SEEING English netball’s finest hour overshadowed by a bothersome ball boy may have been a kick in the ribs, but head coach Anna Mayes believes the historic series win over Australia has still propelled the sport to new levels of popularity.
Swindonian Mayes masterminded the nation’s first series win over the world’s number one side with a 51-49 victory at Wembley Arena on Wednesday, on the back of Sunday’s 58-53 victory in the first Test - only the third time England had beaten their old rivals.
The Wembley win gave England an unassailable 2-0 lead in the best of three series ahead of the final clash at the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham tomorrow.
Mayes spent much of yesterday fulfilling national media commitments as her sport was thrust into the spotlight, yet the fact such a significant achievement played second fiddle to the altercation between Chelsea’s Eden Hazard and a Swansea ball boy underlined the work that still needs to be done to secure netball a regular place among the back pages.
“We were the second lead story on the BBC,” said Mayes. “The fact that we were below a story about a football ball boy is obviously frustrating but getting the coverage we have is definitely a step in the right direction.
“I think it’s a real shame but we can’t shy away from the fact that the likes of football and rugby are the most popular sports in this country.
“The sport will only grow in popularity with the help of the media. “We are very fortunate that Sky Sports now broadcast the Superleague and it’s our responsibility to put on an entertaining show to keep the public interested.
“What has been a real pleasant surprise is the reaction to this series. We’re getting recognised by Joe Bloggs in the street and it shows that there has been a real increase in public awareness.
“I would love these girls to get the recognition they deserve. They are full-time athletes who are also holding down full-time jobs and the pressure that puts on them is immense. They deserve to be household names.”
England had trailed at the end of the first period on Wednesday, but a new-found belief on the back of victory in game one underpinned a fine comeback.
Former Lawn player Mayes expects England’s wounded rivals to come out all guns blazing in Birmingham.
She said: “We’d be disappointed if we didn’t get some sort of reaction from them on Saturday.
“I believe it’s Australia Day too so that gives them an added incentive.
“It’s still absolutely critical to us that we win again in terms of building that momentum, we’re still not as consistent as we’d like to be so that’s something we’re working on.”
A 3-0 whitewash will further bolster the England buzz - the perfect platform for an assault on the 2014 Commonwealth Games crown, after netball missed out on London 2012 and the huge publicity boost that went with it.
Mayes added: “It was disappointing not to be included at the Olympics. “The way the whole nation got behind Team GB was fantastic and we hope they’ll do the same for us at the Commonwealths in Glasgow next year.
“That will provide us with a great platform to boost the sport further.”
If you would like information on netball in Wiltshire and how to get involved, contact county development officer Sophie Warner on 07540 126813 or email email@example.com.