Alex Danson has today been announced as the new permanent Great Britain & England Hockey Team captain after being voted in by her team mates.
Alex has been leading the team on a temporary basis since the teams Gold Medal in Rio last year.
Danson has always led from the front for GB & England, scoring a record 105 goals in 286 appearances since making her international debut in 2001.
As the team prepare to depart for New Zealand and the Hockey World League Finals – which start on Friday 17th November – Alex is joined in the 18-strong England team by new vice-captains and fellow Rio Olympic gold medal winners Hollie Pearne-Webb and Laura Unsworth.
— Alex Danson (@AlexDanson15) November 8, 2017
A Recent Run Of Success
EuroHockey bronze in August maintained an eight-year run which has seen the England or Great Britain women’s hockey teams claim at least one major international medal annually.
It has made them one of the most revered nations in world hockey, but that was not always the case.
London 2012 saw Great Britain break a 20-year wait for a medal. Prior to London were the third-place finishes at the 1988 Seoul and 1992 Barcelona Games.
“When I started we were unfunded and off the back of 1988 I was very aware of the men’s success (having won gold) and the women in Barcelona, but that we hadn’t had anything since then. Now it’s all changed,” said Danson.
The centralised programme, which started in 2009, has helped GB & England climb the world rankings thanks to the £18m of UKSport investment. Currently ranked No.2 in the world, before the centralised programme started England sat outside the top 10, and below Spain, Korea and the USA, in 11th place.
“We’ve seen a massive participation boost and with more players in the lower age-groups and a full-time programme for seniors, people are joining at a higher level than they were six or seven years ago,” Danson said.
“Now we can genuinely say to boys and girls you can be a full-time hockey player, which is just phenomenal and it’s one of the things I’m most proud of about the changes in the sport.
“We have 64 full-time athletes across our women’s and men’s programme and if you’d told me that 10 years ago I probably wouldn’t have believed you.”
Danson believes that bronze at the 2010 World Cup in Argentina was a breakthrough moment for the women’s squad, which acted as a springboard for future success.
“It was instrumental as it was the first time we’d won a World Cup medal and it turned our belief around about what we could achieve,” she stated.
The New Era
A new era has started, with England Coach Danny Kerry bringing in some extremely talented players for Danson to lead into battle at the forthcoming Hockey World League Final and beyond.
“The new players that have come in are fantastically talented,” she said. “As you see the team transition we will develop into a side that oppositions struggle to keep up with.
“The new crop of players offer athleticism, absolute will in abundance and want to recreate the success we had on the last cycle. That is really exciting.”
However, things will be a little different from the previous captain and Hockey Hall of Famer, Kate Richardson-Walsh. Whenever Kate was on the pitch (or even off of it) you could hear the instrumental Captin bellowing instructions to her team and driving them on to achieve great things. Alex, in her own words, is “much quieter”, a leader that will put the team first, leading by example with hard work and sheer grit and determination, give everything she has to the team leaving nothing on the pitch.
“Kate was exceptional so it’s a very hard pair of shoes to fill and I would never be able to do that,” she said. “But I always try to lead by example.
“It’s difficult for any captain to look after the whole team, but I know what they need from me, where the strengths are in the group and I remember why we won in Rio.
“It wasn’t because we had the best individuals, it was because we were the best team.”
“We are as a team fantastic with intelligent players who are strong, fit and have pace to die for,” Danson said.
“We want to develop a team that opponents just can’t cope with, or keep up with and play a really attacking style of hockey that will be exciting to watch.”
Winning an Olympic Gold Medal in Rio at the age of 31 would be the pinnacle for any athlete and Danson could have been forgiven if she announced her retirement at the same time as stalwarts Kate Richardson-Walsh and Crista Cullen.
Alex, however, has Tokoyo 2020 in her sights.
“For me, the greatest challenge is creating a winning team and that will be different to Rio as it’s a different group of people and characters,” she said.
“We’re equally motivated and dedicated and we’re doing everything we can to try to recreate something special in Tokyo.
“That (winning gold) will be our greatest ever challenge, but it’s a privilege to try to do it again.”
Danny Kerry returns for England
Danny Kerry has been a fundamental part of the success of Great Britain and England since 2005, baring a short spell as Great Britain Performance Director, Kerry has held the role of head coach of the GB & England women’s side for 12 years.
Danson has therefore played most of her international career under his leadership and describes learning of his heart attack – whilst the squad were competing in the World League Semi-Finals in South Africa – as “horrendous”.
Kerry describes the forward as the “perfect choice” for the captaincy, but the player herself is keen to emphasise the team’s delight at his rapid recovery.
“It was an incredible challenge for the group because you spend more time with them than you do your family when you’re away and training so often – and you care for them all dearly,” she said.
“I went to visit Danny the day after it happened [in hospital] and it’s great to see him recover so well and amazing to have him back with the squad.”