It’s a fact of life that most sporting clubs are judged by the performances of the team playing at the highest level in their respective sport; and having spent the past few months watching and reporting on Grangetown Netball Club’s games in National Premier League 2 probably proves my point.
But is a “club” only as good (or otherwise) as its most senior squad?
I certainly don’t think so. Whatever the sport, and whatever the level, a club isn’t just about the “now” (although some players may disagree!); it is about developing a strong base, on which the club can build, and work towards creating a future that is better, bigger and brighter (and for the record Grangetown’s bright future is black as well as orange…). The sustainability of any club starts away from the playing arena and works up through the age groups, creating (if successful) a continually evolving community whose influence can extend way beyond the sport itself.
You don’t have to look very hard to find any number of football clubs, whose on-field success masked fragile foundations… and when those foundations crumble, the effects can be devastating. I’ll cite the example of Rushden & Diamonds FC, who went from the Southern League Midland Division all the way to Football League 2… and out of existence in less than twenty years – as amazing as it is frightening.
Obviously there are huge differences between professional and amateur sport, and there are clubs out there that do a remarkable job without any significant financial backing. Money can (and will) attract the best players, but only rarely does it buy loyalty. Your average local club is often able to breed that loyalty through the dedication hard work of those behind the scenes, the coaches who freely give their time and expertise, as well as the players who gain so many benefits from the efforts of others, that many choose to “give something back”; and hence the cycle continues.
But loyalty does not guarantee success, and obviously the largely intangible rewards of success play a major part in replacing the fat pay cheque as the amateur carrot. To maintain a stable club is difficult. To continually raise standards and achieve better and better results is outstanding… but there are people out there that prove that it can be done.
I’ve written before about Grangetown’s rise through the ranks into netball’s National Premier League 2 (the third tier of the English game). Their season has just finished, and the squad finished a hugely creditable sixth (out of ten teams), with eight wins and a draw from their eighteen fixtures. It is a very (understatement) competitive league, which was won by Hampshire-based Viper 10 Blades, who suffered just two defeats all season. The fact that one of those was against Grangetown is a further measure of the squad’s progress.
But the real reason behind today’s blog is to look beyond the senior set-up, and to acknowledge the achievements of the club’s up-and-coming youngsters. These girls are in an environment where their individual and collective talent can be nurtured, and potential can start to be realised. There will always be those for whom sport eventually makes way for other priorities and interests, but some the Grangetown youngsters will certainly be Premier League players of the future… and who knows; one or two might progress even further....
If Grangetown Netball Club is both excited about and proud of its development programme, then it is with good reason. Yesterday, the club’s under 14 and under 16 squads both qualified to represent the north east at May’s National Club Finals. To have the ability and mental strength to win pressure games at such an early stage in a sporting career is fantastic – as, of course is the support being given by the girls’ parents, and the commitment, skill and enthusiasm of the coaches.
It’s the sort of news that deserves to be shouted from the rooftops, but for now my blog will have to suffice as I’d probably slide off my roof… and hurt myself… and then I’d not be able to attempt my 12 hour darts marathon on behalf of Grangetown Netball Club, the least I can do to support the very best in local amateur sport.
Congratulations one and all.