As I entered the M&S Bank Arena yesterday, I knew that the England Roses were in form and this World Cup was something special. I was ready to watch them take on the Silver Ferns, for Geva and Eboni to win the ball, for Jade, Serena, Nat and Chelsea to boss the mid-court and for Helen and Jo to be dominating the circle and the shooting percentages and then head to the Final. But I was so nervous! It wasn’t that old feeling of ‘we were going against the mighty Ferns, hope they aren’t on their A game so we don’t lose by 25’. This time the nerves were because England could win and on paper for this game should win and I desperately didn’t want England to lose. I didn’t want for THEM not to bring their A game and let NZ have a chance of taking the game. So much had changed since THAT Gold Medal.
For years I have watched England take on the Aussies and the Kiwi’s with little expectation – just hope that they get close (and not a white-wash). I was in awe of the Diamonds and Silver Ferns. Their athleticism, their power, tactics and skill and the fact they could have a career playing netball. The England Roses invoke that feeling now and with that comes the expectation and pressure. Now when the Roses take on these teams – they are expected to win by their fans and anything less will be disappointing – WE NOW BELIEVE. When they play now – I get the feeling I get when Utd take on City – I am desperate for England to win and I know they can and yesterday I believe they should have (despite the Ferns playing a near perfect game). England had been on form and firing – with the entire crowd behind them (remind anyone of the Diamonds at the Commonwealth Games in 2018….) but it just didn’t happen.
I am gutted that the Roses won’t be in the final as the atmosphere and battle with the Diamonds would have been immense. But this is sport and when you step up and win a Gold medal, when your players become household names and when you keep getting great results – you need to expect the pressure . When you are expected to win, then you can expect huge disappointment when it doesn’t happen. The England players gave everything – their heart and their effort was all there – but unfortunately so were the errors and that is what makes it hurt. New Zealand were unbelievable – they were back – strong, accurate and EVERYWHERE!
Though it doesn’t make any of us feel better right now, netball has come a long way since that Gold medal. We are talking about netball and the Roses, it is on the TV, in the papers and trending all over social media. As we walk around Liverpool bumping into old teammates, coaches, friends and netball fans from the other side of the world – we are analysing games, talking about players and working out which combinations we would have played and which players are on their game. This is something I have watched my Dad do with football for years- a go-to conversation with friends and family – something I didn’t expect to happen to netball.
Though this feeling of disappointment hurts and I can’t bring myself to watch the game again yet – it is how sport should feel. I would rather this than the old feeling of ‘oh well- they did really well to only lose by 15’ with a shrug of my shoulders and on with my day. This is why we love sport – it makes us feel, it is unpredictable and that is why the highs are spectacular and the lows can ache.
World Netball is at its most competitive – every competition and ‘friendly’ is now going to attract more viewers, more attention, more pressure (and hopefully more sponsors and money) for the players as on the day – it is anyones and that is exciting and for the fans nerve-wracking!