Women's Hockey: Forget St Trinian's, hockey just got serious

The women's game is transformed. England have shot up to fifth in the world and a London medal is realistic.

Why is it that images of those brattish belles from St Trinian's still hover in the minds of many when thinking of women's hockey? Toothy Joyce Grenfell's "Up sticks and at 'em girls!" is not exactly the sort of exhortation that springs readily from the lips of England's captain, Kate Walsh. Suggest to any member of her current squad that it is not a game to be taken too seriously is to invite a sharp thwack across the shins with a not-so-jolly hockey stick.

Few sports can look forward with as much relish to striking out for the 2012 podium based on a total transformation of results over the past 12 months, culminating in England's bronze medal at last week's Champions Trophy in Nottingham, the most prestigious event in the annual hockey calendar.

"This time last year in the same competition we got one point, and this year we had 10 at the end of the group stages and finished in third place," says the 25-year-old Alex Danson, a stalwart of the GB and England teams after becoming one of hockey's youngest-ever full internationals as a 16-year-old schoolgirl.

A bright, bubbly blonde, Danson epitomises New Age hockey woman, a full-time professional, totally committed to her sport. "Our results over the past week have moved us up to fifth in the world and given us a great boost for 2012. It means a medal is in sight but we are going to have to work really hard. With just two years to go we are so lucky to be in our current situation and we will use these two years to do everything we possibly can to get success in London.

"If we improve so much in one year then just think what we might be able to do in two. Of course, the Olympics will be much tougher with all the top nations involved but I genuinely believe we now have the best programme and coaching in the world. I was really, really pleased not just for myself but for the team. We had a brilliant tournament."

Danson, who scored the winning goal in the opening match against Argentina, likens her role to that of one of her sporting heroes, David Beckham. "I am classed as a forward but I am here, there and everywhere, fetching and carrying in midfield, defending and attacking. It involves a lot of running."

She says she played "any sport that was going" at school in Hampshire. "I remember first watching hockey when I was very young and pestering my mum for a hockey stick for my birthday when I was seven. When I finally got one it weighed about seven pounds. I was thrilled and started using it in my back garden. I had it until I was 15 and had joined a local club. The school I was at did not really play much girls' hockey so I joined in with the boys when they had a knock-around at lunchtime."

The Reading star, who spent last season playing in Holland, home of the Olympic champions, has now well over 100 international caps. "For me hockey encompasses everything you want in a sport. It's physical, it's skilful, you need strength and a tactical brain to think your way through a match. The image of St Trinian's has long since fallen by the wayside."

Away from the hockey pitch, Danson works with a Sky Sports scheme to entice schoolkids into hockey and is a Boutique Sports ambassador, a concept designed to encourage young women to exercise with the promise of a post-event "pampering" party. The first event took place in Battersea Park on 10 July with thousands running five or 10 kilometres, though Danson was unable to participate as it clashed with the Champions Trophy.

Two years ago Danson suffered a broken thumb in the Beijing Olympics, has had several shoulder injuries and had to be airlifted off the field at Bisham Abbey after dislocating her collarbone. She says: "Hockey is brilliant fun but it is physically very demanding and fitness is the trademark of our team."

Southampton born, she is currently living in Marlow, close to hockey headquarters at Bisham. She says she is "seeing someone at the moment" and eventually would like to settle down, have a family and live by the sea. "That would be perfect." She is taking an Open University degree with a view to becoming a PE and geography teacher.

Her hockey icon, she says, is her team captain Walsh. "She is such a good role-model and an inspiration to me, as has been Helen Richardson, who next to Kate is our most capped player. I've been so lucky, I'd never been abroad before I was selected for my first international and now I've been all over the world. I think that hockey is ingrained into my soul, I love it, really love it."

Message from an icon: Kate Walsh

'Alex is a deadly finisher. She'd do anything to score'

Things have started to progress for us since we relocated to the Bisham Abbey area, which means we can all train together more or less full-time every day. Alex Danson has responded particularly well to this situation and also adapted brilliantly to the recent rule change which means you can self-pass: that is, you do not have to pass the ball forward to another player before you can touch it again but can tap it again yourself and run or dribble with it. This speeds up the game much more and suits Alex's style.

I have been in the team a long time (since 1999) and remember Alex coming in as a very young player, watching her grow into a world-class striker. The season she had playing in Holland improved her game enormously. She has come out of it a stronger and more confident player with a lot of different skill sets. She is also a clubmate of mine at Reading and with every game seems to be getting better and better.

Between now and 2012 I am convinced she will improve her game even more as she is our most consistent forward and hers is probably the first name to go down on the team sheet. She is quite modest about it but actually she is outstanding in the circle, a deadly finisher and adept at drawing the keeper out. She would do anything to score a goal! As captain she is a joy to work with and I am so glad that the whole team is performing so well. 2012 is getting closer and as long as we keep developing as we have over the last year the signs are good."

The British Olympic Association (BOA), formed in 1905, are the national Olympic committee for Great Britain and Northern Ireland. They prepare and lead the nation's finest athletes at the summer, winter and youth Olympic Games, and deliver world-leading services to enable success for athletes and their national governing bodies. For more information go to: www.olympics.org.uk

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
Plenty to ponder: Amir Khan has had repeated problems with US immigration because of his Muslim faith and now American television may shun him
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments