Netball is one of our six key sports, and though everyone at KUDOS HQ is well aware of what an exciting and fast-moving sport it is, we’d never attended a Netball World Cup fixture – until Wednesday 15th July. We went along to Liverpool and, frankly, we were unsure what to expect. Would this football-mad city really take a netball tournament to its heart? Would it feel like there was a World Cup being held in the city?
You bet it did.
The England game that afternoon, against Trinidad & Tobago, was to start at 3pm, so before we made our way to the fan park we had lunch nearby. In the restaurant, people all around us were talking about the tournament and the infectious buzz all around the city. Our waiter told us he’d watched England play on the Monday, on the BBC, and couldn’t believe how exciting a sport it was. It was a good start, and things were only going to get better.
The Fan Park
The fan park was a revelation. Set up at Liverpool One, just walking distance from the arena in which the games were played, it was absolutely buzzing, as men, women and children of all ages and ethnicities soaked up the atmosphere. A giant screen was in place to show all the action, while a load of netball-related activities, music and entertainment buzzed all around us. Photo opportunities with the tournament mascot, Jude, were aplenty, while, throughout the tournament, big name netball stars and other inspirational women made appearances at the park, including giving talks and Q&As.
We’ve been to football and cricket World Cup fan parks, and this genuinely topped the lot. Fan zones are always great, vibrant places to be, but this was more family-orientated, and less overtly boozy than usual. It was a joy to be there, and a joy to see the tournament embraced by such a diverse set of people. We spoke to a number of people there who told us it had been busy every day, and that organisers’ expectations had been thoroughly exceeded.
So far, so very good.
England v Trinidad & Tobago
And so to the game! The M&S Arena – formerly known as the Echo Arena, and probably best called, simply Liverpool Arena – is just a short walk from the fan park, and that only added to the thrilling sense that we were well and truly inside the netball bubble.
Outside the venue, the ‘piazza’ was also heaving with live music and the same general buzz of excitement that had permeated the entire city centre. Inside, a sold out crowd, decked in England Rose costumes, flags and banners, roared the team on to a relatively routine win after what was, in truth, a fairly slow start.
As we now know, England went on to get knocked out in the semi-finals, before winning their bronze medal match. That third placed finish matched their world ranking, though with home advantage it’s fair to say hopes were high that they could have reached the final and maybe even won it.
A roaring success
But the success of a home tournament is not judged solely on the performance of the home nation. If England performed to about par, the tournament itself smashed all expectations, with record breaking attendances, unprecedented TV coverage and a city – and a nation – that seemed to take netball to its hearts.
England Netball chief executive Joanna Adams said:
We have been building up the sport and we have a really strong Superleague and a quad series that keeps netball on the TV and at the forefront of people’s minds.
We have surpassed Sydney [the 2015 World Cup hosts]in ticket sales and we want mums and daughters to love the sport and I think we have done that. JOANNA ADAMS, ENGLAND NETBALL CEO
New Zealand’s thrilling win over Australia in the final might have softened the blow of what happened in that jaw-dropping Cricket World Cup final just seven days earlier. But what it certainly did was show everyone what a great sport netball is; the final was played with relentless intensity and was a glorious advert for netball.
Our taxi driver back to Lime Street revealed he too was a convert – “I’ve seen a few games on the telly and I’ve got to be honest, I’ve absolutely loved it!” – and, after a truly exhilarating day, we departed Liverpool more convinced than ever that netball is a sport on the rise.
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