IF YOU build it, they will come. Well, perhaps not in the numbers Games organisers had hoped for, but the first action at the £5.5 million National Hockey Centre on Glasgow Green was a resounding success nonetheless.
In a sport where domestic attendances often struggle to reach three figures, never mind four, it was unfortunate scheduling which dictated that neither the men nor women’s Scotland team was in action on day one.
But, while the 5,000-capacity venue was not full, it was populated healthily enough to tap into the feelgood factor which was evident throughout the city centre. Bridgeton railway station, accustomed to football supporters passing through en route to Celtic Park, welcomed a steady stream of both dedicated hockey fans and casually curious punters.
The chants of “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie” were certainly in stark contrast to the normal sporting refrains heard in this part of town. The “Hockeyroos”, as the Australian women’s team are inevitably known, were the star attraction of the morning session.
They duly lived up to their billing as pre-tournament favourites, opening their bid for gold with a 4-0 win over Malaysia. If not as convincing as the 9-0 thrashing they dished out to the same opponents four years earlier, it was sufficient evidence that Australia are likely to top Pool B, which also includes the host nation.
Even the 9am start time, with Glasgow still overcast enough to require the floodlights to be switched on before the day gave way to glorious sunshine, was only a minor inconvenience for the top seeds.
“We had to get up at 6am this morning, so we couldn’t go to the Opening Ceremony last night which was a bit of a shame as it looked like fun,” said Georgina Parker, who scored twice to cement Australia’s victory after Jodie Kenny and Kellie White had put them in command.
“We would have liked to score more goals, but we are not going to turn up our noses at a 4-0 win. The field was really good to play on, soft and running really smoothly.
“The weather has been lovely, which is something we weren’t expecting. The village is amazing and all the facilities are top notch.”
World Cup runners-up last month, Parker and her team-mates have brought a typically unrestrained level of Aussie confidence to the Glasgow party, where they will face Scotland on Sunday.
“We are in really good nick at the moment, coming off a high with our performance at the World Cup,” she added. “We feel good for gold. There will be some tough challenges along the way – England are always a threat, along with South Africa and New Zealand, and you never know how Scotland will perform as the host nation.
“It’s going to be an exciting game against Scotland. We played in the World Cup final against the Dutch in the Netherlands last month, so we are used to the crowd being behind the hosts. It won’t bother us.”
As they left the centre, the Australian girls managed to capture a selfie “photobombed” by the Queen as she arrived during her whistlestop tour of Games venues on the first day of competition. Her Majesty took in some of England’s 2-0 win over Wales in a meeting of home nations which was far more closely contested than many had expected. Also in Pool B, the Welsh will face Scotland on Monday before the Auld Enemies clash on Wednesday. These are likely to be key clashes in determining who finishes runners-up to Australia to reach the medal stages.
Included in the Welsh line-up was Xenna Hughes, daughter of former Wales and Manchester United striker Mark. With the Stoke City manager currently in Germany for his team’s pre-season tour, 21-year-old Hughes is enjoying long-distance support and advice from her old man as she savours the highest profile competition so far of her burgeoning hockey career.
“He just told me to be confident in what I’ve done to get to this stage,” she said. “He said I should just play as I normally do and not over-think it. He said the crowd would blur into the background and I’d be focused on the game.
“He was right, but there were also times in the game when it was good to tune into the crowd. When you get a bit fatigued, it spurs you on. It was fantastic today to see Welsh flags in the crowd and have supporters cheering you. You just can’t compare this to the number of people we normally play in front of. I think it will be amazing when we play Scotland here.
“I love playing against Scotland. It’s always one of our harder games.
“With my Dad being who he is, and also having two older brothers, I’ve always been really competitive. I did hockey, netball, tennis and a bit of golf when I was younger. I tried to start up a girls’ football team at school, but they weren’t on board with it. So I went for hockey seriously and it’s amazing to now be part of this.”
England had a poor World Cup finals last month when they finished 11th out of 12, and were satisfied with the win, earned through goals by Alex Danson and Nicola White in either half. It was Danson’s 44th England goal and the 29-year-old, who claimed bronze in the last two Commonwealth Games, is focused on topping the podium this time.
“It’s hard for me to put into words what a gold medal would mean here,” said Danson. “It’s something I’ve dreamed of since watching hockey as a little girl. We had a very bad World Cup but we have got ourselves back together.
“There’s something magical about the Games and this is a fantastic venue for hockey. The game against Scotland will be something special. We’ve got lots of friends in the Scotland team and it’s always a competitive game.”
In the afternoon session, South Africa crushed Trinidad and Tobago 16-0 in the opening Pool A match. India defeated Canada 4-2 in the most entertaining contest yet, Jaspreet Kaur with a crucial double which divided two well-matched sides.