It has hardly been a bumper year for the region’s local football clubs, with Middlesbrough and Sunderland bound for the Championship, Hartlepool losing their league status, and York City (FA Trophy notwithstanding) facing virtual oblivion in National League North after a second successive relegation.
Newcastle United’s immediate elevation back to the top flight is some positive news, although most praise should be reserved for South Shields, who have the chance to end an outstanding campaign in the best possible style if they win Sunday’s FA Vase final at Wembley.
But away from the headlines and the back pages, a local club has achieved a promotion that effectively ranks them as one of the top twenty clubs in their sport in the entire country….
Earlier this month, Grangetown Netball Club travelled down to Nottingham to compete in the end-of-season play-offs, and try and secure a place in National League Premier 2. Aside from the sport’s Super League (which is run on a franchise basis), the National Premier League is netball’s foremost domestic club competition; Grangetown had been relegated from Prem 2 last year, but a new young squad had been consistent and competitive throughout a demanding Prem 3 season, which involved travelling in excess of 3,000 miles for just nine away fixtures.
Last season’s relegation via the play-offs was all the more difficult to accept because no less than five squad members were unavailable due to international commitments with Scotland and Ireland in the annual European Championships.
This year however, coach Gel Williams chose to focus on the future by recruiting a number of talented youngsters to join Grangetown’s own gifted teenagers Hannah Raine and Tasha Grylls in a squad led by club captain Vicky Rees and vice-captain Ria Small.
Ireland’s Australian-born defender Gen Slater travelled over from Dublin virtually every weekend to take her place in the squad alongside fellow Ireland international Katie Walton, and Jenny Mrozik.
It was very much a blend of youth and experience, but the squad gelled quickly and after a couple of narrow reverses, the team acquired the winning habit and began to climb the table. The squad was arguably the fittest in the division and their relentless combination of defensive pressure and speed through the court resulted in some thrilling and dramatic matches over the past seven months; and their third-placed finish was as hard-earned as it was thoroughly deserved.
Although Grangetown made the trip to Nottingham without Jaydene Robinson and Brie Grierson (due to Team Northumbria commitments), fellow Newcastle-based students Abbie le Brocq and Kate Hill joined the squad for the four-club round robin. The equation was simple: the two clubs with the best records would be in Prem 2 for 2017/18, the other two would be in the third division….
Grangetown recorded two convincing wins from their three fixtures, but lost to a dominant Linden side that retained its Prem 2 status with a 100% record. There were a few nervous moments before Grangetown’s promotion was confirmed, but results went the way of the Middlesbrough club and the celebrations could begin in earnest.
To play netball at a national level demands huge dedication and commitment as well as sporting ability. There may be no comparison between football and netball in terms of popularity, money and audiences, but in fairness, as far as respective seasons are concerned, there has been no comparison between results and achievements either….