After 24 years of trying, England’s women’s hockey team finally won gold at the Commonwealth Games. They had already played in Australia in three finals before now, and lost each of them. But on a sunny Sunday afternoon at Birmingham University, they eventually beat them, 2-1, with goals from Holly Hunt and Tess Howard.
And if it wasn’t exactly easy, it wasn’t as difficult as the story suggested it would be either. England were in control of the game throughout the game, and yes, at the end the fans in the grandstand were chanting “Hockey is coming home”.
In fact, the team had received some good luck messages from Leah Williamson and the rest of the lionesses arrived in the morning. “They told us how some of our previous teams had inspired them in the past, and that they hoped they would now return the favor by helping us do it,” midfielder Flora Peel said. “And they definitely did.”
The win went some way to making up for losses suffered by England’s women’s cricket and netball teams, who both missed out on the bronze medal play-offs earlier in the day. “Women’s sport seems to be really taking off this summer,” said Peel, “and now it’s about taking advantage of all those opportunities.
“You see what the Lionesses win will do for them, and you hope it does something similar for us, and also for the netball and cricket players, even though they didn’t make the final this time. The more women’s sport as a whole can build on this momentum, the better for all of us.”
Peel will hate to be mentioned here, but it turns out she is the great-granddaughter, five times removed, of Sir Robert Peel. There is a statue of him just down the road from the pitch.
They still won’t put one of her on the side, even if she’s an alumnus of the university. But he played very well and had a hand in both goals. Both came in the second quarter. Hunt scored first, from Peel’s centre. Howard got the second after making an interception, which was passed back to Shona McCallin.
He flicked the ball to Peel, whose shot was artfully deflected by Howard into the net. It meant that Australia, who have won the title five times, had conceded more goals in those four minutes of play than in the rest of the tournament.
“Australia are so good we knew we had to come out fighting,” England’s Lily Owsley said. “Our coach told us to take the first swing and keep playing, and we did, because if you sit a team like Australia, they’re going to keep attacking you.”
Australia tried to do so in the second half but couldn’t find a way past Maddie Hinch. There were just 19 seconds to play when she was finally brought down by Rosie Malone on a penalty corner. The crowd had just started singing their version of Three Lions. “I laughed and thought, ‘I’m about to run onto the field to celebrate here’ when I heard that,” Peel said. “And then the goal went in and I thought, ‘Oh no, they’ve nailed it!'”
England had been in this sort of situation before. In the 2014 final they led 1-0 when Australia equalized with 11 seconds to play and then won the match in a penalty shoot-out. The memory of that defeat still haunts England captain Hollie Pearne-Webb.
She spoke before the game about how she was determined not to let something like that happen again. And this time his team held on as the crowd counted down the final seconds. As soon as they got to zero, Laura Unsworth hit the ball and the celebrations began.
Or they did for everyone except Pearne-Webb, who struggled to shake hands with every Australian coach and player before her team dragged her in to join in with their singing and dancing. The team had not won a medal at home since Euro 2015.
This was all the sweeter for the memory of the players’ experience at the Tokyo Olympics last year, when the bronze-winning GB team were unable to celebrate with their friends and family because none of them he had permission to travel. This Great Britain team will meet again soon, with one eye on the next Olympics in Paris and even more glory.
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