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.
By setting myself forty challenges, I was well aware that 2014 was going to be a busy and testing year. Finding out I’d be losing my job, and therefore having to find work was an added pressure that I could have done without—although in fairness the end result was (and is) better than I could have ever hoped for.
So whilst 2015 was always intended to be a much quieter year, the thing about attempting and completing tasks, or overcoming challenges is that the ultimate sense of achievement actually becomes quite addictive: the more demanding the test, the better the feeling….
With that in mind, I am very happy to confirm that on Saturday 16th May, I will be having a go at a twelve-hour solo darts marathon at the Cleveland Inn in Normanby.
Have I done anything like this before? Actually yes! Back in 1985, I took part in a twenty-four hour event, but as part of a team of four. It was tough, but I was only twenty, so physically (apart from being tired), I coped pretty well. However, two of the team ended up soaking aching limbs, their lower legs having ballooned after hours on their feet—and the concern is that they were younger then than I am now….
The plan, therefore, is to lose a few pounds, get a bit fitter and, of course, do some serious practice on the dartboard.
As with everything I did last year, there is an organisation that I want to support: this time it is Grangetown Netball Club.
The club was founded in 1986 by Gel Williams, who is still head coach. From humble beginnings, through the dedication and determination of Gel and a group of volunteers, Grangetown can now boast a team that plays in National Premier League 2 (only Team Northumbia’s Super League side and Hartlepool-based Prem 1 Club Oaksway are ranked higher in the whole of the north east), as well as a strong senior side and a whole range of age-group squads.
So as well as providing a platform for the best local players to showcase their talents, Grangetown are nurturing and developing potential Premier and Super League players of the future, as well as offering youngsters the chance to simply learn the game and experience the enjoyment, and physical benefits of team sport.
What has been achieved in less than thirty years is remarkable, but as well as the considerable time and effort that is invested behind the scenes, there are also significant financial demands. In amongst all the league and affiliation fees, hire charges, clothing, equipment etc, there is also the cost of travelling to all the away games.
Again, there is a reliance on volunteers for the local or regional fixtures, but what about the Prem games? If I asked you to guess how many miles the girls have to travel for just nine away matches, what would you say?
1,000 miles? Maybe 2,000?
The answer is actually a staggering 4,000 miles.
The commitment of the players who spend time away from their families not just to push themselves to be the best they can, but also to fly the flag for local netball is remarkable. I have watched virtually all this season’s home games, and the atmosphere around the club is welcoming and friendly, but that doesn’t hide a steely resolve to produce performances and results that will keep taking the club forward.
It’s going to take plenty of resolve to throw darts for twelve hours, but it promises to be a fantastic day, with plenty of other things planned away from the dartboard. I’ll be posting more details over the forthcoming weeks, but for now, I would love to get some messages of support (especially from the netball and darts communities), so that I can spread the word and make the event a real success… because Grangetown Netball Club deserves nothing less.
Earlier this afternoon, Grangetown played host to Thoroughbreds in their home fixture of the Premier League 2 season.
The home side were boosted by the availability of three Scottish Thistles: Gemma Sole, Jo Pettitt and Nicola McCleery. The presence of the international players alongside some of the very best local netball talent had seen Grangetown produce some excellent recent performances; and the squad came into today’s match in sixth position, and on a three-game winning streak.
There was also a score to settle, as Thoroughbreds had won the last meeting between the teams by a single goal. The Norfolk-based club were just one place below Grangetown, and the stage looked set for a closely-fought encounter.
In a frenetic opening, the visitors had the better of the early exchanges, and quickly moved into a 4-0 lead. Gemma Sole finally broke the home side’s duck after almost five minutes, by which time there had been an early indication of what would be a physical and occasionally feisty game, with Jennifer Mrozik showing admirable restraint when the ball was needlessly pushed into her face.
Ria Small was then on the receiving end of another couple of very strong challenges, as Thoroughbreds looked to impose themselves on a Grangetown side that was making a number of uncharacteristic errors. An outstanding double interception from Jen Mrozik seemed to galvanise the team, who reduced the gap to two, before Thoroughbreds restored their four goal advantage at the end of the first quarter.
Despite falling further behind just twenty seconds into the second period, Grangetown battled back into contention, with Ria Small’s brilliant pass to set up Gemma Sole being the highlight. The Thoroughbreds advantage was again back down to just two goals, with Jo Pettitt finding the net after the officials had belatedly penalised a three-second violation.
There were still a physical side to the game, and there was understandable frustration as a number of calls went against the home side; typified when Jo Pettitt disputed a decision given when she was deemed to have lost possession, after she had been unceremoniously barged off the court.
Thoroughbreds were still two goals to the good at half time. They had a lot of pace through the centre of the court; they manoeuvred the ball well into the circle and were making the most of their opportunities.
Grangetown coach Gel Williams made a number of changes during the interval, and the hosts soon brought the scores level. In previous weeks, such a rally would have been the catalyst for Grangetown to push on and dominate, but Thoroughbreds continued to press and deny the home side any space, and their impressive spell of pressure resulted in six unanswered goals.
