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Spurs fan Leah living the Olympic dream

Sun 25 July 2021, 08:00|Tottenham Hotspur

Try, try and try again, as the saying goes. It’s a mantra Spurs fan and Great British hockey player Leah Wilkinson knows all about.

Now 34, Leah made her Welsh debut in 2004. Fifteen years later – and having become Wales’ most capped sportsperson, now up to 169 – she made it into the GB squad. Two years further down the line and Leah is in Tokyo, part of a squad determined to defend their Olympic title.

“It’s been a long wait!” said Leah, a lifelong Spurs fan and Season Ticket Holder. “I’d been to three or four trials from 2013 onwards and by the time I got to my last trial, 2016, I’d kind of given up hope it was going to happen. I then got a call up in 2019 and it was a bit of a shock, to be honest, a proud moment, one I didn’t expect was going to happen. It just shows if you keep going, keep trying your best, even when you have no hope, dreams really can still come true.”

Leah’s sporting worlds came together spectacularly on 1 June 2019. That date will be etched into the memory of Spurs fans as the day we stepped out in the Champions League Final for the first time. It’s a date etched into Leah’s memory as well, the day she made Welsh sporting history.

That day, in the second of a three-match series against France, Leah took her tally to 158 Welsh caps, overtaking the previous record of fellow hockey player, Paul Edwards.

“It was something I wasn’t really aware of until about a year before when I equalled the women’s all-time total, someone mentioned about breaking the record,” recalled Leah. “There was certainly an element of pride and I’ve had some amazing experiences playing for Wales.

“Of course, later it was the Champions League Final, that was such a proud moment as well. The biggest pity was that we conceded that penalty in the first minute. I will never, ever forget the semi-final against Ajax. I was watching from under the duvet at home. It was just too tense. That was unbelievable.

“Anyway, the following year I met Alun Wyn Jones (Wales/Lions rugby captain) at the Welsh Sport Awards and he was joking with me that the record could be safe because he had quite a few to make up (he’s currently on 148)! The likes of Alun, Gareth Bale, they are legends of Welsh sport, but Gareth’s got a bit of catching up to do! I wouldn’t mind if he tried, though!”

As for Spurs, Leah explained how she had a choice – Leeds with dad, Spurs with mum. Mum, Anne, won the day. “My mum is a Tottenham fan. She grew up in north London and went to Tottenham games with her brother. My dad is a Leeds fan, so it was a decision between Leeds and Spurs, and that wasn’t a difficult decision!

“I’ve supported Spurs forever, my whole life. I grew up in the Midlands, so it was always a long commute. I was 11 or 12 when I first went to White Hart Lane, the age my mum thought I’d be able to get around the London Underground.

“I remember being bowled over by the sheer amount of people. I’d never seen so many Tottenham fans in one place. I’d grown up surrounded by Burton Albion and Derby County fans! It was amazing, I remember thinking, ‘everyone is like me’.

“The first time we did that walk from Seven Sisters felt like a million miles and we had to stop for cake and drink halfway! We had seats in Park Lane, and it was incredible, the feeling of being part of a community, fans signing all the songs, a real sense of unity. I practised the songs on the way down to make sure I got the words right!

I’d never seen so many Tottenham fans in one place. It was amazing, I remember thinking, ‘everyone is like me’. I practised the songs on the way to make sure I got the words right!

Leah Wilkinson on her first trip to watch Spurs

“We’re Season Ticket Holders and have been for a few years now, but it’s been difficult to get to many games due to the hockey. I do still get to games though and it’s still amazing. I wouldn’t give that up.

“I’ve missed going to matches because of COVID, and that routine with my mum. She’s still in the Midlands, so she always gets the train down to Euston. I live in Surrey, so I get the train to Euston, and we meet for food and then head over. That’s been something I’ve missed, and the pick and mix from the stadium!”

Leah, who plays her club hockey at Holcombe and still works one day a week as a history teacher, has represented Wales in three Commonwealth Games - now it’s time for what she describes as the ‘pinnacle’ of any sportsperson’s career, the Olympic Games.

GB’s hockey tournament started with a 2-1 loss against Germany earlier today (Sunday 25 July). There are two groups of six with the top four in each group making it through to the quarter-finals. GB also play South Africa (Monday), India (Wednesday), Netherlands, who they defeated in the final in Rio in 2016 (Thursday) and Ireland (Saturday 31 July).

“Every team in the Olympics is good,” added Leah. “They’ve all been through qualification, all trained for years to get there, like us. Due to COVID, we haven’t played many teams in preparation, whereas normally we’d have test matches and get an idea of the standard and players coming through. If we get to the final, it will be eight games in 12 days, something like that, so it should be an interesting experience in Tokyo!

“It’s such a shame it’s not going to be a conventional Olympics as such due to COVID - no fans, family and friends won’t be there - but it’s a still an Olympics, we’re still playing the best teams in the world, we’re still fighting for a medal, and we’ll still become Olympians. That is amazing.”