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a hockey player’s tale

My name was Helen Morgan when I started in the Olympics; it’s Helen Grandon, now. I was born on 20 July 1966 and I currently live in Porthcawl. I’m very fortunate; I was brought up in a very sporting family with loads of support, taking me to matches, and so on. My mother air-rifle shoots to a very good standard; in fact, she’s still doing it today, at the age of seventy. My dad is a fully-qualified referee and a fully-qualified football coach.

the driving force
I was thirteen years old when I first started playing hockey. My hockey teacher at school, a Mrs Jackie Williams played for Swansea Ladies Hockey Club. She was my mentor. She looked after me, took me to matches and coached me. She was a new teacher to the school, and came in with lots of enthusiasm. She asked whether anyone would like to start hockey, and, at the first session, there were thirty-four girls on the field. Mrs Williams is still a friend today; she lives in the south of Spain, and I often visit her there. She was the huge influence on my career, the driving force.
I was thirteen years old when I played in the European Clubs Championships in Barcelona. I was the youngest person ever to play in the European Cup. I toured all around the world with the team to compete; I’ve been to places like Australia and New Zealand with the Great Britain team, and also to America, and to a lot of European countries like Holland, France, Spain, Austria, Switzerland. I’ve played in a World Cup; I’ve played in a European Cup, in the European Club Championships; and also in the Four Nations. I won lots of individual medals as Player of the Tournament and also Goalkeeper of the Tournament. But, the one that really sticks in my mind is, obviously, the Barcelona Olympic Games in Spain in 1992.

the big medal game
Eight weeks before we were due to travel to New Zealand to compete in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament, I tore my hamstring and I had to have intensive treatment. Jamie Redknapp, the exprofessional footballer, had a similar injury, and we were both treated at the same centre. I really thought that my chance had gone and I was very, very low at that time, but I got fit in time to go to the event in 1990, two years before the Olympic year. I was the only Welsh player in the team at that point, but, once we qualified, three others from Wales were brought in. It was then selection-time. Unfortunately, the other three didn’t make it, but I was very proud, deep down inside, that I’d hung on in there and managed to get through.
I did get nervous playing, especially at the Olympics, but I will say that the club that I played for, Swansea, we were Welsh champions at least six times, and the players around me played in a lot of international teams, so we, I wouldn’t say got used to winning, but we were certainly very confident when we went into games. But my most nerve-racking time was the Barcelona Olympics. You had the eight best teams in the world competing.
I was the number one goalkeeper choice, but going into the Olympics I became number two, so I didn’t actually play in the qualifying games, where we had matches against Holland, New Zealand and Korea. We won two out of the three there, to put us into the semi-finals. The other goalkeeper, Jo Thompson from England, also played in the semi-final match which we, unfortunately, lost to Germany, and I was selected then for the big medal game. Although we won 4-3 in extra time, I think it was a big letdown for me, going in as first choice and not actually getting the chance to play in the qualifying games. But what better game to play in than the medal game at the end! Remembering back, I was seeing the big clock in front of me ticking down, 25 seconds, 24 seconds, 23 seconds – it was the longest 23 seconds of my life – and then, when the final hooter went, seeing everybody on the field either deflated or, in our case, absolutely elated, hugging each other, cheering, arms in the air and lots of girls crying. I think it was a huge relief; it was a long tournament and lots of people didn’t expect us to do at all well, but we knew deep down that we could come away with a medal. Obviously, it would have been fantastic if it had been gold, but we were delighted with the bronze.
The Olympic Games is such a prestigious event. It’s unique. Unless you’ve been to one, you can’t really explain the atmosphere. You can play for Wales in Home Countries tournaments and the crowd may only be a couple of thousand, but at the Olympic Games, we’re talking about thirty or forty thousand people watching you play hockey, which is something that I had never experienced before. Just walking out on to the field that day and seeing all those people was enough to make anybody’s tummy rumble. Nothing will beat that.
Walking on to the podium was also something that I wasn’t used to. For a lot of the other players in the team, with either England winning Four Nations tournaments and European Cups, or Scottish girls doing very well in club competitions, this was not a unique experience. But for me, it was something new, even though I’d won individual medals for my performances. The realisation of actually winning an Olympic bronze medal didn’t really sink in until I got back home to Wales where I was met with cameras and reporters. It was absolutely fantastic and then, the realisation hitting two or three weeks later of what we’d actually achieved.
That was the most memorable and successful point in my career, winning an Olympic bronze medal. I was the only Welsh girl in the GB squad, and the only Welsh person to return with a medal from the Barcelona Olympic Games in 1992, and I’m very, very proud of that.

taking part
When I was twenty-seven, just after the Olympic Games, I played in a charity football match with many celebrities. The Welsh Women’s football coach was at the game and asked me to come and play in a Welsh football trial, and I got selected as centre-half and became the Welsh Women’s football captain for two seasons. Unfortunately, I had a horrific ankle injury in 1993 that ended my career.
I wanted to give something back. I was still able to coach so I got all my coaching qualifications for football and developed a soccer school, as well. I try to encourage hockey at my school, Brackla Primary, and also at any events that I can attend to promote the game. I try to be an ambassador if I can. I also coached the Welsh side’s goalkeepers, for about ten years, but I think the game has moved on since the time that I played; it’s a lot faster. Now, it’s nice just to go along and watch.
I try to encourage children to participate because it’s about taking part, not always about the winning; it’s about enjoying what you’re doing and learning. My advice to children is always, “Play to enjoy”, because if you enjoy something you’ll learn.

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