GB hockey teams return to action in Pro League

Pippa Field
·3 min read
Grace Balsdon of Great Britain is given a guard of honour after she plays her 50th combined GB and England match during the Women's FIH Field Hockey Pro League match between Great Britain and Belgium at Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre on May 19, 2019 in London, United Kingdom.  - GETTY IMAGES
Grace Balsdon of Great Britain is given a guard of honour after she plays her 50th combined GB and England match during the Women's FIH Field Hockey Pro League match between Great Britain and Belgium at Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre on May 19, 2019 in London, United Kingdom. - GETTY IMAGES

When it came to packing for her first international hockey matches in eight months, there were a few more unusual items among Laura Unsworth's baggage for Great Britain's Hockey Pro League matches in Holland and Belgium.

"I’ve actually got a 1,000 piece puzzle of New York and a painting by numbers set," said the 32-year-old, named women's captain with Hollie Pearne-Webb absent this week due to surgery. "Although we're moving countries so I could have a few problems with transporting it..."

Such a choice of downtime activities is not a novel new approach to captaincy, rather another example of elite athletes learning to pass time inside a bio-secure bubble, with hockey the latest British sport to return to the international arena following its coronavirus-enforced hiatus.

Starting on Tuesday, both of Great Britain's men's and women's teams will resume their Pro League campaigns for the first time since February, with two games in two days against Holland in Amstelveen before switching to Brussels for a double-header in Belgium.

FIH Hockey Pro League: GB fixtures
FIH Hockey Pro League: GB fixtures

They will be playing at the same venues but there will be no mixing of squads, activities will be confined to the pitch and hotel, with staggered meal times, separate bedrooms and another round of coronavirus testing pre-Belgium (the puzzle, as Unsworth points out, will especially come in handy if she tests positive and has to self-isolate abroad).

While Holland has a third of the confirmed coronavirus cases compared to Britain, numbers are on the rise with the Dutch government halting the Hoofdklasse, the country's top domestic hockey league, earlier this month as part of tighter restrictions, deeming it an amateur sport. GB players were all given the option to opt out of travelling.

"We have had a lot of meetings as a team and been pretty open with how we’re feeling," explained Unsworth, speaking before the women's squad, split across two team coaches, travelled via the Eurotunnel rather than mixing on a plane.

"For example being in your own room is different as we usually share and we don’t know how we’ll react to that. But everyone is raring to go, we realise we are unbelievably lucky to get to have this opportunity to play international hockey because it seems like a lifetime ago that we had a match."

First up for Unsworth's side will be the world's best team. Britain dispatched the Dutch in a penalty shootout to claim Olympic gold at Rio 2016 but playing and coaching personnel have changed greatly since. Unsworth - or 'Granny' as she is often called - brings invaluable experience having made her debut in 2008. She is, however, one of only three members, alongside Lily Owsley and Susannah Townsend, playing this week from that Rio squad and Holland are on back on top form, winning both Pro League meetings last year.

"These are the ones where you get to play against the world number ones and you’ve got to relish that opportunity, especially the new girls winning their first caps," she said. "It’s such a good opportunity as you can really test yourself against them."