• International

Liam Sanford: Pride and Passion

‘Per Adua ad Astra’ is a motto that has coursed through the family veins since Liam Sanford can remember. Generation after generation proudly protected the skies of Great Britain and for him it was no different.

A third-generation RAF recruit, Sanford’s life began on the continent in Germany, just over the border from where his family were based in the Netherlands.

The country hopping didn’t stop there as the Sanford clan were relocated to the sunny shores of Cyprus and it was their time in the Mediterranean that Liam first picked up a stick.

“It was my dad that got me into it,” Sanford said. “When we were in Cyprus, he had his own touring team so at half-time my brother and I would go onto the pitch and try to play. We were terrible.

“That’s how it all started though, and when we moved back to England my parents put us in a hockey club and it went from there.”

Having had their fix of globetrotting, the Sanford’s were keen to find a base of their own and RAF High Wycombe was the destination.

In the shadow of the home of hockey, Sanford’s journey to the national team was by way of the skies following in the contrails of his family.

“My Dad was in the RAF, my uncle was in the RAF, so were both my grandparents and my brother joined the army at 16, so it’s always very much been a family thing. It seemed inevitable that I would end up there,” said Sanford.

“My first posting was at Boscombe Down and after six months there I got the call up for trials post-Rio and then I was into the senior squad.”

However, his ascendancy to the Great Britain and England squads hasn’t forced Sanford to call it quits on his time in the military.

As a part of the RAF’s Elite Athlete Scheme, Sanford has been afforded the opportunity to pursue his hockey career whilst remaining with the RAF, balancing his duties on the turf with the runway.

Off the pitch, Sanford is an Air and Space Operations Specialist (ASOS) which entails coordinating airspace for military and civilian aircraft as well as keeping watch for foreign missile launches and assisting the scrambling of Quick Reaction Alert Typhoon jets.

Even when he’s away from hockey, his eyes have to stay very much on the ball.

“When I got put on the scheme, it was to go play and get selected. At the start balancing was very easy, but in the latter stages it became a little more mentally taxing – having to focus on selection for big tournaments.

“There’s not that much of a mindset shift. I love being part of team and for a team to be successful everyone has to be willing to help the guy on either shoulder and that’s the same for the RAF and hockey.

“I’ve had it instilled in me at the RAF that it’s not just you and you alone and the coaches at GB are the same,” added Sanford.

He became capped for both GB and England in 2017, with his GB debut in Johor for the Sultan of Aslan Shah tournament helped GB win gold.

Despite his international heroics, Sanford has continued to represent RAF Hockey tasting victory in the Inter-Services County Championships every year since 2016, Sanford was the recipient of the RAF Sports Personality of the Year in 2017.

Having added two Commonwealth bronze medals and a European Championship silver with England, Sanford remains devoted to achieving the pinnacle with Great Britain.

“We know that we’re in a very good position to challenge for medals and it’s just how we go about that.

“As players we had a sit down at the start of this cycle and we said that we want to be the most successful GB hockey team that there’s ever been and to do that we need to win gold medals and be on podiums.

“It’s a very open conversation about what are our goal is, as a squad we’re very aware of the pressures that come with that but it’s something we’ve accepted and the whole team is pushing for,” said Sanford.

The German-born defender featured heavily in Oman as the men qualified for an 11th straight Olympics with Paris under four months away and the focus remains on their two weeks in the industrial suburb of Colombes, northwest of the capital.

“We know who we’re playing and when we’re playing them. For us, it’s what our game is going to be. Individually and as a team we’re going in there with a positive and fresh mind. We’ve all bought into the plan.

“Revs and the coaches have freed up the players to play to their strengths and it’s benefitted all 30 of us, I think it’s also come across in performances over the cycle.

“Every player is allowed to have their ‘moment in the sun’ as we call it,” said Sanford

The whole of the GB squad will be working hard to make sure that the sun shines on the Yves-du-Manoir stadium come the summer.