Why the England Netball Gold Medal Was so Powerful
For some, the England win in netball at the Commonwealth Games wasn't just about a gold medal. Writer Jessie Leong tells us what it meant for her, and why it's so important.
My first netball team photo still hangs in my parents' office in our family home. The big grin on the face of eight-year-old me doesn't quite capture the pride and happiness I felt standing there that day. I spent 11 years playing netball competitively at school, and although most of my friends left their netball careers behind at the school gates, I rekindled that love after university. Even now when I pull on a netball bib once a week with my local team, flashbacks of half-time oranges and polyester PE skirts fill me with nostalgia. Stepping on to the court makes me think about the unbeaten season we had back in 2007, the shared giggles and gossip sessions on the bus on the way to a match, and the post-match teas we celebrated with afterwards.
The suspense and tension felt unreal as I sat on the edge of my sofa on Sunday morning, desperate to be court-side on the Gold Coast. The England netball team were drawing 51-51 in the Commonwealth Games final against world number ones Australia. The nail-biting match went down to the last second before victory was clinched and the England Roses secured their first major world title. This historic moment for England put netball back on the radar for many people who haven’t played the sport since their PE days, and was a personal reminder of why I love the sport so much.
I wouldn't say I’m particularly patriotic, but I love the collective energy and spirit of international multi-sport events and I'm always left in awe of the athletes who compete. Watching the Roses on their road to victory was no different. Netball is more than a sport I was forced to play at school; as someone who never really fit into any clique, it offered me that sense of belonging that we all crave growing up. When general school life brought on handfuls of anxiety, the netball court felt like home. It didn’t matter if I wasn’t cool enough or if I didn’t have a unique talent, as long as I could play netball with the girls, I had a place to retreat where I felt needed and at peace.
Apart from the 90 minutes I spend on the netball court each week, most of my fitness pursuits are solo these days, but the England Roses reminded me why I love team sports. Victories are always best when you have someone to celebrate them with, and likewise, it's always comforting to have someone else there to feel the pain and misery of defeat, too. Even though I miss that familiarity of playing with the same friends for the best part of 10 years, a closeness to the point where you can predict their next move, I love sharing my passion for the sport with my new teammates too, and I'm always pleasantly surprised to hear how many have grown to love the sport after hating it at school.
I really hope others who watched the England Roses over the Commonwealth Games are inspired to join their local netball club – or any team sports for that matter. With the dominance of male sports teams, it's about time we shouted out about our historically women's teams more.