Mitch Hahn insists Team GB’s open football team can overcome more than half a century of heartache by winning gold at this year’s Maccabiah.
Hahn has been handed the captain’s armband and was part of the squad eight years ago which suffered an agonising penalty shoot-out defeat in the final, though believes this team can go one step further.
He said: “Obviously we’re going out there to come back with gold and I don’t see why the team can’t achieve that. I’m optimistic and think, why can’t we go out there and win?”
The team are certainly pulling out all the stops in trying to achieve that first elusive win since 1961. Managed by treble-winning London Lions manager Andy Landesberg, with Nathan Kosky the assistant manager, Kevin Blackwell, the current assistant manager to Neil Warnock at Cardiff City and his brother Noel Blackwell are the side’s two coaches, while former England and Arsenal physiotherapist Gary Lewin is assessing the fitness and performance side, with Darren Stern their Sports Scientist – a role which he performs currently for Millwall.
Praising the preparation of the side, Hahn said: “Andy, Kevin and Noel have all been great. We’ve got Gary as a physio and a sports scientist in Darren, everything is taken really seriously. We train at a high level of intensity, with the players wearing GPS bibs which monitor the heartrates. But with Gary being here, everyone is fit and we have a fully fit squad going out there.”
Not knowing exactly what to expect in terms of the standard of opposition, he does though draw on his previous experience to have what they can expect. “I went with probably the strongest team we’ve ever had eight years ago when we lost the final on penalties”, he says. “But the standard when I went out there – I was shocked and I’d just finished playing professionally. I couldn’t get over how good the level was. I don’t know much about the opposition [now], but I’m sure the manager’s will do their homework on them when we’re out there, I can only think the standards’ got better over the years or at the worst stayed the same – and that was really high.”
Describing the 2017 squad as a “young one with experience”, he doesn’t believe that will necessarily count against them. “We have a lot of experience in the side, even though it’s a very young one”, he says. “There’s experience in the side as well and we’ve got experienced coaches and managers that will play a massive part – it can work both ways but I think as long as the experienced players step up – including myself – I don’t see why we can’t go and win there.”
Describing the pride he feels on a personal level from captaining the side, he said: “It’s amazing for me. When I went last time, I said to myself ‘One day I’m going to come back and captain the GB side’, and for Andy to give me the opportunity to do that is just amazing.
“I lost my granddad a couple of years ago and I’m just gutted that he can’t come out and see it. He was a Holocaust Survivor, he was my hero, he followed my football, I’m not just doing this for myself, but for my family as well and I’m just so proud to be leading the side.”
The other side of the Games, away from the competitive side, is what the entire GB delegation will take from the occasion, especially bearing in mind that this will be the first experience of a Maccabiah for the majority of the footballers. As Hahn explains: “I was in the same position as them last time, you don’t realise how amazing it is until you realise it for yourself.
“Don’t get me wrong, we’re there to win, but the whole experience… the Opening Ceremony was a massive eye opener, seeing thousands of Jewish people from around the world get together is just unbelievable. Once everyone’s out there, the adrenaline will set in and everyone will have an amazing time.”
And finally no interview with an England football player or manager would be complete without posing the inevitable question…has the side been practicing penalties? “We’ve been practicing them after every training session and game”, he says. “However, eight years ago we went out there and were unbelievable on penalties, but when you get to the final the pressure kicks in and it’s just about keeping cool. But I’m sure we’ll be alright – hopefully.”