#30) Karen Brown MBE


As the saying goes, just because someone is an exceptional player it doesn’t mean they will be a good manager or coach.

There have been very few who have managed to transgress this stereotype – Pep Guardiola and Kenny Dalglish are two of a handful from football, while Andy Flower also did a pretty good job in cricketing circles.

Alyson Annan is another, the former Australian hockey star having led the irrepressible Dutch women’s team to World Cup and Champions Trophy victories in 2018 after winning two Olympic golds in her playing days.

She’s not alone in her sport though, as has been recognised in the New Year’s Honours list with the awarding of an MBE to Karen Brown for services to hockey.

As we said in our piece on Tamara Taylor, the term legend is banded around too frequently but when it comes to Brown it could not be more accurate.

The number of accolades Brown has achieved and records she has set both as a player and an assistant coach are almost too frequent to count.

At the time of writing she is second in GB’s list of most capped female players with a combined tally of 355 – just behind another legend in Kate Richardson-Walsh (375) – and was part of the team that won the first ever women’s hockey medal with bronze at Barcelona ’92.

Across a 15 year playing career she also won European medals of each colour – including gold in ’91 alongside Tracy Nevill, herself awarded an OBE earlier this week for services to sport and sport sciences – while also picking up a Commonwealth silver in 1988.

 

However as an assistant coach the medals have flowed even more regularly, with Brown helping England’s women to World Cup bronze in 2010 – their first ever medal in that competition – before Great Britain emulated the success of 20 years previous by finishing third at London 2012.

She was then a pivotal figure as England secured a dramatic European gold on home soil in 2015, defeating the Dutch on penalties, a feat Great Britain would then repeat a little over a year later in Rio to secure their historic Olympic title.

While much of the credit for those wins has gone to the players and head coach Danny Kerry, ask any of them and they will all tell you that it was a monumental team effort – with Brown very much included – that saw them emerge victorious.

Brown recalled that memorable August evening in a fascinating piece with Female Coaching Network (which you can read in full here):

“I was standing next to the five athletes and Maddie Hinch and all of us were amazingly calm – we just knew we were going to win,” the two-time FIH Coach of the Year told them.

“I think it was Alex Danson who was looking at the Dutch team before it started and said: ‘Oh my God, look at them – they look scared stiff.’

“We had worked an awful lot on what it would feel like if we were in this position, knowing in advance what we would be saying to each other, how we would react.

“I looked at Hollie Webb before the penultimate Dutch penalty, squeezed her and said: ‘You realise if Maddie saves this (not ‘if she misses’, my words were very carefully chosen) you’ve got to win it.’

“She just went: ‘Yeah, not a problem. I’ve got this.’

“She said that before Maddie had made the save.

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“I remember thinking as Hollie walked up to take the penalty: ‘Even if she doesn’t score she won’t let herself down, she will do well.’

“The moment it went in, I just remember leaping up in the air and then thinking: ‘Don’t run with them because you won’t be able to keep up’!

“I went back to our coaching staff, because we’re a team as well. I wanted to be with the coaching staff.”

It is this attitude that not only epitomises Brown but has also seen her held in the highest esteem within the hockey and wider communities, as perfectly demonstrated on social media when her honour was announced.

Current and former players, colleagues, people she’d met once and even those she hadn’t had nothing but praise for a woman who has played a major part in helping England and Great Britain achieve hockey success on multiple occasions.

Massive congratulations on your award Karen – it is hugely, hugely deserved.

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