Jason Burbidge the UK Captain tells the story of the World Cup 2007
What actually happened in Australia in April this year and how did the UK team return home placed second in the world? Iâ€™m sure this has been be the subject of many a heated and theory packed debate, or perhaps not.
The diarised day-to-day events are readily available from the websites etc. but here I will avoid the standard reporting style script and attempt in a short story to accurately depict the events and maybe put to bed, some of the theory. Having recently trawled through my diaries from both the 2003 and the 2007 series, I will also share my comparison views, if youâ€™re interested of course?
In the build up to the series, the team including management came under light fire on forums and chat rooms for not being prepared. Well I have to say there were grounds for this argument as weâ€™d struggled to get saddle time in the 2 months prior to leaving though I will say this: the fitness preparation was great and I organised regular Gym sessions with the squad to monitor and measure playerâ€™s improvement. Greg had limited squad time with us but when we got together, the time was put to good use and we all flew out to join Guy & Sophie in New Zealand on the 6th April. These 2 were both really riding fit and playing well which was an enormous boost to the team.
New Zealand is a wonderful place. This was my first visit here and I was impressed with the geographical beauty and the generosity of its people. We watched the NZ National Championships in amazement and left very nervous though keen to get into it. We spent a week with Harry Seminoff who was generous to the full in providing us with his horses and his home as a headquarters to work out of. We worked hard here on our personal fitness and on his semi-fit polo horses which helped tremendously. The thing that sticks in my mind here was the way the squad as players came together as mates and learnt to balance trust with competitiveness.
Perhaps a strange way of putting it but this I feel was a key moment in our campaign. We spent one particular rain swept afternoon in the hotel and analysed our strengths and weaknesses which was very successful. I re-call standing there and witnessing a visual change to many of the players and it was from there I think we first really came together and started building on Many lessons were learnt from the previous 2003 campaign, where we spectacularly under-performed and returned to the UK, 7th out of 8. For me this was personal, I carried the banner of gloom for 4 years â€¦ especially as it is widely accepted that the men were the weak link there. This time, in my capacity as captain, I was determined to steer the team clear of those failings and our simple strategy of â€œget fit and use our strength of attackâ€, we were an entirely different group in preparation and performance when it counted. Tribute should be made very loudly to our Manager Dawn Goodfellow who provided us with the all important barrier from politics and paved the way logistically for comfort and peace & quiet between our vigorous commitments. what was to become a crucial to our success, a single team. The disaster of Soph breaking her arm was monumental and knocked a few people off their stools. Up to the mark stepped a very nervous but determined Lucy Shell. Never before have I felt so disappointed for someone like Soph, we had to leave her and knowing her for as long as I have, I just felt ill with dread for her plight at such a late stage of the game.
Many lessons were learnt from the previous 2003 campaign, where we spectacularly under-performed and returned to the UK, 7th out of 8. For me this was personal, I carried the banner of gloom for 4 years â€¦ especially as it is widely accepted that the men were the weak link there. This time, in my capacity as captain, I was determined to steer the team clear of those failings and our simple strategy of â€œget fit and use our strength of attackâ€, we were an entirely different group in preparation and performance when it counted. Tribute should be made very loudly to our Manager Dawn Goodfellow who provided us with the all important barrier from politics and paved the way logistically for comfort and peace & quiet between our vigorous commitments. Arrival to Warwick in Queensland was full of its usual World Cup fanfare, the Australians are no strangers to staging world sporting events and a simple drive through the town made it clear this was going to be an awesome 2 weeks. And it was. The horse pools were drawn, the timed and supervised horse exercising commenced and we started the difficult task of matching horses to players. It should be noted here that we made a huge effort to be-friend our horse co-ordinators and make them feel part of the UK team, no mean feat considering they were Aussies and we were the poms!. Of all the objectives weâ€™d set ourselves this was met with the least effort, simply because they were such awesome people who quickly warmed to our professional approach and friendly manners. Throughout the warm-up week, we were present in one form or another at every walk out and every feed. This was made easier with help from the likesof the Brookes family, the Pearce family, Anna Robertson and other members of the management and supporters group. This made a huge difference for us. We got close to our co-ordinators and we got to know our horses intimately; attributes which were to prove crucial in the late stages of the competition. We stuck to our routinesâ€¦. Breakfast, horses, stickwork, lunch, running/fitness, stickwork, horses, tea, bed. We had plenty of downtime in-between and all we really did was focus on the first gameâ€¦â€¦ Zimbabwe.
The opening ceremony came and went and we were on. Narrowly defeating the Zimbabweans due largely to the girls consistency and the mens last chukka. This provided the huge upset which weâ€™d worked so hard forâ€¦. Top 4 finishers! Guy, Hamish and Martin came together brilliantly and formed what was to be a campaign winning combination that made all the difference at these games. Each time we had a match we focussed on our first chukka and then the next oneâ€¦. nothing more. I didnâ€™t set out in this report to mention individual achievements or downfalls but will break with this policy and share this. All 3 girls, Shelley, Sarah & Debbie were amazing throughout. They were strong, smart and consistent. I personally struggled to find form until the NZ game and reluctantly recognised that the very onform Guy, Hamish and Martin had (contrary to original expectations) formed a solid section. Futile attempts by Greg to include me in the line-up proved both risky and un-rewarding. Greg needs recognising for the pressure he was under to exclude me against the temptation to play me, though seldom discussed, this unfolding drama was out there all the time. Then came the biggy! New Zealand in the semi-final!
All that read this should know that I was responsible 4 years previously for losing this game due largely to my inability to keep a ball in my net in the final chukka!! It happens to everyone, it just isnâ€™t meant to happen at a World Cup but it did. So for 4 years that game haunted me, and many others. Here we were again, staring at almost the same team, in the form of their lives in front of the playing world â€¦. Watch the video. We won this match in one of the best games the UK has played ever. Guy was amazing, Debbie was faultless the whole team just did their bit. We limped off with exhausted horses and personal injuries that just didnâ€™t seem to hurt, we were so elated and proud. Take nothing from the NZ team, they were awesome, I just felt we had the edge on them, we made good our set pieces and the ball went our way. This was a huge relief for me, Iâ€™d been so below par till now and I managed at last to find form. The final against Australia came and went like a damp firework really. We were so tiredâ€¦ outplayed and out-gunned by their strategy and their horses. They clearly were the best side at the competition despite what youâ€™ve heard and they deserved to retain the accolade of World Champions.
So where are we now? Weâ€™ve got the next World Cup here in the UK in 4 years time, weâ€™ve a huge set of boots to fill. Weâ€™ve got the players to compete with, though weâ€™re being challenged on whether we have the managerial infrastructure and organisational skills to pull this off. Thereâ€™s no doubt we can, but take it from me the wizened one; â€œIn our pursuit of International recognition and achievement, we as a Nation risk losing sight of whatâ€™s infinitely more important and rewardingâ€¦.. the sight of home grown players young and old, playing English bred horses focussed on domestic clubsâ€.
The 2007 World Cup was a great experience for this team. I am very proud of them all for their achievements and hard work. The results speak for themselves. We not only defied the odds and disputed the preparation theories but we learned even more for the next one. Thanks to everyone who came to support us, to those who helped raise the funds and from me, thanks to the team. You were great on the field, comical in the buses, serious in the gym and mostly notably, determined to succeedâ€¦ and succeed we did.
Jason Burbidge the UK Captain tells the story of the World Cup 2007