CLUBHOUSE: Tina Cullen: 400 not out!

Tina Cullen celebrates

The word “legend” is often overused in sporting terms, but if you ask anyone from across the English game about Bowdon Hightown’s Tina Cullen, most, if not all of them would use exactly that word. Having made her debut in the first season of what was then the National League in 1989-90; the two-time Olympian has now scored 400 league goals, reaching the milestone with a brace against Beeston just weeks ago.

It is a terrific achievement from the player who has served Bowdon Hightown so well over the years. However unlike some players, who remember every goal in vivid detail Cullen admits she has no idea who she scored her first against:

“I’ve played quite a few games since then but I scored in my first season which was around 1989-90. I was about 19 and I think I only scored 4 or 5 the whole season.” she adds “I didn’t score many to start with as I was still finding my feet. I played in the first year of National League but before then I’d only played local leagues. I hadn’t played at that sort of level before so it was a big jump for me and it took me a while to get going.”

And get going she did. Her goals fired Bowdon Hightown to titles both at home and abroad during the good days and also kept them in the top flight during their times of struggle. She has been with the club since the age of 19 as both a player and a coach and in 2013 her services to hockey were recognised as she was awarded an MBE, something she couldn’t quite believe:

“I got a letter asking if I’d accept the honour and I thought it must be one of my friends winding me up. I had to Google the name of the person who signed the letter to check and it turned out it was real. I was made up. It’s great for the club and the support they’ve given me over the years and it was a really special day for me and my family. My teammates take the mickey quite a lot but I’m still proud of it!”

Tina Cullen 400 not out!

With the 400th goal under her belt, too Cullen’s advice for would-be goalscorers like herself is simple:

“Goalscoring is as much about the mental side as it is technique and ability. The ability to miss a chance and move on is so important. I reckon I’ve missed over 1000 chances, never mind scoring 400. I kept getting in the positions and that’s the important thing.” she adds “People who score goals are the people who think of the process. If you have a chance and you think “I could score now” you won’t. You have to think about where you’re putting the ball, what you’re doing and how to do it rather than the end result. People are so focused on the outcome of scoring the goal rather than the technique and the process of getting there and that’s why they miss.”

The Bowdon Player-Coach is more interested in scoring goals and winning games than personal milestones, to the extent she had no idea how many goals she had scored or how close to the record she was:

“I wasn’t aware of the number of goals but at the end of last season our manager Roger Hunt asked me if I knew how many I had. I thought it was somewhere near 400 but he told me it was 398, and then pointed out I’d missed two strokes! The 400th was from a penalty stroke but I think Roger was more nervous than I was.”

Now 44, she is keen to stress that she can’t go on forever, instead looking to help bring on the next generation of goal machines in the North West:

“I like it when our young players start scoring and stepping up. I’m coming to the end now and I want other people to get the goals. I didn’t score loads last year and I don’t think I will this year. This season I want to help the young players to come through and start scoring them for me.”

With the mention of the end of her career, the topic turns to how she would like to me remembered when she stops playing. Cullen is typically no-nonsense and humble saying she would prefer people “to get on with the game and enjoy themselves rather than think about her” but one thing is for sure: Her legacy as a one-club player with an MBE, two Olympic Games, 400 goals and a whole lot of medals will not soon be forgotten. 'Legend' seems quite apt.