Not so jolly hockey

Stepping off the tube to cross the platform and wait for a connecting train to take me to Wembley arena last Sunday, I suddenly got hit by a wall of wet. An horrendous downpour had begun and I was in the way. It was my own fault as I had negated to wrap up in head to toe waterproofs for the January journey five steps across the semi-covered platform. It was around this time that I was overcome with a huge sense of gratitude that I was on my way to watch Indoor hockey and not the more popular outdoor version.

(My last expedition to spectate a hockey match I was equipped with thermals, hood, hat, another hood, coat, gloves, boots and umbrella. I also packed a flask of coffee and a handful of Quality Streets. This was Boxing Day, but trust me, the procedure has been perfected and replicated throughout the entire outdoor season, bar the Quality streets that I was lucky to get a hold of even on Boxing Day).

Anyway, by the time I was making my return trip having watched all four matches of the Super Sixes (national Indoor finals), I was thinking differently. I was thinking give me pissing rain and sand in my socks and proper outdoor hockey; this Indoor lark will never catch on.

Hockey isn’t played in bad weather. Rain, hail, sleet and snow doesn’t necessarily stop the game (anyone who has ever been to Raphoe knows there wouldn’t be a season if this was the case). Frost stops play. If a pitch is frozen, the game can’t go ahead because it is too dangerous so in England a scheduled break is enforced around the Christmas period to try to eliminate a backlog of fixtures needing to be arranged as a result of postponements.  To keep fitness levels from fading faster than Frosty the snowman many teams allow themselves to come indoors. With a smaller pitch and just six players instead of eleven, the game transpires very differently. It can be fast, it can be end-to-end and it can be a goal-scorers dream. Alternatively, it can be manic, it can be haphazard and it can be demoralising.

The Maxifuel Super Sixes finals at Wembley in front of about 5,000 supporters, is the accumulation of a short domestic season that has the tremendous incentive of playing in a grand arena with the bonus of being televised on Sky Sport.

The day consisted of the men’s semi’s, the women’s final and lastly, the men’s final.

Thirty goals were scored in the first two matches with East Grinstead finding the net a dozen times against Beeston. This set up a place in the final against Reading who managed nine in their semi win over Canterbury. East Grinstead dominated the final winning 7-1 and securing the title of National champions for the fifth consecutive year. With so many goals being scored there was quality on display. The game is designed to be fast paced with sideboards in place to keep the ball in play for longer. Ultimately players get tired so the goalkeeper has added importance. East Grinstead had an international specialist GK between their posts who conceded just five over the two games. They also had a team of goal scorers, which is something you need in Indoor. Each individual should know how to put chances away, nineteen goals shows this was the case.

Reading was in the final of the ladies section too, pitted against Sutton Coldfield who provided a brilliant subplot to the event. They last reached this stage of the competition 24 years ago and one of the game’s genuine stars played in both fixtures. Four-time Olympian and Barcelona Bronze medallist Jane Sixsmith; a household name the last time GB achieved a podium finish in the Olympics. Sixsmith continued to add to the record books by scoring her team’s second goal.

However this wasn’t enough to get hold of the trophy as on the day the difference between the two sides was current England and Great Britain sensation Helen Richardson who scored three of Readings four goals reminding everyone that see is one of the most gifted players of her generation.

Unfortunately, throughout the day there was little excitement in the air despite a whole host of well-known players turning out, old rivalries reignited and crowd entertainment during the intervals. There was a sense of inevitably once the matches got underway. In each fixture (excluding a brief few minutes of the women’s final when Sutton Coldfield levelled the scoring) there was no doubt which side was going to win. Indoor is not outdoor with a roof on, it is a different game. Specialist players display tight skills that they can perform in less space than it takes to swing a cat, but they are few and far between. This is because the season is short so players focus on the long form of the game. Despite goals galore, a London venue and hired in razzmatazz to impress Sky, I came to the conclusion that Indoor is much more fun to play than to spectate. Although much of this joy is giddy relief that you don’t have to spend an hour and a half in the driving rain straining to see beyond the end of your nose. Indoor is fun because it isn’t outdoor, because it is a novelty. Well played to each of the teams involved in the Super Sixes as well as England Hockey for producing a slick event. But it just isn’t hockey.