Faye Summerhill finally broke the sequence, and with Nicola McCleery having an excellent quarter at wing attack, Grangetown traded goals with the visitors and the score was 25-30 with just fifteen minutes remaining.
At that stage, it was hard to see the visitors relinquishing their lead. Kelly Chick was influential at centre, and in Frankie Layden, Thoroughbreds arguably had the best player on court. It was important that, whatever the final result, Grangetown needed to disregard the more frustrating elements of the game and produce their customary high tempo last quarter effort.
With less than five minutes on the clock, Grangetown trailed 31-37, but in a pulsating finish, the home side somehow managed to stage a dramatic fightback. They scored quickly from their own centre passes, and worked incredibly hard to force turnovers when Thoroughbreds had the restart.
Roared on by a vocal crowd, Grangetown brought the scores level at 37-37, before the final hooter denied them a chance to snatch what would have been a remarkable victory.
The Grangetown players will admit that this wasn’t their best performance of the season – and some credit for that must obviously go to the visitors. But the levels of belief, commitment and no little skill that were demonstrated in those closing minutes deserved to be rewarded; although Thoroughbreds will certainly be disappointed that they were unable to hang on to win the match.
Overall, it was a tremendous game of netball, a great advert for Premier League 2, and a wonderful example of how far this Grangetown squad has progressed during the season.
Picking a man of the match is no easy task. Realistically it should be one of the seven players who were on court during the closing minutes of the game (namely Katie Walton, Vicky Rees, Lesley Mouat, Jill Reah, Nicola McCleery, Gemma Sole and Jo Pettitt); and my vote goes to Gemma Sole.
Grangetown hosted Manchester-based Dominoes in a crucial Premier League 2 encounter this afternoon. Dominoes had emerged with a victory from the reverse fixture in November, but although Grangetown captain Vicky Rees was well aware that Dominoes would provide tough opposition, she was confident that her side could complete a third successive win for the first time this season.
Having only had seven players for the game in Manchester, Grangetown were boosted by the availability of Scottish internationals Jo Pettitt and Nicola McCleery (who was making her home debut) in a strong-looking squad.
The two internationals took their place in the starting line-up, but the early exchanges were littered with mistakes from both sides, with a string of penalties adding to what was scrappy opening quarter.
Grangetown led 10-6 after fifteen minutes, with the best move of the quarter involving both Scottish Thistles; Nicola McCleery’s quick pass finding Jo Pettitt, who scored at the second attempt.
The home side were still below their best in the second period, but maintained their four goal advantage until the last couple of minutes of the half. Faye Summerhill had unselfishly set up Jo Pettitt early in the quarter, before then managing to retrieve a loose ball to loop a pass to her attacking partner under the net.
Jennifer Mrozik collected a couple of important rebounds, but Dominoes rallied with the clock ticking down, and scored three unanswered goals to trail by just one at the interval.
During the break, Grangetown coach Gel Williams made six changes – three personnel and three positional – but the visitors scored the first two goals to take the lead for the first time since the early stages of the opening quarter.
A three second violation, a Katie Walton rebound, and an intercepted Dominoes centre pass then seemed to spark the home side – and the crowd – into life. Ria Small, who is also a member of the Team Northumbria Super League squad, produced some great interplay with Jo Pettitt; and Vicky Rees later held onto a wonderful interception, that eventually led to a goal for the recently-introduced Kate Williams.
In fact the Pettitt-Williams partnership missed just two shots between them during the entire quarter. The pressure finally began to tell on an uncompromising Dominoes defence; and the scoreboard read 33-30 in favour of Grangetown with just the final fifteen minutes remaining.
Jennifer Mrozik managed two rebounds and an interception in the first two minutes of the fourth period, but Grangetown were unable to retain possession. The passing and movement of the Dominoes players was arguably quicker and better than the home side, but after the game was halted for an injury to the visiting centre, Grangetown suddenly found the fluidity that had been such a feature of their recent victories. There were more rebounds for Grangetown’s defensive duo and, at the other end of the court, the shooting percentages remained high, and by the end of proceedings, Grangetown’s winning margin was six goals: the final scoreline being 45-39.
Overall it was probably not Grangetown’s strongest performance of the season, but Dominoes provided a stern test, which the home side did very well to overcome. The man of the match was a difficult choice between Jo Pettitt, who scored 34 of the 46 Grangetown goals, and Jennifer Mrozik, whose rebounds and interceptions made such a difference – with my vote going to the former.
GK: Jennifer Mrozik
GD: Vicky Rees
WD: Lesley Mouat
C: Nicola McCleery
WA: Ria Small
GA: Jo Pettitt
GS: Faye Summerhill
C: Jill Reah, WA: Nicola McCleery
GK: Katie Walton, GD: Jennifer Mrozik, WD: Vicky Rees, C: Ria Small, GA: Kate Williams
GS: Jo Pettitt
C: Nicola McCleery, WA: Ria Small
Jo Pettitt 34/44 (77%), Kate Williams 9/11 (82%), Faye Summerhill 2/4 (50%)
Man of the Match: Jo Pettitt