Hattie: “Being in an environment that’s not toxic, which the Unicorns isn’t at all, is great.”

For Hattie, discovering and joining the Birmingham Unicorns has given her a new lease of life.

By her own admission, Hattie “lives and breathes” cricket, but despite that it was not always an easy journey to the Midlands side.

Playing in her slightly younger days, she was on her way to becoming a promising all-rounder for her county, only to find out that she was pregnant.

That, coupled with club politics, took her out of the game as a player and away from the sport she loves. She went to university to study sports journalism and would become active again in a totally different sport – hockey.

However, after hanging up her goalie’s mask for the last time, the urge to return to cricket became stronger, and she took the first steps to play again with a mixed team in 2018, before stumbling across the Unicorns after the pandemic hit last year.

“Cricket is a sport I love with every sinew of me,” she explained.

“When I saw on Twitter about the Unicorns being set up, I live and breathe cricket, so I was just like ‘wow’. It was an LGBT+ team, so this was possibly somewhere where I could finally be me.

“I played in a mixed team locally in 2018. I did okay, but it was literally the first game I had played since I was 25, so it had been a long time. I didn’t disgrace myself, but at the same time I didn’t do brilliantly.

“I was just glad to get involved, and then they set up a women’s team for 2019 which I thought was terrific. I did all the training, but then the day before the first game I broke my right foot in two places. It wasn’t the best.

“Not one of them knew how I identified, I just kept it very much to myself – as I did when I was playing hockey. I have a rainbow beanie somewhere, and I wore that underneath my hockey helmet, but at the same time people just saw it as another beanie that I wore. I have hundreds of them, so it just seemed like another beanie I wore to keep my helmet in place.

“To find the Unicorns set up, yes it’s in Birmingham and I don’t drive, so it’s like an hour on the train to get there, but I didn’t care, I just wanted to play cricket.

“I must have messaged Lachlan (Smith, the Unicorns’ founder) or something and it just went from there. We were on Zoom over the course of the year, and we just bonded over our mutual love of the sport and how we identify.

“It was just like I was free, free to be me. When you’re around like-minded people, it is absolutely liberating.”

There is a strong camaraderie at the Unicorns, which allows their members to blossom on and off the pitch.

Despite quickly forming a close friendship with Smith and the rest of her new teammates, the first time Hattie was actually able to meet them in person was just a few weeks ago.

The Unicorns had been building up to what was supposed to be their first ever match on May 23, against the UK’s other inclusive cricket club, Graces.

In preparation, they were invited to train at Warwickshire County Cricket Club, which turned out to be a memorable experience in more ways than one for Hattie, although there was an element of luck in her being able to go in the first place.

“That was a sheer fluke, because I usually work at tea time on Mondays, so I wouldn’t have been able to do go and train at Edgbaston – but by sheer design, fate, whatever you want to call it I wasn’t working,” Hattie said.

“I had that Monday off, so I was able to take myself and my daughter down to Edgbaston which is like our second home, we just love the place. That’s our local County.

“We went down and Mark Robinson, who is the coach for Warwickshire now, I saw him grow up playing for Sussex, and now he’s the Warwickshire coach and the former England Women’s coach. Obviously Paul Farbrace as well, who has done stuff with England, and he is phenomenal.

“My daughter was sitting in the sidelines as we were going through the nets, and Mark went straight over to her and got her to join in. She identifies as bi, and he gave her a few minutes one-to-one on bowling.

“That was the first time I had actually met the Unicorns guys in person. We had spent a year having meetings on zoom once-a-month or every fortnight.

“Graces were there as well, and it was like we had known each other forever. Their captain came over to me and gave me a massive hug – I had never met the guy before! Then Lachlan came over to me, and it was literally like meeting a long-lost brother.

“We went to the pub afterwards and had a meal together. My daughter had school the next day, but it genuinely didn’t matter – we didn’t want to leave.

“We were hoping for the game that weekend which didn’t happen, but instead we met up in Digbeth and played pit pat, which is mini golf played like snooker, and we had such a good time. It was like a team bonding session, it was just brilliant.

“Some of the guys might have been quite shy, but I was interviewed for Midlands Today while we were doing the net session on the Monday – never turn your back while someone is batting.

“One of the guys smacked it, it hit me on the bum. There’s me being interviewed, and I turn around and shout ‘oi cheeky!’ at him then carried on with the interview.

Midlands Today’s segment on the historic Unicorns v Graces match.

“The guy who interviewed me, Nick Clitheroe, said it was professionalism personified. That didn’t make the cut, but he sent me the full interview and it was hilarious. Simon said that was the only one he timed all session, and he hit me, so I’m never going to let him live that one down.”

The brakes were forced on to the historic match between the Birmingham Unicorns and Graces because of the weather, but the match has been rescheduled for this weekend.

Graces vice-captain Manish Modi previously said he hoped the occasion would have a festival atmosphere, and Hattie believes that the two teams having met each other will only help.

However, she is not expecting any favours when the time comes to walk out to the crease.

