I had been keeping a watchful eye on the England netball fixtures list as I was really keen to see them play. The last time I was at an international was when the Commonwealth Games were held in Manchester. My mum had taken the bait I dangled in front of her in the form of a strategic parable unoriginally pilfered from Nikeee, “We should just do it mum, we’ll regret it if we don’t. We might not get the chance again” As a working mum of four children she was/is not one to pass up an opportunity to get the flock outta there; if the door was left ajar it was not one of the babes that needed watching for fear of running fugitive, it was mum.
Now that I’m living in London the thought had crossed my mind that I would have a better chance of going to a match as being in the host country is usually a benefit (this is the part were my fingers tighten into eagle-esque claws as I restrain myself from banging on about the price of trains/flights/petrol/Boris bikes). But netball seems to follow the pattern favoured by another sport not considered mainstream, rugby league, by chiefly staying out of chuffing London. Whether happily not breaching the inner circle of the M25 and being classified a minor sport in this country are related is a question for another time. Eight teams make up the Netball Super League (NSL) with the most southern side being Surrey Storm based in Guildford. There is a Welsh team, the Celtic Dragons that play their home fixtures in Cardiff. I make this point because as the NSL is the highest level for club sides they have a fan base or following in the region. A region that is near London therefore it is not unreasonable to assume that every so often a premier international fixture should be held in the capital.
World number one side Australia were the opposition for this three-match series being hosted in Bath, Wembley arena and the NEC in Birmingham. So to north London I headed along with 7,000 other spectators to witness if victory in the opening game the previous weekend was as a result of Aussie jetlag, wardrobe malfunction in terms of tying shoelaces together or simply lucky.
This is unfair; it is a redundant attitude of sporting fixtures between the two nations hanging around like a lazy koala bear up a tree on a sunny afternoon in Steve Irwin’s zoo. As it turned out, an experienced England side built on success garnered from the 2011 World Fast Net series win and a useful Test series in the southern hemisphere last year.
Remarkably, being in Brent, the whole night was a joy. I challenge anyone, fan of netball, sports enthusiast or not, to have felt differently. The match was tight, seesawing between the sides until the hosts edged clear in the final quarter and held on to win by 2 points. The crowd was loud, the wee girl squealing into my right ear from the first whistle should really have received some sort of grand recognition for superior lung capacity, or made to sign a medical contract so science could eventually benefit from exploring her unnaturally large lungs.
Coach Anna Mayes instilled a sense of confidence into her players so they trusted their significant abilities. The delight on the faces of the squad after the final whistle was exciting to see as this win meant a series victory over the Diamonds for the first time ever. The mood was summed up when two of the players literally did cartwheels and backflips in celebration.
Interest in netball is steadily increasing, as is the number of participants. There is no reason why this sport should not get significant media coverage; it has everything a finger-twitching journalist looks for in women’s sport– Pretty girls? Yes, High standard? Yes, Role models? Yes, Success? Yes, yes, yes