He encountered searing temperatures, suffered ‘Delhi Belly’ and came home without a medal after two heartbreaking penalty shootouts. But Pulford’s James Fair regards his time as England goalkeeper at Commonwealth Games as one of the greatest experiences of his career. On his return he wrote this behind-the-scenes report for The Chronicle.
DELHI was my second Commonwealth Games, but my first as the number one goalkeeper for England – so I knew that I would be playing in all of the matches and we had a great opportunity to come home with a medal.
The hockey team were first to arrive in India. This brought a lot of attention from the national Press due to the issues that were being talked about as to whether the village was clean and if there were any problems with security.
These issues were hard to ignore, but our minds were put at ease when we eventually got to the village and saw that, although not being the best, it was habitable and cleaner than some of the pictures that were on the internet.
We had arrived 11 days before our first game so that we could acclimatise to the heat and humidity.
At times, pitch-side temperatures got up to 45 degrees Celsius during the day, which is when we would play most of our matches.
It also gave me time to get a suit made by a tailor we met in March for the hockeyŠWorld Cup. Unfortunately the jacket is a bit big so may fit in a few years time when I stop playing hockey!Š
The heat was always going to be a challenge as we had matches at 8.30am,Š10am, noon andŠ4pm which could cause problems with hydration and performance.
We had our body weight measured before and after training and games, and every morning.
The record loss was 3kg in a 70-minute match. ‘Delhi Belly’ was also an issue. Despite taking various measures to prevent illness, every player had some issues throughout the trip. These problems combined to make some very testing playing conditions. Š
Regardless of the opposition, I get fairly nervous before the first game of any tournament as there are a lot of ‘what ifs’ and ‘maybes’.
Luckily we got off to a good start, beating Trinidad and Tobago 4-0, during which I was a bit of a bystander as they didn’t have any shots or chances.
Next day we played Canada at 8.30am which involved a 5.30am breakfast. The game proved to be frustrating as they scored an opportunist goal and we missed chance after chance to eventually score with 10 minutes to go.Š
However after more chances went begging, we ended up drawing with a lower-ranked team. The result meant we had to win our next two games to top the group and avoid Australia in the semi-final.
The games against New Zealand and South Africa were must-win matches and were being played in the middle of the day.
Against New Zealand we took our chances far more clinically to recordŠa 5-3 win and then battled out a 2-1 win against South Africa.
In the New Zealand game pitch-side temperatures were recorded at 46 degrees Celsius.
In these matches I had more saves to make and it was good to feel more involved and contribute to the whole team performance.
After an afternoon sleep we watched the other group matches and saw India beat Pakistan in a fantastic match. The win for the Indian team meant we were to play them in the semis.
To play India in India is one of the greatest experiences I have ever had as a player.
The noise the crowd makes is absolutely unbelievable and it can be very intimidating as they are very close to the pitch and the stadium holds the noise really well.
We played some of our best hockey to go 3-1 up and, with 20 minutes to go, hit the crossbar with the opposition keeper beaten.
A fourth goal would have won us the game, but India turned on the style and scored two goals in three minutes.
With the crowd behind the Indian team, we had to dig deep and defend for long periods and I had to make a few saves.
The game went into extra time and when final whistle went it was still a draw. This meant the game would go to penalty strokes.
The process is similar to football and unfortunately I was unable to make any saves and we missed our third penalty for India to win 5-4, knocking us out into the bronze medal game.
We were all devastated and it was difficult to take in after being in such a great position to win at 3-1.
There was complete silence in the changing room after, which was in sharp contrast to the stadium and the Indian crowd who celebrated into the night.
We were later to find out that the game was watched by 1.2 billion people worldwide – a record for a hockey match and these figures showed how popular the sport is in Asia. Š
The bronze medal game against New Zealand brought more penalty heartache as, after drawing 3-3, we were to again lose 5-4 on penalties.
We started dreadfully but managed to come back and finish far stronger than the Kiwis but were unable to score one of the numerous chances we created.
So as the Kiwis celebrated we left the stadium and India with nothing to show for all our hard work and blood, sweat and tears.
We had played well enough to win a medal, but we did not make the most of our chances and I didn’t save enough penalties.
Hopefully the team can learn from this in the build up to the 2012 London Olympics where conditions will be slightly easier and more favourable to our style of attacking hockey.
James Fair, 29, is from Pulford and began his hockey career with Tiverton-based Deeside Ramblers. He now plays for Cannock.