PLAYING hockey has proved a rewarding experience for Iain Scholefield, but it has also come at a cost.
The 27-year-old from Paisley has won more than 100 caps for Scotland and is eagerly anticipating what he hopes will provide the highlight of a fine career when he represents his country on home soil in the Commonwealth Games next month.
Scholefield has also been forced to accept that Glasgow 2014 will probably be his swansong as a top-flight international. A civil engineer, he can no longer afford to put his professional life on hold and commit to the sacrifices his passion for the sport demands.
“My priority after the Games will have to be my career,” said Scholefield. “Sadly, hockey doesn’t support me. So the Games are the end of a journey in a way.
“I graduated from Glasgow University three years ago but, with these Games in mind, I took the chance to go and play hockey abroad. I played in Belgium for a year with Royal Uccle in Brussels, then had two years in Holland with Qui Vive just outside Amsterdam. It was effectively full-time hockey, coaching and playing.
“I wanted to play at a higher level in a different culture, with a different approach to tactics and technical stuff. It really helped me improve. I came back a month ago and it’s just been full-time training since then ahead of the Games. I’ve had to save up over the past year so I could have these few months to train full-time. I could go back to Holland or Belgium after the Games and there is the European Championships coming up in London next year. But it’s been three years since I graduated, so the longer I leave it, the harder it will be to get back into civil engineering. So I’ll be looking for a real job once the Games are over.
“The rest of the guys in the Scotland squad are currently working Monday to Wednesday every week, then training the rest of the week. They’ve had to take unpaid leave and use up holidays to get time off for the Games. It’s an amateur sport, so we are all used to it now, but it definitely does affect your recovery. It can take its toll.”
Scotland will certainly need to be in optimum condition if they are to enjoy any level of success at the new 5,000-capacity National Hockey Centre on Glasgow Green next month.
Currently ranked 24th in the world, the Scots are in a daunting preliminary round pool headlined by world champions Australia, who have won gold at every Commonwealth Games since the sport’s first inclusion in 1998. Scholefield and his team-mates will also face India, silver medallists in Delhi four years ago, South Africa and Wales.
“It’s always a big jump for us to try to compete with the strongest nations,” Scholefield added.
“We are ranked eighth of the ten teams taking part in the Games and our target is to try to finish sixth. If we can finish higher than our ranking, that would be good.
“We play South Africa in our opening game on 25 July. They are ranked 12th in the world at the moment, so it’s quite a big jump for us if we are to win that one. But we believe we can do it. The last time we played them, a year ago, they only beat us 6-5 in a really close game. On our day, we can definitely win that game.
“India are next up, who are tenth in the world, so that’s another jump. But you never know what could happen in this tournament. Home advantage will definitely be a factor for us. We played in a four-nation tournament at Glasgow Green last month and there were only around 500 there, which was still great. So I don’t know what it will be like with 5,000 cheering us on. A bit special, I would imagine.
“We played in Delhi four years ago and hockey is the second national sport in India, behind cricket. We were playing in front of 19,000 fans there – you could try to talk to a team-mate a metre away and not hear each other, that’s how noisy it was. You just learn to focus on your game. There are so many other things to think about when you are playing that you don’t let it affect you too much.
“It’s going to be strange taking part in a big tournament so close to home. It almost feels like you’re going abroad to a major event, but it’s actually right on your doorstep. The venue at Glasgow Green is really nice with a good pitch. It’s been down for a year now and is fully bedded in.
“Sometimes at the big tournaments, the pitch has only been laid the week before. The fact we have been able to train on it for the past year and get used to it has also been a big help. There’s a good feeling about it now and we can’t wait to get started.”