In Year 5 and 6 at Cinnamon Brow primary school I was on the school first team for netball. I didn’t stick in one position; I think my main two were centre and goal defence. We played locally against nearby schools, and in Year 6 won a local competition against three other schools, called the Police Cup – I have a photo of the team with the police officer who presented them to us – PC Lockie (he later married one of the school teachers). We played Longbarn, Padgate and one other school – it might have been St Bridgets. In the same year we also beat the local might of St Margarets. They had always been known as the best school in our part of Warrington, and were to be feared. But we won 6-5 I think, in a friendly.
I always felt I was quite good at netball. I knew I wasn’t one of the best on my team, but we had played together a long time and had a good vibe. Then I went to high school, and from 30 girls in a year it went to 70, and it became much harder to get into the netball squad, because of course more girls wanted to play and the competition was higher. I lost interest a little. I remember the netball training being quite difficult there, in terms of the girls being a bit vicious, a bit rough. I also don’t think many of my friends at the high school were into netball. I tried other things, mainly athletics. I represented the school in 100m and discus, at Victoria Park. I came last, but I didn’t care at the time.
In the last term of Year 8 I moved to a girls’ school in the south. From 70 girls in a year, there were suddenly 150. And a lot of them played netball. One time sticks in my mind now. I went to lunch time practice. I was new; I spoke differently; I didn’t know many of the girls. I was put into a position – probably on the wing (to me, one of the lowest status positions). The girl I had to mark had ginger hair. She looked, to me, remarkably similar to another girl with ginger hair. In the rush of the game, I marked the other girl by mistake. She just looked at me and said, “why are you marking me?”. It felt quite mocking. I was mortified. Inside I was thinking “because you look like her!” but I didn’t say anything. I lost all confidence to get involved, for fear of making mistakes again. The competitiveness in the school extended into sport. The teacher, I feel, never gave me a chance to get some confidence, get to know the squad. She didn’t give me a look in at all, despite knowing I was the new girl. My friends and I came to call her “dragon lady” throughout our time at the school: too bad she was head of year, Latin teacher, PE teacher, German teacher…
Again few of my friends at this school were sporty. It was more like something to tolerate and bear until the end of the lesson. By Year 10 I was hanging out almost exclusively with a few indie, folky, quiet girls. I guess we mocked the ethos of the school, while pursuing our own academics. We were quite musical, and spent most of our time doing that. Sport wasn’t important. I never played netball again; I don’t even remember playing it in PE lessons in Year 10 and 11.
At university I considered joining the netball club: the mixed one, not the women's one - because I heard that the mixed one was more for fun, they didn't play in competitions so much, and so the standard wasn't as high. However, I couldn't play because they played at the same time as the bowling club, and that was my sport - I was good at it, enjoyed it, and got a place in the team, so I didn't want to give that up for another sport. I think also secretly I was relieved because I had come to think that my ability in netball would be rubbish - partly from the experiences at the girls' school, and partly because by then it had been years since I had played.
But, for the last nine year during my university life I have always wanted to find out about a low level, fun netball league I could and where it wouldn't matter how good I was. Problem is, I'm now at Loughborough University - even the staff have sporty careers, years of playing, keeping fit. I feel like I would not fit in at all - would not even get a look in, and if I didn get to play, would look stupid.
Lately I've heard about the intra-mural sport here, and it doesn't allow anyone who plays on the netball team to join in - so it's s slightly lower level, but still all the women who play other sports and are fit and at least 7 years younger than my sendentary body will be competing. So I'm reluctant to do that too.
If I really have to analyse it down to a single point, I think I am scared to try because the instant rejection I received at the girls' school made me think that I can't possibly be a potential netballer, and that playing a team sport is so totally about performance, confidence and success. This has also been one of the reasons why I stayed away from the staff football club all of last year - I'm going tonight for the first time. That's another post...