Glasgow 2014: Holly hoping for hockey Games boost

Holly Cram in action at the 2013 EuroHockey Championships. Picture: FFU Press Agency
Holly Cram in action at the 2013 EuroHockey Championships. Picture: FFU Press Agency
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NOWHERE more than in hockey is there a fear that the 15 minutes of fame generated by the Glasgow Commonwealth Games will have a literal interpretation.

There is a very real risk that the Scottish public, not to mention the media, will shower the exponents of this poorly-profiled sport with appreciation until a well-orchestrated Australian or English penalty corner pierces the bubble and the country goes back to not caring.

Hockey is not the only sport that will tread this tightrope during an 11-day stretch of competitive action that has the power to illuminate the fantasy aspects of a sport, while concealing its daily realities. Consider that Scotland’s women hockey players will spend four months of this year training full-time and living together, something that will never happen again in any of these players’ careers.

Because this is a team within the wider auspices of Team Scotland, everything is amplified. It will be more fun to get behind this collaborative effort than the efforts of individual crusaders, but it will be easier to forget their names afterwards too.

Anecdotally, it does seem that most of the athletes excitedly contemplating the summer gala are aware that this is a once-in-a-lifetime profile projection and are ready to enjoy it for what it is. The convenient thing about the hockey maidens is that most of them have been around for a while. They know exactly what being a Scottish stick-bearer means and realise that their lives will only be marginally altered come August – unless, perhaps, they can contrive a way to win gold. But, for now, we are curious to know exactly who are these women preparing to play in front of raucous crowds of 5,000 at Glasgow Green? Striker Holly Cram is only too happy to give us a snapshot of the characters within the dressing room.

“When we need to be serious, we are very serious, and when we have a bit of time off there is some ukulele-playing, there is some singing, there is dancing,” says Cram, a veteran of 140-plus caps. “One of the girls is quite into video-making so we’ve got all the GoPro stuff, and we do things like Crossbar Challenges.

“Amy Gibson likes to play the guitar; Becky Merchant does quite a lot of the filming and has produced quite a few videos now. I like to think of myself bringing most of the humour, most of the banter.

“It’s just a really nice squad,” she adds, “and the youngsters join in. It’s not a case of them being quiet in the background. There are a lot of club links there as well, so we’re all best pals and we’re around each other a lot. It’s really good.”

There is an obvious antidote here to the isolation in which Team Scotland tracksuit-bearers will work towards their targets in Glasgow. Cram, from the Western Wildcats, also tells us there is a coherent belief that this team can get out of their group – something that, whisper it, looks unlikely to be within the compass of the men.

“It’s definitely not lonely – we are living out of each other’s pockets, basically, for months at a time, which is really good fun and there is never a dull moment,” says Cram, 29.

“We’ve been together for a long time. The nucleus of the team have been playing together for a number of years now and we’ve had success, particularly in the last two years, at Europeans and Champions Challenge. It’s looking really good. We took a big step forward last summer and went full-time for three months, and this year we are going from April so I think we get four months. So I think we made big progress in terms of our fitness and technical development, and just have time to do the things you don’t normally get time to do like stretching, recovering properly.

“We are hosting a Champions Challenge at Glasgow Green in April, so hopefully that will give us a taste of what it will be like [to play in front of a big crowd]. But most of the squad have been to Commonwealth Games before, at least two, and some of the older ones have even been to three. It shouldn’t really faze us too much.

“If anything I think it will give us an advantage, actually, knowing that everyone is there supporting us.”

Hockey will be one of the great spectacles of these Games, partly because the team will spend so much time in action.

Scotland are guaranteed games against Australia, Malaysia, Trinidad & Tobago and England, a juicy group finale that suits Cram down to the ground. No Scottish team of either gender has yet made the semi-finals of a Commonwealth Games. Can Cram and Co do it?

“It’s a good group. We obviously have targeted England, as the last game in the group, as our opportunity to make it into the semi-finals,” she says. “Australia are very strong and they’re playing well just now.”

Ah yes, the famous Australians, winners of three of the four Commonwealth titles handed out to women hockey players so far. They are called the Hockeyroos, aren’t they?

“Yes, and I really think we should come up with a nickname for ourselves,” says Cram, laughing. “It could be a great project for us . . . the Saltire Sticks or something?”

The Saltire Sticks isn’t quite up there with the Beatles for brand potential, but it might help these women remain in the sporting conscience when the big party is over.