Season Ticket Holder and Team GB hockey star Susannah Townsend has begun her quest for Olympic Gold in Rio...
As a West Ham supporter, although I loved watching the team as a youngster, I grew up myself playing a lot of individual sports.
I played a lot of tennis while I was growing up. When I went to secondary school I started playing team sports and a lot of hockey, and the idea of playing team sports with my mates was the biggest drive and what inspired me to play hockey.
For me, like many athletes, I’ve enjoyed many ups and many downs. I’ve played Under-16s to 21s for England but during each of those years, there were points when I didn’t get selected. For example, in the Junior Olympics, I didn’t get selected, and the same with the London Olympics.
My aim originally was to play in London 2012, but looking back it wasn’t really the right time for me. I always place a lot of pride in my attacking side as a hockey player, but I didn’t put the ground work in to become good defensively as well, so that ultimately probably cost me going to London. All of my time was spent thinking how I can be this attacking player, when I should have thought about defending too!
In the last four or five years, I have realised I can be one of the best attackers in the world, but I also have had to nail my defending and have understood that I can’t just go out there and play.
I need to know the tactics and know all aspects of my game. That’s how my career has gone; there have been lots of ups and downs, although since London, there haven’t really been any downs, which is nice. It’s been a steady incline into actually being selected for Team GB.
As a role model, I can definitely take being a bit of a Mark Noble!
In interviews, when people ask me who my role model is, most female athletes – especially who are going to perform at the Olympics – say someone like Kelly Holmes, but I always say Paolo Di Canio. I always have to explain it; that he’s a bit of a naughty boy!
Some people didn’t have a lot of faith in him before he joined and thought he was a bit of a risk, and then Harry Redknapp took the risk and Paolo proved everybody wrong to become a West Ham hero. It’s the ultimate story so I always looked up to Paolo.
Of course, though, Mark Noble is someone else I consider a role model, although he probably makes a few more tackles than me!
The No9 in action against Australia on Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
For hockey players, the pinnacle of our sport is actually playing at the Olympics.
In London, we won the Bronze medal. We’re a National Lottery funded sport, but we are also a podium-funded sport, which means we are expected to go and win medals.
We want to always be better at this Olympics in Rio, and our aim is to actually go and win the Gold medal.
Of course every team will say that, but for us, it’s been a bit of a rollercoaster ride more than than other sides.
We messed up the World Cup, which is a major, major event, but since, we’ve done a lot of almost soul-searching during that stage in which we didn’t do very well. That’s given us the motivation and inspiration to perform well at this Olympics
It’s obviously now set us up quite nicely to actually go into these next weeks and I do certainly believe we can actually win a Gold medal.
Obviously it would be nice to have every West Ham fan cheering me on this summer, as lots of other Hammers have previously won medals at the Olympics; Mark Hunter has two medals, Chris Akabusi has a couple himself, Christine Ohuruogo is also a local girl, and Sally Gunnell as well.
For me, the Olympics is obviously very different to any other event because it’s on such a big scale. It’s given us every single inspiration possible to make sure we’re ready when we get there.
A lot of other teams in the tournament are almost rushing to make sure they’re prepared, but for us it is more a case of fine-tuning and changing a few details to prepare which is quite nice.
On one of my rest days, the new Stadium Store at the Club’s new home had just opened, and my Dad – Mark – came over to buy me lunch.
We had a walk over to the Store and it brought back memories of my childhood, going to West Ham. We always forgot about all those arguments in my teenage years when we were sitting together in the Bobby Moore Stand. It was obviously a sad day leaving Upton Park, but we have moved into the new Stadium where some amazing things have happened.
Susannah and Team GB have made a winning start at Rio 2016
For me personally, despite not going to the Olympics, it’s an incredible place and it will be incredible to watch football there. For fans, they will definitely enjoy that walk towards the Stadium, looking up at the West Ham United sign and the ground. It’s pretty spectacular. When you think of all the history that has happened during the Olympics, all the medals which have been won, it’s incredible to play football here.
For me, you have to love what you do, and ultimately I get to turn up to training every day and be with my mates. Obviously sometimes it’s hard, sometimes it’s tough, but we get through it. I think that kind of thing showed with West Ham last season; everyone was having a good time. It’s such a cliché to say people play well when they’re having fun, but that was true last season and the team believed in their tactics.
I think you can tell by the way that Slaven Bilic’s team plays. Everyone is enjoying themselves out there at the moment. I think with the squad that we have, going into the new Stadium can definitely propel West Ham a lot further. I think if we continue to play our attacking football, it’s so exciting to watch.
Susannah in full flight in Team GB colours
I can’t believe Dimitri Payet, when he signed last season, was so undiscovered. You can tell that he loves football, he loves playing and he loves being there, and it’s enough for the fans to love him instantly. He plays with his heart and he’s a bit like Carlos Tevez – the fans have just adopted him.
He plays with passion, though every West Ham player does, because it’s that type of club. Other clubs don’t have that I don’t think, and it’s so special that West Ham has that kind of feel about it.
I was looking around at the Boleyn Ground at the last game and you have fathers, daughters, older people by themselves, families; you see the whole family feel about it. I think that’s why it’s so important that we have players that genuinely love playing for the Club and love being out there on the pitch in front of those fans. It’s that extra bit of passion that everyone loves, and players like Payet have that.
For example for me, when I was younger, I left my hockey club for a season for another club in England, and when there was a game that we lost or didn’t play well in, of course I was gutted and disappointed but it wasn’t that same feeling. I re-joined my old club at Christmas because sometimes you just get that feeling when you love a club. That’s definitely the feeling with every single West Ham United player in my opinion. I hope that I can carry that same feeling into the Olympics with me for Great Britain.
I am gutted to be missing the start of the season due to being in Brazil, but my Dad and I have two Season Tickets so we will enjoy a lot of the games here this season. He persuaded me when I was younger to support West Ham and it’s still our thing and something we do together. It keeps our relationship quite strong.