Sixsmith can still heat up Coldfield at age of 49!
Phil Jones meets four-time Olympian Jane Sixsmith, still going strong as she approaches 50
BANDIED around in modern parlance without a care given for the gravity of the word; few names fall into the bracket worthy of being dubbed a legend – but Jane Sixsmith certainly is one of them.
The four-time Olympian – she has a bronze medal from Barcelona 1992 – has backed her Sutton Coldfield teammates to repeat their indoor feats of 2013.
The West Midlands side fell at the final hurdle on that occasion, beaten 5-2 by Reading, but with three wins from their opening four fixtures in this season’s Super 6s, Sixsmith is confident Sutton can make the Wembley showpiece once again.
A narrow 4-3 win over Reading was followed by a 9-3 humbling at the hands of Slough in Telford last weekend, but Sutton – playing without Sixsmith – bounced back with further single-goal victories over Buckingham and East Grinstead to sit second in the Premier Division at the halfway stage.
“It was a fantastic start for the girls,” said the 49-year-old. “They have entered an indoor league, so they have been practising quite a bit.
“But if you had asked them before the weekend if they’d take second place after the first round of fixtures, then they would have been quite shocked – so it was a great start.
“And if you look at the standings now, then they have got a couple of teams to play from the top four, but also a couple of teams from the bottom three.
“So if things go to plan then hopefully they will finish within that top four and get to Wembley, which would be brilliant.”
Sixsmith herself is absent after a combination of injury and commitment to her new job as hockey coach at the Solihull School limited her to two outdoor appearances in the Conference North so far this season.
But with her experience in the game there are few better judges of modern hockey, and Sixsmith highlighted the importance of Sutton’s captain fantastic, Vicky Woolford, to their side’s indoor campaign.
“Vicky is key,” Sixsmith said of the 34-year-old who scored four goals last weekend. “She’s a very strong defender. I mean she’s a forward really, but plays in defence.
“Laura Price has been scoring a few goals as well, she’s a good defender who wasn’t really bothered about playing indoor two years ago, but this season she’s really taken to it and is a strong player.
“Then Becky Batsford, the goalkeeper, has a lot of experience – although she may want to forget the 9-3 game – but she’s a great player to have in your team. She’ll come out and almost be the extra player you need from a goalkeeper, rather than sitting back, she’s quite an attacking goalkeeper.”
Sixsmith approves of the decision to scrap the five-a-side experiment we saw in indoor hockey three years ago, preferring the more tactical nature and need to move the ball quickly on a more crowded pitch.
And with indoor hockey providing an annual tune-up to a player’s stick skills, Sixsmith is hoping success in the format can give Sutton a boost when the action heads back outside in February.
Sutton currently sit fifth in Conference North, having played nine of their 18 fixtures, and the 1991 European champion has been impressed with their resilience so far this term.
“We always benefit from having a good indoor season, so the fact the girls are doing well indoor, they will be really buoyed when they come back to outdoors,” she added.
“Indoor really hones your skills, makes you that much quicker, sharper, on the ball.
“The other teams in our division are not playing Premier level indoor, some of them are playing in the other leagues, but not the level we are playing, so that can only benefit us when we go back outdoors.
“On a personal note I’ll see what happens after Christmas – my school commitments aren’t as big after Christmas as they were prior, so hopefully I’ll be able to play a few more games.
“This season we lost four of our starting XI from last season, so it took us a while to adjust.
“But, I think we’ve done well to overcome the initial start. It could all have gone horribly wrong and we could’ve just kept losing, and losing, and losing.
“But, gradually, the team have managed to pick themselves up again, and are starting to win games.”
Away from the domestic game she knows so well, Sixsmith was disappointed to see her international successors miss out on the team of the year prize at the BBC Sports Personality ceremony, on Sunday. Leicester City an d their manager Claudio Ranieri got the nod ahead of Team GB’s gold medal-winning hockey women, but the forward – who played with Rio hero Laura Unsworth at Sutton – would have liked to see more recognition for the sport she loves, as well as female award winners. “Leicester City’s reaction said it all for me. They were like: ‘Oh, have we won, are we getting an award?’ They weren’t bothered about it, at all,” she concluded. “Yes an Olympics is only a couple of weeks and football is over a full season, but international hockey players commit to a four-year programme building up
Few names fall into the bracket of being dubbed a legend – but Jane Sixsmith is certainly one of them
to the Games – it’s not just a case of couple of weeks and then ‘oh yeah, we’ve won a medal’.
“And it was really disappointing when you looked at the number of women that were featured, but didn’t win – apart from Simone Biles, of course.
“The fact there weren’t any women in the top three, there was still nothing there for young people to aspire to, for women’s sport.
“I know the main award’s a public vote, and we can’t do anything about that, but the team award, I was just really disappointed as that is done internally.
“As soon as Gareth Southgate stood up then I thought it was bound to be given to Leicester City.
“Why did they not open that up for a public vote? You’d like to think that if it went to a public vote it would’ve been a different result.”
The joy of Six: Jane Sixsmith celebrates with Sutton Coldfield team-mate Laura Unsworth
Main player: Vicky Woolford is key, according to Sixsmith
Top coach: Claudio Ranieri