After 24 years of trying, England’s women’s hockey team finally won gold at the Commonwealth Games. They had already faced Australia in three finals and lost each of them. But on a sunny Sunday afternoon at the University of Birmingham, they eventually beat them, 2-1, thanks to goals from Holly Hunt and Tess Howard.
And while it wasn’t exactly easy, it wasn’t as difficult as the story would suggest either. England controlled the game throughout, and yes, at the end the fans in the grandstand were chanting ‘hockey is coming home’.
The team had actually received good luck messages from Leah Williamson and the rest of the Lionesses in the morning. “They told us how some of our previous teams had inspired them in the past, and now they hoped they would reciprocate by inspiring us to do this,” said midfielder Flora Peel. “And they certainly did.”
The victory partly made up for defeats suffered by the England women’s cricket and netball teams, who both lost the bronze medal play-off earlier in the day. “I feel like women’s sport is really taking off this summer,” Peel said, “and now it’s about capitalizing on all of those opportunities.
“You see what the Lionesses win is going to do for them, and you hope it does something similar for us, and netball and cricketers too even though they didn’t make their final this time. The more women’s sport as a whole can build on that momentum, the better it is for all of us.
Peel will hate to have it mentioned here, but she happens to be the five-times estranged great-granddaughter of Sir Robert Peel. There’s a statue of him just down the road from the lot.
They’re not going to put one of her down yet, even if she’s a college alum. But she played brilliantly well and contributed to both goals. Both came in the second quarter. Hunt scored first, off the center of Peel. Howard got the second after making an interception, which she returned to Shona McCallin.
She fed the ball to Peel, whose shot was cleverly deflected into the net by Howard. It meant Australia, who have won the title five times, conceded more goals in those four minutes than in the rest of the tournament.
“Australia are so good that we knew we had to fight,” England’s Lily Owsley said. “Our coach told us to take the first swing and keep swinging, and we did that because if you sit on a team like Australia they will keep attacking you.”
Australia tried to do so in the second half, but couldn’t get past Maddie Hinch. There were just 19 seconds left when she was finally beaten by Rosie Malone on a penalty corner. The crowd had just started singing their version of The Three Lions. “I laughed and thought ‘I’m about to run out onto the pitch to celebrate here’ when I heard that,” Peel said. “And then the goal came in and I thought, ‘Oh no, they bewitched him!'”
England had been in this kind of situation before. In the 2014 final, they were leading 1-0 when Australia equalized with 11 seconds remaining and then won the match in a shootout. The memory of that defeat still haunts England captain Hollie Pearne-Webb.
Before the match, she explained how determined she was not to let a similar thing happen again. And this time, his team held on as the crowd counted the final seconds. As soon as they got to zero Laura Unsworth threw the ball and the celebrations began.
Or they did it for everyone except Pearne-Webb, who made a point of shaking hands with every Australian coach and player before his team dragged him away to join in their singing and dancing. The team hadn’t won a home medal since the 2015 European Championship.
This one was all the sweeter to remember the players’ experience at the Tokyo Olympics last year, when the bronze-winning British team weren’t able to celebrate with friends and family. because none of them were allowed to travel. This British team will be back soon, with one eye on the upcoming Paris Olympics and even greater glory.
Inspired England beat Australia to win Commonwealth Games hockey gold