Sisterhood of traveling netball fans comes full circle in Birmingham

Sport is often called the great uniter and admired for its ability to bring people together.

Perhaps Indian cricket legend Sunil Gavaskar summed it up best when he said, “Whatever language you speak, the language of the sport is the same.”

Pat Hayden, Sue Bailey, Armena Theobald and Margaret Mumford are rooting for England’s netball team at the Commonwealth Games. They cherish every moment they see their beloved Rose play.

They all speak English and don’t have to worry about that barrier, but this women’s group defies geographic challenges to keep showing up to each other.

Getting ready to watch the 2019 World Cup game in Liverpool.(Image: Courtesy)

All four volunteered at the 1995 World Championships in Birmingham, and shortly thereafter a mutual friend introduced them in hopes of gathering a group for the next tournament in Christchurch. Sometimes we worked together.

In a way, the two are back in full circle as they take their seats at the National Entertainment Arena and reflect on their friendship since it all began in the same city of Birmingham.

“She said, ‘There are two women who want to go with us,’ and we all met,” recalls Pat.

“We liked each other and at that point we went to New Zealand together as a group of five and we just happened to get along very well.”

“We live on different sides of the country, but we try to meet at Superleague games and international games that are held here…we also all love to travel and Attending tournaments has become a great way to travel…and watch netball.”

Pat Hayden hat for netball tournament
Pat Hayden collects pins in every tournament.(Image: Brittany Carter)

During their time as a group, the friends traveled abroad twice to Australia, twice to New Zealand, and to Jamaica and Singapore. Then there are destinations within the UK that netball has taken them to, including Glasgow, Liverpool and Manchester.

They also played in several Netball World Youth Cups to support the England U21s.

On the other hand, if you go back in time and count the tournaments each of you participated in individually before the adventure began, the tally for the group as a whole is even more impressive.

The Birmingham Commonwealth Games was the 16th major netball tournament they attended, with the first tournament on the list going back from Almena to the 1963 World Championships in Eastbourne.

2015 world cup sydney
Enjoying the Netball World Cup in Sydney.(Image: Courtesy)

Before Australia and New Zealand became known as the Diamonds or Silver Ferns, they set the tone for the next 60 years of netball when they established themselves as the top two teams in their first tournament.

Australia won gold, New Zealand finished runner-up, and England finished third.

For most of the sport’s lifetime, these standings have also been reflected in the world rankings.

While this story isn’t played out much at these Commonwealth Games, its history has influenced the way test matches and major events are judged.

For example, when the Silver Ferns finished fourth at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games and missed out on a medal, their campaign was deemed a fiasco, leading to an overhaul of their coaching staff.

Netball Group at the 2014 Commonwealth Games Glasgow
Friends at the 2014 Glasgow Games.(Image: Courtesy)

Similarly, the one-goal losses Diamonds suffered in the finals of those games in 2018 and in the 2019 World Cup saw Netball Australia and head coach Lisa Alexander part ways after almost a decade at the helm. It means you told me.

This high level of expectation may seem very demanding considering others are thrilled to win a silver medal, but Armena, in particular, believes that Australia’s standards make world netball more competitive. He says that he has become better.

“Women’s sport has come this far and there is a big difference in how netball is played today,” Almena said.

“Women have more confidence and are now treated like athletes. The First Word champions were played on normal tarmac courts, but the rules have of course changed.”

“But I have to thank Australia very much because they took a more modern approach to netball and gave the girls a chance. Australia did very well. It is.”

2015 Sydney NWC
Enjoying the sun in Sydney at the 2015 Netball World Cup.(Image: Courtesy)

Pat also added that while she was watching the sport, the athlete’s height increased significantly.

“Girls have a bigger presence now, they’re taller and stronger.

“I’m a defender and I thought I was pretty tall, but now I don’t have a chance to make it in that area. I had to play on Center Court.”

Unfortunately, the group was unable to travel to Australia for the third time to watch the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

As a result, they missed England’s only chance to win gold in a major tournament.

England netballer celebrates gold medal against Australia
England beat Australia 52-51 to win the gold medal at the 2018 Games.(AAP: Tracy Nearmy)

They made sure to attend the final from home in the early hours of the morning, but Pat says he’s still disappointed he didn’t get to meet in person, especially since he beat the Australian.

“Let me tell you, being British can be humiliating when you go to these competitions because when people say ‘Well tried England, well tried’ you have to smile at the end. Because you have to.

“It would have been nice to be in Australia for that. I wouldn’t say I rubbed their noses, but maybe I did just a little.

2022 Commonwealth Games
Four women are enjoying a game in Birmingham.(Image: Brittany Carter)

Of course, their interest in netball brought them together, but the close-knit friends have developed several new traditions over the years.

“We’re celebrating the New Year together now,” Sue said.

“We also like to meet two or three times a year and zoom over tea and wine every week.”

Attendance list for major netball events

1963 — Eastbourne

1979 — Port of Spain

1987 — Glasgow

1991 — Sydney

1995 — Birmingham

1999 — Christchurch

2002 — Manchester

2003 — Kingston

2005 — Fort Lauderdale (Youth)

2007 — Auckland

2011 — Singapore

2013 — Glasgow (Youth)

2014 — Glasgow

2015 — Sydney

2019 — Liverpool

2022 — Birmingham

Sisterhood of traveling netball fans comes full circle in Birmingham

Source link Sisterhood of traveling netball fans comes full circle in Birmingham

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