Islington’s Darren targets gold after Olympic call-up
IT IS a journey which began with a school visit from Arsenal, and one which Islington hockey star Darren Cheesman hopes will carry him all the way to Olympic glory.
When 24-year-old Cheesman, from Rotherfield Street, off Essex Road, scored on his senior England debut against Argentina last week, it was another step in a career which has seen him represent his country at every level.
Already an Olympic silver-medallist with the Great Britain junior side in 2007, Cheesman has now been selected for the 24-man senior squad which will go for gold on home soil in 2012.
The talented forward has come a long way since the day he was introduced to hockey, when Arsenal Football Club sent coaches from their sport in the community department into the classrooms of Rotherfield Primary School.
Now, with his first international goal under his belt and a chance to become an Olympic champion, Cheeseman is at the pinnacle of his sport, and still remembers the day it all started.
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“It was a big confidence boost to score on my debut. I’d been training with Great Britain since May and played in an unofficial match against Holland, but Argentina was my first official cap and it was a big moment for me,” says Cheesman.
“I missed the last Commonwealth Games through injury, and then during the Champions Trophy I was on holiday, but looking back I think that was a blessing in many ways, I was carrying an injury so the time out gave me a chance to shake it off and relax a bit.
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“Everyone is planning for London 2012. The goal is to win it, and I think that is a realistic target.
“There are not many other countries where hockey is so successful – we’re third in the world and on our day we can beat anyone.
“To walk out in front of our own fans will be something special and I want to play a big part.
“I do still look back on that day at school as the one which shaped my future. From that point hockey gave me something to do and somewhere to go, which at that age is so important.”
Under the guidance of Arsenal’s sports development officer Freddie Hudson, 10-year-old Cheesman was soon winning gold for Islington at the London Youth Games, and from there represented England at Under-14 level, all the while training every week at Arsenal and Highbury Fields.
“My whole week was pretty much taken up by hockey,” adds Cheesman. “It kept me away from things like alcohol, drugs, and gangs, I was encouraged to seek bigger and better things.
“The coaches at Arsenal helped me develop a dream of playing for my country, playing in the Olympics, and being one of the best players in the world.”
Cheesman played for his country at every major tournament and match at junior level, including four European Cups, before turning professional at 19 and signing for Dutch Premier League side Oranje Zwart for a single season, where he helped them finish fourth.
Upon his return, he was called up to the GB Under-21 squad for the Junior Olympics in Sydney, where he finished the tournament’s top-scorer to help England to the silver medal.
Cheesman returned to England to play for East Grinstead in the English Premier League, leading them to the title and, in 2008, being voted as the England Premier League Player of the Year.
He is now a passionate hockey coach, recently visiting Canonbury School and St Johns Highbury Vale to encourage pupils to follow in his footsteps, and is determined to get as many youngsters as possible into hockey.
“Anything is possible if you really want it, you don’t have to go to public school to play hockey,” says Cheeeman. “I think my background, both ethnically and in terms of my upbringing, proves that.
“That’s why I go back into Islington schools and offer coaching sessions, I want give back the same standard of coaching as I received and show that players who make it are not one-offs.
“The kids love it, it’s a sport which they are not readily exposed to so it’s a bit different.
“We just need more kids to pick up sticks and play.”