Former Leeds Gryphon Ice Hockey Club captain Nina Brown (Healthcare Science 2018) has guided the British women’s bandy team to a World Championship silver medal and helped revitalize a historic sport in Britain.
“Bandy is played on ice and is a mixture of ice hockey, field hockey and soccer,” says Nina. “It was our first tournament so it was amazing to make history by fielding the first British women’s bandy team – coming home with silver was something else entirely.”
The name derives from the verb “to bandy” or hit back and forth. Not derived – as this naïve interviewer speculated – from the story of a particular stag struggling to stand on the ice. On the contrary, the UK bandy team has been chosen by top hockey players for their skating skills.
Nina, for example, captained the Leeds Gryphons team and played in the GB University squad: “Ice hockey was such an integral part of my Leeds experience. I didn’t expect it to lead me to Bandy, but when I got the call I jumped at the opportunity!”
British Origin and Royal Intervention
Bandy originated in the Cambridgeshire Fens in the 19th century when football and hockey games were disrupted by frozen fields and people put on their skates instead. “It’s a bigger place than an ice hockey field,” says Nina. “There are 11 players and we use field hockey style sticks, a ball and follow the rules of football.”
Bandy participation in the UK waned following a surge in interest in ice hockey – although it remained popular in Scandinavia. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge gave the sport a try after a trip to Sweden in 2018. When the Duchess expressed her desire to see a women’s team formed back home, the wheels were set in motion.
A passion nurtured in Leeds
“Originally I didn’t want to come to Leeds because there wasn’t a hockey team there, but I realized I couldn’t base my decision on that alone.” Maybe it was meant to be; Coincidentally, during Nina’s freshman year, the university’s first ice hockey team, the Leeds Gryphons, was formed.
“I was part of the original team and I saw it grow. We had a wide range of skills – from top Canadian players doing a year abroad to complete beginners.”
“It was a big part of my Leeds experience. We trained in Bradford and took all our gear on the train, but now Leeds has an ice rink too. I loved this routine: Thursday night practice, weekend games, then socials.”
Nina was chosen to play British University Ice Hockey in Finland in her third year. In her senior year, she captained the Leeds team and represented Team GB in roller hockey in 2016. When the bandy association formed, they proved to be the perfect candidate: “They were looking for players like me who had played at this higher level before. We had to be 100 per cent committed so they didn’t just want UK hockey players who had other priorities. I was chosen as captain, which was a real honour.”
And as a full-time NHS pediatric audiologist, Nina has to adapt her education to a busy working life. “We practiced together once a month at the ice hockey rink up in Sheffield, then every two weeks closer to the tournament. There are no big bandy rinks in the UK, which makes things more difficult. We went to the World Cup in Sweden with no expectations because it was new for everyone involved.”
The Bandy World Championship
Nina and the team surprised themselves – and their opponents – by winning all of their group matches and one semi-final to battle the Netherlands for the gold medal. “It was 0-0 in a really exciting game, so we went to ten minutes of Sudden Death Play,” says Nina. “Unfortunately, the Netherlands scored a goal after about five minutes, which ended the game.”
Although it was hard to take at the time, Nina knows with some perspective that it was a job well done: “It was heartbreaking to come so close to gold, but we’re proud to walk away with a silver medal. It was a fantastic experience, it’s so much fun.”
After such a grand final, it might seem odd to think of this as just the beginning of the sport in Britain – and for Nina. “There are plans for training camps and regional competitions. Hopefully in the near future we can get involved at grassroots level and help the sport grow here where it all started.
“I love it so I will keep playing. I also still play a lot of roller hockey so it would be great to be called up for Team GB again with that.”
Maybe even more so with roller hockey being considered for selection at the 2028 Olympics? “Never say never,” laughs Nina.
To follow the progress of the GB Bandy team, follow the Great Britain Bandy Association on Facebook.