James Albery: ‘My hockey coach Nick Thompson gave me the fire and desire’

This feature has been reproduced by permission of The Hockey Paper

The road to a place on the England and GB programme has been bumpy for James Albery, even after all his early accolades. Thus, when he led out England for one of their Pro League games in India last month, the 26-year-old took it all in. “It’s something you dream of but not something you think will become a reality,” he tells The Hockey Paper. “It was an amazing experience and a day I will look back at.”

Albery, a former Hockey Writers’ Club junior winner in 2011, first represented England at 14 and was ever-present at age group level, playing Junior World Cups along the way. He debuted at senior England level in 2016, spent two years on the programme but was unfortunate with injuries.

“I never got my foot in the door with a regular place,” he says. “It’s been an interesting ride since I made my debut but this was a massive up [captaining England].”

He admits to struggling with getting to grips with life on the programme during his first stint. “They were good years but I was juggling university and potentially it wasn’t the best fit.”

When former head coach Bobby Crutchley left the programme and Danny Kerry came in, decisions had to be made and Albery was cut from the programme at the start of the men’s World Cup year of 2018.

Albery slipped back to the EDP programme. “It was great to be involved and occasionally with the senior squad, and I kept trying to knock on the door and get back in.”

That moment didn’t come until after the Tokyo Olympics, when he was offered a GB trial. Now he wants to grasp it with both hands and become an international regular.

His return to the side for the Pro League matches in Valencia earlier this year was the first time he had played since 2017. (He had been picked for the Commonwealth Games squad but broke his foot just before the Gold Coast trip). “Before my time in the programme I felt like I didn’t give a proper account of myself,” he admits. “A few things didn’t go my way and I know it will never be an easy ride, but I always wanted to give it one more shot to prove to myself that I was good enough.”

Albery says he has been handed “brilliant support” in his second coming, including from club side Old Georgians and Nick Thompson, who has coached him since he was 13-years-old. “Nick told me to alway keep going and gave me the belief,” Albery says of the former 196-cap international.

“He has given me fire and passion for the game amongst huge technical things and ability on the ball,” he reveals. “He is someone who was never afraid to tell me when I was doing well but if I got too big for my boots he would let me know about that as well. He was huge for me growing up.”

Towards the end of Thompson’s playing career, a rising Albery shared a pitch with his mentor at Cambridge City. As a player-coach at the time, Albery caught sight of Thompson’s ability “to turn it on”, adding: “I saw then that was someone I wanted to be like one day.”

Albery grew up at Hertford HC where his dad, Tim, is still a long-serving president. He then moved to play at Old Loughtonians where his junior hockey began to flourish. From aged 13 through to 18, he was at Cambridge City before joining Beeston (with the likes of Adam Dixon, Tim Whiteman and David Ames) while studying at university.

He now works at St George’s College as a hockey coach, dropping from full to part-time with his current Bisham commitments, having started the role when he first left the GB set-up. And he says that he can also lean on the array of experience in the Old Georgians side, including Dan Shingles and Ashley Jackson, who have witnessed the ups and downs of a central programme.

Albery says: “Dan was my boss at work and there isn’t anyone with more experience than Ashley. They are two guys who are really easy to approach and to speak to about those kinds of things.”

And as the Pro League summer kicks into gear and a Commonwealth Games and World Cup looming, Albery is just keen to play as much as he can. “I just want to stay fit and secure a place for the next three of four years,” he adds.

Albery captained the side again at the weekend and would grab the opportunity should the coaching staff set upon a permanent leader. “Absolutely, but it’s not something I am expecting or thought about, but I would definitely love to do it.”