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A female sport, but not just for females

I’ve been playing netball since the age of around 6 or 7, lucky to be part of a primary and secondary school with sports mad teachers and a bunch of other kids who also loved to be doing anything other than being in a classroom studying.

Even though P.E. would be separated, the teachers always made sure there were times when we would have lessons as one big group, girls playing cricket, boys playing netball. The days the boys would get involved in the netball would be some of our funniest and most competitive lessons.

My first experience of mixed netball at the tender age of 9 years old and the memories are still as clear as though it was yesterday. The girls bringing the structure and court skills knowledge and the boys bringing the flair, free spirit, and the kind of thinking outside the box I can only stand and admire. Fast forward a few years (not to give my age away) and listening to so may people talk about men’s and mixed netball as though it’s a new concept when for me it’s always been there, it took a while to comprehend what the excitement was behind it all.

In 2020 the England Men’s and Mixed Netball Association (EMMNA) was formed and in 2021 the first EMMNA Nationals took place with 14 teams from 10 clubs. In 2022, this rose to 24 teams from clubs representing all the UK and Isle of Man. I was extremely fortunate to be involved in the Nationals in 2022, and while trying to produce as much social media content I could for all the netball lovers in the world, I was also able to watch over 70 games of men’s and mixed netball.

Saying I loved it would be an understatement, Lewis Keeling’s little jump every time he shoots, Ky Lewis and his ability to reject a shot as though jumping 11ft in the air is normal (the only other netballer that comes to mind who can reject a shot with ease is Shamera Sterling) Jazae Johnson, ballet netball comes to mind when watching Jazae and wow he can intercept a ball with his eyes closed, and not forgetting James Firminger who made headlines at the age of 16 for playing netball and became the player to score the first goal for the national men’s side The Thorns in International netball against the Australian Men (The Kelpies) in 2022.

Let’s not forget the number of Netball Super League players who were playing in the mixed teams: Lucy Herdman, Lindsey Keable, Ash Dekker, Kira Rothwell, Tuaine Keenan, Frankie Wells, and mixed shooter of the tournament Amy Clinton to name a few. I was hooked, the netball I had played at a young age was firmly back in everyone’s mind and making people stop and watch. The men were bringing a fresh unorthodox playing style which has as more flair than a Las Vegas show, athletic, fast and in many ways, astonishing to watch.

Since 2019, both men’s and mixed netball has continued to grow, keeping up with new clubs being formed was becoming a full-time job. From Scotland to as far south as Gurnsey, you can find a men’s and/or mixed club to participate in. Super League teams have been integrating the men into club training as a standard, some even becoming training partners. International teams were not only using the men’s teams to help train behind closed doors, but now were shouting as loud as possible about it.

In the recent England Roses training camps, before heading out to South Africa for the 2023 World Cup, I was able to watch in person, games between The Roses, The Thorns and the Jamaican Men’s team something not done before and something the netball fans have wanted for a long time. Credit must be given to New Zealand for leading the way with streaming men’s and mixed teams alongside the women’s team in the Cadbury Series in 2019. The overwhelming success and fan interaction from this, opened doors and minds to what could be possible if the men were just given the opportunity.

In 2022, The Thorns travelled to Australia to take on the Australians men’s team in their first ever international test series. It may not have been the series they had imagined, in terms of results, but history had been made and men’s netball was here to stay. Fast5 in New Zealand welcomed men’s teams for the first time with England, Australia and New Zealand all taking part and I am not sure I could accept Fast5 netball anymore without the men being involved or the dance routines. Next step… Mixed international teams.

2023, saw the England Thorns host their inaugural test series on home soil, when they played against the Jamaican Men’s Team in a three game test series. If you think men’s netball in England was sensational to watch, then you will be mesmerised with the athleticism of the Jamaican men! My hunger to watch more international men’s teams play is at another level and just proves that men’s netball has been out there, all around the world and now it is their time to stand in the spotlight and reap the rewards of their hard work.

The EMMNA mixed team played against newly formed national mixed team of France, an EMMNA national league was formed, the EMMNA Youth Cup took place which was held for boys’ school teams as well as work being done with British Universities and College Sport (BUCS) to help get netball played by more people within higher education sport circles.

Excitingly, The Trailblazers who are the national Under 25 team for England also announced their first tour to Singapore. Follow along on our socials as we cover all of the games throughout the tour from 4th to 9th December.

2023 also saw the 3rd annual EMMNA Nationals, with 32 teams (up from 24 the previous year) taking part, 20 mixed teams and 12 men’s teams battling it out to be crowned National Champions with the tournament having to be extended over 3 days. There are two teams that have dominated men’s and mixed netball over the years, Knights Netball and London Giants, with both teams being involved in the finals every year. Their rivalry is something to be invested in, from the battles on court to the noise battles in the stands.

Even though Knights Swords (one of two mixed teams for Knights) went on to successfully defend their title from 2022, in the Men’s final, London Giants missed out for the first time ever with Spartan Men, after drawing with London Giants, getting to the final on goal difference to face Knights Men. If 2022 was all about Ky Lewis, then 2023 was all about Keon Russell and Taylor Glassie, I can not put into words how I feel about these two players, all I can say is, if they are playing, I am watching without blinking.

The dominate forces of Knights and Giants may become a thing of the past, which can only be seen as a great thing for men’s netball as it grows in strength and depth throughout the country.

To put it into context, look at what winning the 2018 Commonwealth Games did for the Roses and International netball as well as Jamaica getting to the Commonwealth Games Final in Birmingham in 2022 and then the Roses for the first time ever getting to a World Cup final in 2023. It just puts that pinch of doubt in the back of the mind of the more dominate teams and for us fans, just makes watching a game, a series or a worldwide staged tournament just that little more exciting as well as strengthening the game throughout.

I have come to really enjoy watching both men’s and mixed netball, for me, I love mixed netball just a little more but that’s just the traditionalist in me knowing the women’s game a lot more than I do the men’s game. I will not take anything away from the men though, they are really pushing boundaries every time they step on court, their passion for the sport can be seen in every pass and every leap. A couple of years ago, I would have said they were hungry to prove themselves, but they have nothing to prove anymore. Both Men’s and Mixed netball is here to stay, and it is going to be the most exciting journey they and us fans will ever go on.

Netball may be a predominantly female sport, but it is definitely not just for women. And this is only the start of things to come.

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