Townsend eyes up Stoop experience as ideal preparation for British hockey stars
Susannah Townsend believes playing in front of a record crowd at the Twickenham Stoop will be the perfect preparation for Great Britain as they step up their bid for a place at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
The former Sutton Valence School pupil, who won Olympic gold in 2016, will make her return from a six-month ankle ligament injury when Great Britain men's and women's teams face New Zealand in a double header on the final day of the new FIH Pro League tournament at the home of Harlequins on Saturday 23 June.
A record number of tickets have already been sold for the 14,800-capacity stadium at the Stoop – although seats are still available – meaning it would be the biggest crowd to watch hockey in Britain since the London 2012 Olympics.
Despite Britain struggling for results after Rio, with the women's team currently sitting seventh in the Pro League standings, Townsend insists the pressure of playing in front of a crowd of almost 15,000 at the Stoop will hold them in good stead for the Olympic qualifiers taking place in the autumn.
"When you go to an Olympic Games, you have to be able to perform in front of big capacity crowds, so I think we need to get used to that kind of atmosphere again," she said.
"It's a big pressure that you can't really experience when you're only playing in front of a couple of thousand fans.
"Playing at the Stoop will be very different to Lee Valley, but it will be very valuable for us playing to step up to the big occasion.
"Hopefully it will mean people who aren't normally interested in hockey will come along and support, especially if the men and women are seen supporting each other – that makes the sport an even greater spectacle."
Despite sitting third from bottom in the standings, Great Britain women's hockey only lost one of their first four FIH Pro League home games this season – 3-1 to United States in March.
And while the experienced Townsend knows New Zealand will be a tough fixture, the midfielder is hoping her side can emulate the successful playing-style of the Harlequins teams when they take to the Twickenham Stoop turf later this month.
"The key to being so hard to beat at home is making wherever you play your fortress," she added.
"Lee Valley has been a special place for us since London 2012, but we love playing at other venues.
"The Stoop is the home of the kings and queens of men's and women's rugby where we see an exciting flair of rugby played and I'm hoping we can do exactly the same with hockey.
"The intention is to make the Stoop another home from home and it would be great to get some points on board as well."