In the first in a series of articles by The Mixed Zone contributors, editor Sue Mott explains why she will be casting her vote for Team GB’s eccentric hockey goalkeeper Maddie Hinch in the BT Sports Action Woman of the Year Award 2016. Further articles supporting each of the 10 nominations for the prestigious annual award will appear here before the winner is announced during the Action Woman of the Year Awards Show, presented by Clare Balding, on BT Sport on Monday, December 12.
The winner, from a stellar list of sporting achievements by British female athletes during 2016, will be decided by the public. For details of how you can vote, along with the full list of nominations, CLICK HERE
In a year of make-believe-made-real, when outlandish things came true, Maddie Hinch epitomised the preposterous. That a woman of no great fame, obscured by 15kg of “smelly kit” and a helmet, a walking human database with a hockey stick, up against the world’s most ruthless winning machine, the Netherlands Olympic women’s team, should emerge from Rio – record-breaking Rio, as far as Team GB were concerned – as the single most heroic and victorious figure … well, it seems ridiculous. Yet, I contend, that is exactly what she did.
Maddie Hinch wears more padding than the average football mascot. She clutches a water bottle that reminds her: “Relax, Hands Up, Chin Out – STAY BIG!” Geekily she flips through the pages of a little red book that remind her of the strengths and weaknesses of opponents. Yet she looms monster-like in the minds of her opponents as they begin their trepidatious run in the penalty shootout, a lethal one-against-one initiative designed to shred the nerve of participants and onlookers alike. Bar Hinch.
What did she say cheerfully after the stunning, eye-popping, nation-stopping Olympic victory over the pole-axed Dutch? “I do enjoy penalty shootouts.” Britons, draped, gasping, over sofas, floors, pub counters, any forgiving surfaces, could only thank heaven for that.
It began, as these things do, with GB as underdogs and expected to lose. But pluckily. That was in the outer realm: us, the watchers, the realists, those watching Man United on the other channel. The inner GB, the team and those closest to them, had compelling evidence and their own fierce belief that they would win. Hinch was crucial to that. Only a year before, she had deconstructed the mighty Dutch in the shootout of the Euro Hockey final, saving three penalties and sending the England team on a celebratory night on the town still in their kit.
These things stick in an athlete’s mind. So that when – somehow or other, having been battered by the supreme Dutch for three-quarters of the match – GB conspired to bring the scores level at 3-3, and so enter that dastardly shootout, Hinch was exuding confidence.
The Dutch players made the desperate mistake of noticing as she flipped through her little red book, like Chairman Mao searching for a nicely-turned aphorism. The words didn’t even need to make sense at that point. It could have been her shopping list. Doubt began in inveigle its way into the Netherlands soul. The manager pulled her cap down over her eyes. The orange-clad players, the fittest and most skilled at their art on the planet, had lost a crucial ingredient. Certainty.
It was at this point that television sets all over the country were being switched over to BBC1 as word spread by human osmosis. Can you imagine the conversation in fierce football bastions? “Hey, mate, turn over will you? There’s women’s hockey on the other side.” When, in the history of this proud British nation, would compliance be the result of that sentence? Turns out August 2016.
Maddie – ‘Mad Dog’ – Hinch took her place between the posts. The last ‘Mad Dog’ those football fans might remember was a midfield hard-man called Martin Allen, who was never far from a red or yellow card. Maddie’s not that sort of mad, though. Her craziness is an unquenchable, dramatic, action-packed enthusiasm and Holland simply wilted against the force she represented. She was unbeatable that night. And when the ball did get past her, naturally it hit the post.
I cast my vote for Maddie Hinch on that basis. The most unlikely heroine of 2016 – and the greatest. Mind you, orange has made a comeback since …
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sue Mott is an award-winning sport journalist who has worked on radio, TV and the written press. Sue’s latest articles