, while Ward wins the men’s senior award for the second time in three years.
Both winners are firsts for their clubs. Bray is the first female player from East Grinstead to receive the award and no Old Georgians player had previously won the men’s award.
Bray said: “It means an awful lot when you look at the past winners. It’s something I’m incredibly proud of. I didn’t expect to be nominated, let alone win the award.
“I wouldn’t have won this award without my EG team-mates. I have an incredible team behind me. The midfield is one of the best there is and they would argue I would score a few more goals but they create a lot of chances for me.
Bray, 29, has been in blistering club form since her international retirement in early 2019.
The forward scored four goals in the 2019 Jaffa Super 6s women’s final as East Grinstead won their second title in four years. She was also joint top scorer with 18 goals as East Grinstead made it through to the end of season League Finals at Lee Valley.
At the West Sussex club, she is regarded as an instrumental role model due to her coaching work with East Grinstead juniors.
Her coach, Mary Booth, said: “She commands respect from us all and has brought her high standards of performance and behaviours to our club. Her determination, knowledge and passion enable those around her to improve their own performance.”
Bray’s Investec player of the year award means that a Rio Olympian has now won the women’s category for the 16th time spanning the last 17 years, underlining the depth of talent and experience in that gold medal-winning squad.
Bray was voted ahead of her former GB team-mates Hannah Martin, in second, and Lily Owsley and Anna Toman, who were tied third.
I’m shocked, admits Ward
Meanwhile Ward told of his “utter shock” following a challenging year, as he claimed his second men’s award after winning in 2017.
Ward scored eight goals for GB in the inaugural FIH Pro League, as well as helping Old Georgians secure promotion to the men’s Premier Division for the first time in the club’s history.
This season, he had scored seven goals in four games before being picked for GB’s Olympic qualifiers against Malaysia.
The GB forward is currently recovering from a career-threatening injury sustained in November against Malaysia after he suffered a crushed retina and facial fractures after being struck in the face by a team-mate’s shot.
Ward had scored twice to help GB secure Tokyo 2020 qualification and the hockey fraternity rallied in support of the 28-year-old following his surgery and positive outlook on social media.
— Hockey Writers’ Club (@HockeyWriters1) January 15, 2020
Ward, who was unable to attend the awards with GB coach Paul Revington receiving on his behalf, said: “I was in utter shock when I was told I had won it. It was a challenging year and so to have this award is pretty amazing on the back end of everything that has happened, with a broken thumb and then a head injury at the end of the year.
“When you look at it overall with Old Georgians being promoted to the Premier Division and how we started this season and then, on top of that, to realise a dream of playing an Olympic Games and to do it in such fashion in the Malaysia games.”
On his injury, he said: “It’s perspective and overall whether I come back or not, I am very proud of my career. There are bigger things in life and, if anything, I find it so humbling with the support I’ve got.”
Ward was voted winner ahead of Zach Wallace, who has been in fine form so early in his international career, and David Ames, who had a standout year for England and GB.
HOCKEY WRITERS’ CLUB – UK PLAYERS OF THE YEAR
1983 Margaret Gleghorne; Paul Barber
1984 Karen Brown; Richard Leman
1985 Linda Carr; Sean Kerly
1986 Moira McLeod; Ian Taylor
1987 Violet McBride; Imran Sherwani
1988 Barbara Hambly; Jon Potter
1989 Vickey Dixon; David Faulkner
1990 Maggie Souyave; Andy Halliday
1991 Joanne Thompson; Jason Laslett
1992 Jane Sixsmith; Rob Hill
1993 Sandie Lister; Julian Halls
1994 Karen Brown; Simon Mason
1995 Tammy Miller; Ian Jennings
1996 Kathryn Johnson; Bobby Crutchley
1997 Karen Brown; Jon Wyatt
1998 Carolyn Reid; David Hacker
1999 Christina Cullen; Chris Ashcroft
2000 Jane Sixsmith; Mark Pearn
2001 Jane Smith; Danny Hall
2002 Leisa King; Robert Todd
2003 Kate Walsh; Simon Mason
2004 Crista Cullen; Barry Middleton
2005 Crista Cullen; Jonathan Ebsworth
2006 Crista Cullen; James Tindall
2007 Kate Walsh; Barry Middleton
2008 Beth Storry; Ali McGregor
2009 Helen Richardson; Ashley Jackson
2010 Helen Richardson; Barry Middleton
2011 Alex Danson; Mark Pearn
2012 Kate Walsh; Barry Middleton
2013 Maddie Hinch; Adam Dixon
2014 Susannah Townsend; Iain Lewers
2015 Maddie Hinch; Iain Lewers
2016 Maddie Hinch; Dan Fox
2017 Hollie Pearne-Webb; Sam Ward
2018 Giselle Ansley; Alan Forsyth
2019 Sophie Bray; Sam Ward