FOR those monomaniacs obsessed with a single sport not featured in these Games – and I include sportswriters here – yesterday at Glasgow Green presented a familiar scenario of gloweringly grey skies, a green rectangle, two goals, 11-a-side and Scotland versus England. Unfortunately the outcome was pretty predictable as well – England won.
Scorers: Scotland - Kidd; England - Danson, Townsend
The 2-1 defeat for our women’s hockey team meant they missed out on the semi-finals, in spite of much ponytail-bobbing endeavour on the pitch and polite squeals from the stands. Scotland now play tomorrow in what’s called a classification match against South Africa, hoping to finish the competition in fifth place.
“We wanted to be in the semi-finals and we’re absolutely gutted,” Scotland goalscorer Nikki Kidd said afterwards. “We took the game to England and I think we performed excellently. We threw everything at them, we made chances, we won corners, we got behind and we had them rattled. We just couldn’t quite do it.”
It was, as has so often been the case against England in that other sport, a spirited performance without reward. The whiteshirts had their goalkeeper Maddy Hinch to thank for the win. She took a battering in the second half but managed to keep the Scots out. Some of my colleagues desperately holding on to their team-sheets in the squally conditions might even have described a couple of her saves as Shiltonesque, although I wouldn’t, obviously.
Scotland’s 9-0 tanking from Australia earlier in Group B had left them chasing a win to progress. England only needed to draw but they started the Auld Enemy clash determined to make such calculations redundant.
Alex Danson is a swashbuckling forward for them and twice in a matter of minutes she dashed inside to deliver lusty thwacks which Scotland keeper Amy Gibson did well to stop.
In hockey, goalies get to wear helmets and other protection. At penalty corners, outfielders rush to a bin behind the goal to get themselves helmeted up. Of course there are dangers in the sport but Danson is one who says recent concerns have been so much “scaremongering”. Early on in this game Kidd was struck by the ball as if it had been fired from a ship’s cannon. This prompted a gasp from the crowd but the Scot was quickly on her feet and back among the swinging sticks. There’s no playacting in hockey.
Then England took the lead. It was the dancing Danson, of course, shimmying and spinning in the D to flick the ball over Gibson. Scotland hit back with a slick move involving Nicola Lloyd and captain Linda Clement, the latter luring Hinch from her line, but Kidd couldn’t quite connect with the final pass. “Front stick, reverse stick, front stick – I had to just chuck myself at it,” the forward reflected later.
England’s second goal came after a stramashful penalty corner, Susannah Townsend netting. But Kidd, also from a penalty corner, pulled one back with a drag-flick, setting up what was a storming second half with yet more penalty corners for Scotland, the England defence strapping on the protective headgear for what their management thought had been some questionable decisions by the officials.
Hinch denied Scotland, though, an astonishing stop from the ever-prominent Kidd being the highlight. “I was annoyed with the goal I conceded in the first half,” the keeper said, “so in the second I had to step up for the girls. The game was a typical England-Scotland battle but we’re a difficult team to break down.”
The result might seem typical, too – England won by the same score in last year’s EuroHockey Championships – but this game was one that Scotland coach Gordon Shepherd had predicted his team would win. Asked if his remarks might have spurred on the opposition, he said: “Maybe, but I wouldn’t go into a game without confidence and that’s what I’ve got to give my players. They didn’t need motivated too much. They knew what the prize was and they went after it. They’re hugely disappointed but I’m so so proud of them because they gave it everything.”
The near-miss is all the more praiseworthy given the respective preparations of the sides. The English players, with almost all of them members of the Team GB squad, are full-time, while Scotland have only been full-time for four months prior to the Games. Shepherd said they were grateful to sportscotland for the funding and obviously he’d like it to continue. “That’s not my decision, though. We go out there and play hockey. But, hopefully, the administrators will see the gains we’ve made.”
In the build-up to Glasgow, the players relished being able to focus on their sport and nothing else. “Instead of fitting our hockey round jobs we’ve been able to train hard and rest properly,” said Kidd. “We’re ranked 16th in the world but that’s a false position. I think we’re looking better than teams in the top five.”
Of the Scots who played well and lost, only Emily Maguire was in the Team GB squad which won bronze at London 2012. Around Glasgow Green yesterday, there were hockey aficionados keen to tell you that a Scottish player has to be extra-special to impress the Olympic selectors, that English girls tend to get the nod over Scots with the same ability by dint of being full-time.
But, looking ahead to Rio in two years time, Linda Clement said the performances of her players were becoming difficult to ignore. “You’d like to think we’ll see more Scots in the team. We’re competing so closely with England and a lot of our girls really have the quality now.
“We’ve given the GB selectors something to ponder.”
What a bunch of plucky strivers this Scotland are. As we were all saying by the end: “That’s hockey.”