Express News Service
ROURKELA: Rupert Shipperley was constantly smiling during the pre-match conference on Thursday. On Friday, he will lead his country against England. He will be up against the likes of Phil Roper, who he has played with as part of Team GB. This, though, isn't the Olympics. It's the World Cup, a place where the Wales men's side has never been before.
And Shipperley & Co. aren't here just to make up the numbers. Their stated aim is to challenge and beat the very best. They will have to be at their very best to do just that as the luck of the draw means that they will face Spain, England and India.
A country with a small population and no big hockey tradition making it to the big time isn't all that unheard of. Heck, the reigning world champions have kind of showing that it's possible to live an impossible dream.
But like a few other hockey-playing nations, Wales was dealt with a further hand. Players have had to pay to keep their hockey programmes alive (just before coming to India, the federation CEO, Ria Burrage-Male, started a GoFundMe page so that they could lessen the financial burden on the players). "Our players have had to pay roughly 2000 pounds a year..." While this money doesn't exclusively go to one aspect of the sport, it helps the players towards airfare and so on.
Although there is funding from the government, it's limited. "We receive government and national lottery funding, however, it doesn’t stretch very far as such our players have to contribute towards their performance programme thus ensuring they can perform at the highest level on the world stage," Burrage-Male told this daily.
"The players tend to meet monthly on weekends to train, and as competitions draw closer they will meet more regularly. Most of the players here are either students or working part-time.
"There isn’t as much money in our sport as other nations and as we continue to improve on the global stage we are at a pivotal point to ensure we inspire future generations and encourage young and old to play our game. Our challenge is that it's not easy to go and have a kick about in a park-like football or rugby, our sport requires a bit more organisation which is the responsibility of the NGB, as such exposing young boys and girls to the sport requires school engagement, community participation and a strong club network. We have a full league structure with clubs across Wales, some participating in the English league."
There is also a small but passionate bunch of fans — family — who are in India to support the side. At pushback time on Friday, these fans, who have made Ranchi their base for the World Cup, will be tucked away in a very small corner of the Stadium.
It's likely they will scream Ymlaen. It's how you say 'Come On' in Welsh. After years and years of grinding it out, Shipperley & Co. will be looking to do just that.
That kind of explained his smile on Thursday. 24 hours before leading the men's team out for their maiden World Cup encounter, Shipperley & Co. just can't get enough.