"Hopefully we'll develop into some of the best players in the world"

Esme Burge
“It’s still really weird when people are asking for an autograph because a year ago I was doing this to the players I’m now on the pitch with!”

When she looks back over the last 12 months, Esme Burge admits she still has to ‘pinch myself sometimes’ at just how much she has achieved.

Having been a member of the GB Elite Development Programme (EDP) and representing England at the 2016 U21 World Cup aged just 16, Burge made her senior international debut in June 2019 when Great Britain’s women played Germany in the FIH Hockey Pro League.

Just a few weeks later she was offered a full-time contract on the senior programme, appeared in three further FIH Hockey Pro League games and went on the tour of Japan as the women continued their preparations for the Tokyo Olympics.

Reflecting on her journey, Burge said: “It’s been amazing. This time last year I was invited to do some one-off training sessions and it was so exciting to come to Bisham to train with the girls. 

“And then it slowly transitioned into doing more and more and then I got offered the full-time contract in June. My life turned around then.

“It's pretty cool, to be a full-time athlete able to do what I love as a job every day. It’s been a whirlwind but it’s been really exciting and I’m really enjoying it.”

Esme Burge Sabbie Heesh

One of the biggest changes for Burge was getting used to seeing the players she’d idolised for so long as her new team-mates, individuals she could be representing Great Britain alongside at next year’s Olympics.

“These are people I’ve looked up to for years and years and as a youngster”, the 20-year-old said.

”Before I’d played any junior stuff, some of these players were on the pitch playing for GB and I was watching them at the Olympics. 

“That has been amazing, for those people to turn from not knowing who I am while I’m in total admiration of them to being my team-mates and being really good mates with them. 

“It really gives me goosebumps thinking about that possibility [the Olympics]. I have to pinch myself sometimes. I’m playing alongside and I’m lucky enough to call these people my friends. 

“It’s really cool and when times are tough I have to remember that as well.”

In spite of the largely positive start to her senior international career, there have been occasions already where this has come in more than useful for the Repton School pupil

She has found herself in and out of the Great Britain team since making her debut, only featuring once in the four games when they visited Australia and New Zealand for the FIH Hockey Pro League earlier this year. Even then, she only got to play half a game against the Hockeyroos before it was curtailed due to thunderstorms.

Burge was also not selected for the England team that went to the 2019 EuroHockey Championships but she knows that it will only make her stronger as a player over the coming months and years.

GB Women National Anthem 2020 FIHPL

Looking back on the Oceania tour, she said: “It was the longest time I’ve ever been away so by the end of the trip that was tough in itself, along with not getting picked much. The only game I did get picked for against Australia was the one ended at half-time by the storms. 

“That was just my luck but the time I did get on the pitch I thoroughly enjoyed and felt like I played my role in the team.

“When you come in you’ve got that whirlwind and it’s all amazing but then it hits that it’s proper life and you’ve got to grind it out.

“Selection is really, really tough – people come back from injury and you’re not getting picked. That’s really hard. I’ve been lucky enough in the past that, in the junior stuff, I’ve usually been on the teamsheet.

“Now I’m really learning how to still have that confidence when my name isn’t on the team sheet, to still play my way, trust my instincts and have that confidence to play the way I want to play even if I’m on the edge of the squad and really fighting for a spot. It’s been a massive learning curve.”

Having only just left her teenage years behind though, Burge still has plenty of international hockey left under her belt in which to prove herself.

She is just one of a number of youngsters in the senior GB programmes who have transitioned through from the EDP and immediately shone on the international stage, alongside the likes of Charlotte Watson, Tess Howard, Jack Waller and Tom Sorsby.

Esme Burge

And having seen how quickly it can be possible for a young player to make that transition, Burge is excited to see the next crop of youngsters starting to knock on the senior door.

“Speaking to some of my friends who are in the EDP, it’s really put into perspective for them the possibility of where they can be in a year’s time and how things can change so quickly,” the former Beeston player said.

“In the next cycle and the one after we’ll hopefully be absolutely owning it on the world stage. People are already doing that but imagine what we could be doing in a few years’ time. It’s so nice that there’s a real tight knit group of us. It’s very exciting.

“I think it’s so exciting that we’ve got young blood coming through and hopefully we’ll develop into some of the best players in the world.”

Click here to listen to more from Burge in the first episode of #InsideTheCircle: The Podcast.