Get her off the pitch

Somehow, considering it was first published in 2010, I only just got my hands on this book. The title has been a reminder in my phone for about a year, trying to spark me into pulling the finger out and actually buying it. Or, borrowing it from the library that I visit about six times a week. Lucky for me Santa Claus isn’t as tardy as I am. I (slash he) know what I like and I knew this would go down well.

The real stories of a female journalist with no interest or inclination towards sport being dunked head first into a world of plus-fours, googlies and uppercuts is definitely entertaining. Truss notes the mistakes she made, the unlikely situations she found herself in, at times due to her inexperience, the perils of the unglamorous press box, the historic fixtures she was present at and the segregation insisted on between some other journalists and her.

Written in a style that is funny, honest and easy to go along with, reading this book is effortless. Except that I have had to restrain myself from laughing on a few occasions. I nearly displayed teeth through a smile the other day on the tube but I managed to catch myself on just in time. The joy of the tale though for me, is that she did end up falling for sport. She was converted into a form studying, statistic laden, holistic nut because she went with it.

Good on her. I’m pretty jealous.

An England win to scream about

I had been keeping a watchful eye on the England netball fixtures list as I was really keen to see them play. The last time I was at an international was when the Commonwealth Games were held in Manchester. My mum had taken the bait I dangled in front of her in the form of a strategic parable unoriginally pilfered from Nikeee, “We should just do it mum, we’ll regret it if we don’t. We might not get the chance again” As a working mum of four children she was/is not one to pass up an opportunity to get the flock outta there; if the door was left ajar it was not one of the babes that needed watching for fear of running fugitive, it was mum.

Now that I’m living in London the thought had crossed my mind that I would have a better chance of going to a match as being in the host country is usually a benefit (this is the part were my fingers tighten into eagle-esque claws as I restrain myself from banging on about the price of trains/flights/petrol/Boris bikes). But netball seems to follow the pattern favoured by another sport not considered mainstream, rugby league, by chiefly staying out of chuffing London. Whether happily not breaching the inner circle of the M25 and being classified a minor sport in this country are related is a question for another time. Eight teams make up the Netball Super League (NSL) with the most southern side being Surrey Storm based in Guildford. There is a Welsh team, the Celtic Dragons that play their home fixtures in Cardiff. I make this point because as the NSL is the highest level for club sides they have a fan base or following in the region. A region that is near London therefore it is not unreasonable to assume that every so often a premier international fixture should be held in the capital.

World number one side Australia were the opposition for this three-match series being hosted in Bath, Wembley arena and the NEC in Birmingham. So to north London I headed along with 7,000 other spectators to witness if victory in the opening game the previous weekend was as a result of Aussie jetlag, wardrobe malfunction in terms of tying shoelaces together or simply lucky.

This is unfair; it is a redundant attitude of sporting fixtures between the two nations hanging around like a lazy koala bear up a tree on a sunny afternoon in Steve Irwin’s zoo. As it turned out, an experienced England side built on success garnered from the 2011 World Fast Net series win and a useful Test series in the southern hemisphere last year.

Remarkably, being in Brent, the whole night was a joy. I challenge anyone, fan of netball, sports enthusiast or not, to have felt differently. The match was tight, seesawing between the sides until the hosts edged clear in the final quarter and held on to win by 2 points. The crowd was loud, the wee girl squealing into my right ear from the first whistle should really have received some sort of grand recognition for superior lung capacity, or made to sign a medical contract so science could eventually benefit from exploring her unnaturally large lungs.

Coach Anna Mayes instilled a sense of confidence into her players so they trusted their significant abilities. The delight on the faces of the squad after the final whistle was exciting to see as this win meant a series victory over the Diamonds for the first time ever. The mood was summed up when two of the players literally did cartwheels and backflips in celebration.

Interest in netball is steadily increasing, as is the number of participants. There is no reason why this sport should not get significant media coverage; it has everything a finger-twitching journalist looks for in women’s sport– Pretty girls? Yes, High standard? Yes, Role models? Yes,  Success? Yes, yes, yes