“I hope there will be the banter and the sense of humour will carry on having met them all,” she reasoned.

“They will be good fun on and off the field, I don’t think there will be any favouritism. When they see me go out to bat – if I get the chance to at seven or eight – I don’t think they will bowl extra fast at me, but I don’t think they will show me any favouritism because they know I can’t bat very well.

“They won’t be thinking they’ve got to be kind to me, but at the same time they’re not going to be mean to me either.

“It’s certainly going to help that we’ve gotten to know them, and we can have a good laugh with them. There might be a few smiles and laughs on the field, but I think teams need to get to know each other.

“I’m very interested in the psychology of sport. Cricket is full of psychology, so teams need to get to know one another off the field before you can play on it – whether that’s your own team, or the opposition.

“Otherwise, you can’t focus on what you’re doing really. You need to spend time to get to know each other.”

Recent months have given the Unicorns’ players a chance to develop a close bond.

Even just talking about joining a club like the Unicorns feels like a big step, never mind playing in a match that has generated so much publicity, when you take into account that Hattie has always been guarded over who knows about her sexuality.

Hattie comes from a religious upbringing and still goes to church, where she is passionate about it being a place that is welcome to all.

That has not always been an easy balance to reconcile personally, but it is something that sport has always been able to help with if only as a distraction.

“It’s bizarre really, I’ve got two Twitter accounts – it’s not that I’m ashamed, far from it, I’m proud for want of a better phrase,” Hattie insisted.

“I’ve been brought up in the Church of England, my dad – who I’m so close to, he is my hero and has done everything for me – has really shaped me, but he is really quite homophobic.

“When I told him that I was going to be playing in the match a few weeks ago, and I told him about the Midlands Today interview and that it was a Birmingham LGBT+ side, he said be careful. I said ‘they’re good guys’, and he said ‘no, be careful with your foot’. I was paranoid about what he meant.

“His sister is wonderful, she saw the clip and she’s really proud of me as well. She told me she wondered how I identified, but then we moved on very quickly. She knows, and she’s fine about it.

“I’m not ashamed. I’m nervous. It’s like I’ve always been worried of letting people down, because that’s how I’ve been made to feel – that I have let people down all my life.

“Sport has been a release for me. Being in an environment that’s not toxic, which the Unicorns isn’t at all, is great. That’s another reason why I didn’t go back to that other cricket team and, to a lesser extent, why I gave up hockey as well – it was too political.

Internal politics have not been an issue at the Unicorns under Lachlan Smith (right), or with Manish Modi (centre) at Graces.

“My mum and I are getting on okay at the moment, and I don’t want to ruin that. My daughter came out as bi three or four months ago, and I told my mum with my dad in the background over Facetime, and he just kind of walked away.

“If I was to tell them about me, they would probably think it was my influence, and it’s like ‘no, not at all, she’s old enough to make her own decisions’. She has been in a relationship, she has experienced what it’s like to fall in love with a girl, and love is love at the end of the day.

“You can’t describe it: it’s such a powerful emotion. It’s like when you play sport, you go through every emotion possible, and it’s a deep thing within you that you can’t describe when it really gets to your core.

“When it makes you feel like you have to open up and express yourself, you’re very vulnerable. You get exposed to all sorts, and that’s not necessarily a good thing.”

If sport has always been an escape in darker moments, the Unicorns have allowed Hattie to thrive in her own identity and shine.

There are still the occasional envious glances at some of her younger teammates over what life is like for them, but her confidence is growing all the time – and she is increasingly becoming defiantly and unapologetically herself.

“I can’t express it, it is a big deal,” she added.

“I hope it will be for other people who are joining the Unicorns. There are two other girls, who are the same age as I was when I had my daughter.

“It sounds so stupid, but I see the way that they dress, and I think I want to dress like them. People say I dress classy, but I want to dress like them – even just a simple shirt and trousers. I want to be normal.

“I asked them how they met, and they said they met at the LGBT+ Freshers’ Ball, and I never had that. I didn’t know how I identified, or I did but I was ashamed to say I wanted to be a part of that too. I wanted to just be free to be me.”

Looking ahead to the match against Graces tomorrow, Hattie added: “Yes, there’s going to be media and press around, and there’s going to be the nervous anxiety thinking about all that, but at the same time I’ve just got to push that to the back of my mind. I’m not like Rory Burns with a funny opening stance, I’m not open to that sort of scrutiny. The only scrutiny will be from within. I’ve got to discard that and know that I’ve got 10 siblings looking out for me on the pitch, and more watching on from the sidelines.

“When we had that training session at Edgbaston, I said to them that this has been an incredible bonding session. Even the meal afterwards, getting the chance to get to know each other, we all sat at different tables but we all had the chance to interact with each other, which was brilliant.

“We’re all just ordinary people, living ordinary lives, with the same things in common. It’s amazing, and you think why should we be judged for just being ordinary people and for being ourselves?”

Watch the live stream of the Birmingham Unicorns v Graces from 1pm tomorrow here.

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