It’s always sad when one of sport’s greats decides it’s time to step away.
But Alex Danson-Bennett doesn’t want us to be down. She wants us to celebrate what she achieved across 18 incredible years.
However we don’t want to just applaud her career, one that yielded at least 17 international medals, 115 international goals (the joint-highest for an England and GB international) and created countless special memories for thousands.
We want to thank her for it too.
On the pitch, her tremendous ability helped England and Great Britain rise from a mid-table outfit to Olympic champions in the space of just a few years.
Off it, she played such a crucial role in transforming views of the sport across the country.
Following the announcement on Thursday, countless accounts were shared of people who have taken up or returned to the sport after watching her. One woman even named her daughter after Danson-Bennett when she was born shortly after that incredible evening at Rio 2016, where GB won their first ever women’s hockey Olympic gold.
Personally, I was lucky enough to witness just how much of an affect Danson-Bennett had in both areas throughout my time working with her.
I was there when she scored her 100th international goal against the Dutch in 2017 and her record-equalling goal against the USA a year later, in front of 10,000 people at a home World Cup (and on her 200th England appearance).
On both occasions the crowd roared louder and for longer than on any other occasion I have experienced at a home event.
We’ve been #InspiredByAlex more times than we can remember 🙏
— Great Britain Hockey (@GBHockey) February 20, 2020
She had a galvanising effect on the team and supporters; you just knew that even when things weren’t going for England/GB, she had the ability to produce something out of nowhere and turn a game on its head.
It made perfect sense when Danson-Bennett was appointed captain on a full-time basis in late 2017; she was a natural leader. Not necessarily in terms of being the loudest or biggest character in the dressing room but the way she carried herself and the respect her team-mates gave her.
In interviews as well she had that knack of knowing exactly the right thing to say without being dull and always tried to sign as many autographs as she could after a game, even when the support staff were dragging her away!
For me, that’s what makes GB’s hockey players stand out from everyone else; they are so willing to give their time to others at every opportunity and Danson-Bennett was the perfect example.
She always ensured she spent time with the fans after a game, interacted with her supporters on social media and gave her all in any appearance she made. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone not have a beaming smile on their face after spending time with the 34-year-old.
It’s all well and good being fantastic on the pitch but many athletes will only truly capture the hearts of the public if they show them how much their support means. Danson-Bennett did that and then some.
6⃣2⃣ goals in 2⃣0⃣3⃣ appearances
We couldn’t show you all of them but here are seven of @AlexDanson15‘s finest strikes in an 🏴 shirt 💥
Which one is your favourite? pic.twitter.com/kFVZevliqQ
— England Hockey (@EnglandHockey) February 20, 2020
I remember one particular occasion in the build up to the 2018 World Cup where we had arranged an appearance with the Hampshire-born athlete and Maddie Hinch. The agreement was that they would be doing some filming for Newsround, giving a training session to some youngsters from a local club and answering their questions.
A mix up in communication had meant that the date of the appearance hadn’t been made clear to either so when we approached them both, tired and slightly frazzled after a tough training session, they weren’t immediately forthcoming.
But there was no drama, no fuss. They just got themselves ready and then put their full energy into ensuring each child left with memories that they will never forget.
In addition to all of this, the mark of a true great is just how much respect they are given by their opponents. Never before have I seen so much outpouring of love and affection for one athlete from so many of the players they’ve come up against.
Argentinean, Dutch, Irish, Australian, Spanish, New Zealander – greats from all of these nations joined together in sharing their own memories of playing against Danson-Bennett.
This wasn’t a player who just touched British hearts; this was one who was held in the very highest regard across the world.
I had the opportunities to say a few words to Danson-Bennett in the office this week but could never find the right words.
What can you say to one of the greatest sporting stars this country will ever know?
But I know now:
Thank you Alex. Thank you for being one of the athletes who inspired me to get into hockey. Thank you for being such a pleasure to work with and treating us all with so much respect. Thank you for everything you have given this country.
🗣️ I’m so proud of how I’ve lived my career.
🙏 It’s the right time for me to retire & it’s a good opportunity for me to say thank you to everybody who has made this career what is has been
— Great Britain Hockey (@GBHockey) February 20, 2020