IN A football sense their name may still haunt us but Scotland’s men’s hockey team are using Costa Rica’s World Cup heroics as inspiration for their bid for glory at the Commonwealth Games.
Shock conquerors of Scotland in the 1990 World Cup, the Costa Ricans have continued doling out the stunning surprises in Brazil by topping a group featuring three previous winners before eventually succumbing to the Netherlands on penalties.
Hockey captain Chris Grassick said yesterday as all of Scotland’s 2014 sportsmen were kitted out for the Games that his spirited young team would be trying to channel some of that unlikely underdog spirit into their performances at Glasgow Green.
“The lads have been talking about the World and Cup and going: ‘Look at Costa Rica – who the hell would have thought they could get to the quarter-finals?’” said Grassick. “There’s definitely inspiration to be taken from them.”
The skipper said that “on paper” Scotland would be expected to finish in seventh place in the tournament but hockey is no more played on paper than football is. “We believe we can make the top four if we play to our potential. I think we could be a real underdog in the competition. We have a group who are really excited about playing in a home Games and there is no real pressure on us.”
It’s a young team but one with plenty of caps and a bit of Olympic experience. Up against them will be full-time teams with great hockey traditions as well as Australia, the newly crowned world champions. But Grassick said the Scots will relish playing in front of the Glasgow crowds. “We’re going to have great backing and I think a home support can definitely make a difference. Playing hockey in Scotland you don’t tend to get massive crowds very often, but we played a four-nations tournament at Glasgow Green in April with about 700 there and we were all thinking: ‘Wow, if this is what the atmosphere is like with 700, what it going to be like in the Games?,’” he said.
“The venue’s capacity is almost 6,000 so I think everyone in our team will really relish it and I think there will be a lot of surprises in the tournament.
“I think we’re going to be among the ones to watch and one of the teams to cause a surprise.”
So what are Grassick’s grounds for optimism? The fact so many are based in bigger leagues elsewhere – only four currently play their club hockey in Scotland – has been important to the team’s development. A decade ago only three would been deemed good enough for that. He’s loath to mention individuals beyond their fine goalie Jamie Cachia – “He’s just moved to the team that won the league in England [Beeston] and is very close to getting into the GB squad” – because, as so often with those who wear the dark blue, the team’s the thing. Grassick himself, a midfielder, is part of the British squad, training full-time at Bisham Abbey, but he insists: “We don’t have any stars. We’re a strong team and that’s very important.” So has there been banter with his English colleagues who in Glasgow will be wearing different-coloured shirts? Oh yes, but all in jest. “They’re a good bunch of guys.”
Grassick is hopeful the Scottish public will take to the team principle as well, and find it easy to relate to the sight of a number of strapping men in national colours, even if they’ve never watched hockey before. “I think there is something about supporting a team as opposed to an individual,” he said. “I was chatting to a girl cyclist who must do her training in Manchester on her own. That’s an individual sport whereas we have to bond as a team. I think the public will support us, and then it’s up to us.”
In that four-way competition Scotland achieved what Grassick called “really credible” results against England, Belgium and Argentina, losing only 3-1 to the English who’d been together for a while before the World Cup while the Scots had only managed a few days in each other’s company beforehand.
These part-timers, who only normally manage to gather everyone together from Thursday to Saturday, are nothing if not big-thinking. In their group for Glasgow they’ll face Australia, India, Wales and South Africa and in the opening match against the latter who are full time they’ll be going for victory.
“We’re targeting that for a win,” added Grassick. “We’ll try to spring a surprise. The second game is against India, also full time, and that’s another we’re not expected to win but we believe we can do it. We played them at the last Commonwealth Games in Delhi in front of 20,000 of their fans and lost a close match 3-1.The next one is against Wales and although I don’t want to tempt fate we should win if we can play as we know we can. Australia will be our last game, we’ve got to enjoy that. They’ve just won the World Cup, 6-1 [against Holland] in the final. The first two games will be the big ones for us. If we can get at least one good result from them that will set us up nicely.”