Andy Halliday, for 30 years – before becoming the manager of the England hockey team in 2010 – was a Specialist Firearms Officer with the London Metropolitan Police. Now, London might not have been under the siege of terror back then but Halliday and his team needed to be on their toes to defend and counterattack when such a situation arose. He had to witness, respond to and abate one of the most shocking days his city has seen: the 2005 London bombings. Yet, the job, most often, did not fetch appreciation and acknowledgement.
In his current vocation as the England team manager, Halliday doesn’t have to put his life at risk and deal with guns and terror attacks. But the pressure, he says, is similar.
“Yeah, we are trained to deal with stressful situations,” he says. “There’s some correlation with that sort of an environment to [being involved in international hockey]. This is high pressure.”
He adds, “As a team manager, I am responsible for everything off the pitch: The logistical organisation, making sure that the athletes get the optimum off-field environment, and on-field environment so that they can perform at the highest level.”
One of Halliday’s most important tasks is to manage substitutions in a game, which, he says are usually over 70. Teams usually create a bench management schedule for a game so that players are being constantly swapped in order to conserve energy, avoid fatigue and escape injuries.
England, he says, also use an app called Coach’s Clock to track the position of players and see their time spent on field in order to make substitutions easier. Despite this technological aid, managing the madness of international hockey isn’t an effortless assignment, especially in a big-tournament atmosphere such as the World Cup.
“Together with the coaches and other support staff, we look at everything and see how we can maximise our chances,” he says. “I look at the time-tables, meetings, fitting everything in. And I also have a role on the bench – [apart from] making substitutions, keeping the bench disciplined and sort of under control.”
Dribbling up a passion
The advancement and application of technology in sports over the last few years, he says, has reduced the gap among the “top six or eight” teams in the world.
“Hockey has gone science-mad in the last five or 10 years. It’s great. Because there isn’t a great deal of difference between the top six or eight teams in the world. You wanna get one-up on the opposition all the time. So, what you do off the pitch is very important,” he says.
Off the pitch, Halliday also performs a more modest task: doing the team’s laundry. He recalls a day in Mönchengladbach, a few years ago, wherein he and the manager of the Dutch hockey team were waiting in front of the washing machines at half past seven in the morning.
“It’s funny because I was a policeman in London before this,” he says, chuckling. “But yeah, it goes from high-performance role as keeping track of subs to sorting out the laundry for the staff and the team.”
This and that, in Halliday’s case, touches extremes: from the mundane, like washing clothes and paperwork, to the daring, like scaling the three highest peaks of the United Kingdom whilst dribbling a hockey ball.
“I call it Extreme Hockey Dribbling,” he says. “I had an idea of dribbling the ball in the London marathon to raise money for charity. I did it for five and a half hours. Couple of years later, we dribbled up the three peaks in the UK – Ben Nevis, Snowdon and Scafell Pike.
“I am an ambassador for ‘Hockey for Heroes’ (an initiative to help service personnel and military veterans of the British Armed Forces). I dribbled for 200 miles from Cardiff to London. My next plan is an audacious attempt that involves coming to the Himalayas. I am not gonna say anything more,” he adds, winking.