Forget visions of shrieking schoolgirls, unflattering pleated pinafore skirts and giant gym knickers, netball has moved on. Watch just a few minutes of any international or elite-level match and you’ll see a fast, dynamic and skillful sport that bears little resemblance to the lethargic, stop-start game you left behind at the school gates.
Boosted by England’s bronze medal win at the World Cup last summer, netball is on the up and drawing growing numbers of engaged players and captivated supporters… And it’s easy to see why.
I was invited along to the Copperbox Arena at London’s Olympic Park to join fellow members of the media in a ‘friendly’ match against Sky Sports before England’s final test match against Australia. Our team was reinforced by two ex-England stars; former international captain and Surrey Storm player Pamela Cookey, and Stacey Jayne Francis, who – I can testify – throws a ball like a bullet! Meanwhile our opposition included the likes of Sky Sports presenter Jane Dougall, reality TV star Ferne McCann and Surrey Storm coach and ex-England player Tamsin Greenway.
It’s not the winning, it’s the taking part that counts (we won!) and I can attest that you don’t get a much better stress-busting, full-body cardio workout than netball, which is great fun to boot. Having recently dusted off my trainers and returned to playing netball in a weekly competitive league, I couldn’t be more delighted to see how the sport I love is gaining momentum.
More than 150,000 women play netball in the UK every week and Guildford-based Surrey Storm and Bedford-based Hertfordshire Mavericks are flying the flag for the South East in the netball superleague (netball’s answer to the football Premiership, minus the giant pay packet).
‘It’s a massive moment,’ says England coach Tracey Neville, sister of footballers Gary and Phil. ‘Netball is in a huge development stage. There are all sorts of things happening, changes in the competition structure, an increase in participation, it’s a great time. I’m really excited about what’s ahead.’
Sky Sports’ biggest ever season of netball begins with January’s Netball Month and live coverage of every round of the Vitality Netball Superleague throughout the season.