Hannah the Olympian!
Portsmouth goalkeeper Hannah Haughton is an Olympic silver medallist following her exploits with the Team GB beach soccer team. She told www.theoneglove.com all about her career, both on sand and grass…
How did I get into beach soccer? It was all a bit random really. Every now and then I’d play futsal locally, and our coach knew the England beach soccer coach at the time. I was invited to play in a friendly against them but knew so little about the game that I actually rocked up with boots and shinpads. I didn’t know it was a bare-feet game! After the match, the coach asked me to train with the England girls and the rest is history...
My first tournament was actually with the Portsmouth beach soccer team, who I’d started playing for, but in 2019 I was chosen to represent Team GB at the World Beach Games in Doha. It was the first of its type and a sub-Olympic tournament. While it was obviously held at a different time to the Tokyo games, it was still recognised by the IOC and, as such, Olympic gold, silver and bronze medals were the targets for all eight teams that took part.
We finished top of our group [ahead of Russia, the United States and Paraguay] with a 100 per cent record, then edged Brazil [6-5] to reach the final. Sadly for us, we lost the gold medal match 3-1 to Spain which was gutting at the time. We’ve seen this summer in Tokyo the disappointment on some of the athletes’ faces when they’ve been pipped to the gold medal, and I felt exactly the same way because you’ve got so close – but on reflection it’s one of the greatest achievements of my sporting life and something I’m very proud of.
We did, gain our revenge by winning the Euros in Portugal this summer, beating Spain 3-1 in the final, and there’s another tournament coming up later this year in which we’ll be seen as one of the favourites to win, given our recent good form.
We’re not blessed with the sun and, therefore, a beach culture in this country, which makes our achievements all the more impressive. When we were training with Team GB, we were lucky enough to have a beach soccer pitch purposely made up at the Lea Valley White Water Centre, but when COVID-19 happened, money hit them hard and they were unable to run it any more.
With our players based on the south coast, we now train with pop-up goals on Southsea volleyball court or down on Canford beach. Out of all the countries we play against we’ve definitely got the most basic facilities, which says a lot for the talent and desire we have in our ranks.
I’m often asked how beach soccer compares to playing on grass – well, there is no comparison. It is ridiculously hard but when you’re playing the game and you’re in that environment, you don’t think about it, you just find a way. If I play in goal for Pompey, for example, and haven’t had too much to do, I can go on and do something else for the rest of the day – yet after 50 minutes of beach soccer, you can easily burn two-to-three thousand calories. It’s relentless, it’s intense, but I love it.
Goalkeepers actually score goals as well, which is why I like it. The rules have actually changed, so keepers are only allowed four seconds with the ball – similar to futsal. I actually scored against Russia this year at the Euros; I flicked the ball up, did three keepy-uppies, realised I was running out of time, so just whacked it and it flew in! After the tournament, a few of us actually went out to Spain for six weeks and played pro-level games. I scored a few out there by flicking it up, having a couple of knee touches, then volleying it in. Nice!
With the new women’s football season fast approaching, all my focus is currently on Pompey and our National League South campaign. We’ve set our sights on winning promotion to the Championship this season, given we know we’ve got a good enough team and we know this division well. We also have a phenomenal coach in Jay Sadler, whose tactical awareness and coaching ability is second to none.
I’ve seen a lot of Championship and WSL players drop down to tier three this season because, I believe, not all players can afford to go full-time with their football, which is required in the WSL and most Championship clubs. The salaries are not quite there yet and it’s too much of a gamble for some players to maybe give up their day jobs. That can only benefit the standard of our league which makes it hard to call what is going to happen. I still think Oxford, Cardiff, Crawley and ourselves, those that have always done well, will be the ones pushing again.
The good thing about our club is the massive support and backing we receive from Pompey. We play on a new 4G pitch at Havant & Waterlooville, we have our own club physio, and from a goalkeeping point of view, we have our own designated goalkeeper coach. We get set gym programmes, receive nutritional help, and we even have a development squad, so it’s a very professional set-up for tier three, meaning we would need very little transition if we did go up.
Finally, it’s also going to be great to have the fans back this season. When we won the Hampshire Cup final in May [against Southampton, with Hannah the penalty shoot-out hero], we had 1,200 at the ground plus another 6,000 watching online, while at our league games we normally get between 300 and 600 fans, which is a good turnout for our level. Families, boys and girls, we’ve got a real community vibe about the team as well, so it’s all good. I just can’t wait for the season to begin!