Before the last few days in Odisha, the last time the world saw Simon Child don the New Zealand black kit was before all of us knew of the virus Covid-19. 32 months later, the Auckland-born forward returned to the pitch to play four games against India and Spain in the FIH Pro League season opening mini tournament.
The name Simon Child is not new to the world of hockey. The three-time Olympian, now 34, made his debut for the New Zealand Black Sticks back in 2005. Who knew that 18 years later, he’d still be competing at the top level, and, getting ready for a World Cup.
For someone whose career has spanned almost two decades, it’s a surprise that Child has never played a World Cup in India, especially when you note that two of the last three World Cups have been held in the country.
“I’ve never played a World Cup here so this one’s special. I’m coming back with a different perspective though, a different lens. I’m just relishing being back with the team, travelling and touring – playing hockey and, playing a World Cup,’’ Child said in Odisha.
The last time Child was seen in the all-black kit was back in February 2020 when the Black Sticks played Great Britain in the FIH Pro League season 2. Since then, Child’s been away from the game, also missing the Tokyo Olympics.
“Missing Tokyo was really difficult for me. I helped the team qualify for the Olympics and not playing, really hurt but things were difficult. There were two major lockdowns in our country. I had a son who was a year old, so I was on ‘child’ duty. I also started a business, a commercial property investment company specialising in value-add projects back in Auckland. So, it just didn’t happen, my priorities shifted and hockey took a back seat in my life”.
During the lockdown, Child found inspiration like so many others in The Last Dance, a Netflix documentary featuring Michael Jordan and the NBA franchise Chicago Bulls in the 1990s. “I’m a huge Michael Jordan fan and I watched the series twice. I just thought if he and so many others could make a comeback and perform at that level in their mid-30s, so can I. My wife and business partner were really supportive and they helped me come back”, shared Child.
Post the Olympics in Tokyo, a lot of players hung up their boots from the game. One of them was Child’s younger brother – Marcus. Marcus, who featured for New Zealand 172 times and in December of 2020, announced his retirement. When asked whether retirement ever pondered over his thoughts, Simon says, “Never! The idea was to always come back. But it was key to find the right moment.”
After several conversations with New Zealand coach Greg Nicol, Child finally made his comeback on October 28, 2022, against India in the FIH Pro League.
Speaking about his relationship with the coach, Child said, “I’ve known Greg for a long time now. In situations like these, it’s important to have honest expectations and conversations. Greg called me when he got the job and asked me about my plans. I told him - maybe not for the first six months, but we can see later. I played a lot of club hockey with Southern Districts Hockey Club back home at that time to regain fitness. He’s been really supportive of me, and maintained a flexible training schedule. It’s also helped me focus on my business and family, which is the most important.”
Child scored one and assisted another in his two games against India last weekend. He also won a player of the match award against Spain and was quite surprised with his performance.
“I didn’t know what to expect, but I’m really happy with what I did out there,” he said. “The game has really sped up in the last couple years. The over-hits, these players are throwing them further and further. But on the positive side, they have a lot of stoppages like penalty corners, video reviews which are a huge help for someone like me. I use them to take a breather and then get going when the whistle blows.”
With only a couple months left for the FIH Men’s Hockey World Cup 2023, Child is also chasing his countryman Phil Burrow’s record of 150 goals. He’s seven short of the record for now but maybe, if his ‘young’ legs can keep up, he might soon become the highest goal-scorer in New Zealand’s history.