During each week of the 2019/20 Premier League season, England Netball will shine a light on one of the 30 clubs involved in the competition.
This week, we spoke to Cumberland Netball Club of Premier League 1 …
Position: 7th – Premier League 1
Coach: Polini Langi
Captains: Sophie Croft and Nicole Repper
Venue: City Sport
Key Players: Aliyah Zaranyika, Osi Imoedemhe, and Emma Perkins
Last Six Games: LLWLLL
Last Game: Oldham 63-40 Cumberland
Next Game: Turnford (A) – Sunday 24 November
Cumberland Netball Club sits right in the heart of London with their City Sport venue situated north of the River Thames in Camden. The biggest netball club in the capital also sits at the heart of those who have represented them over the last two decades.
In fact, Cumberland have been celebrating the 20th anniversary of the club’s formation in 1999. Fittingly, they are currently enjoying their most successful period both on and off the netball court.
Their most recent and grandest achievements are proudly displayed by the club. This includes their position in Premier League 1, their status as England Netball’s Club of the Year for 2017, and their Gold CAPS accreditation.
These accolades tell the story of a club on the up but cannot possibly encompass the long, arduous journey that has been taken by the countless volunteers, coaches and players to get to this point.
This journey has been navigated by the Cumberland Committee. The Committee and its 32 members do encapsulate the successes of the present and also the promise of the club’s future.
Some have only been in their role for the last 12 months while others, such as Head of Coaching Polini Langi, have been at the club in some form for well over a decade.
“The recognition that the club has received has mainly been down to the people who run it. It’s those members who have dedicated their time and effort towards the club. It’s a huge team effort,” explained Langi.
“It’s their commitment and love for the game that we can attribute for our success. We look after one another and these strong family values are why we have become so big.”
Langi is more qualified than most to discuss Cumberland’s transformation. When she first joined 13 years ago after moving to England from Australia, there were just two senior teams. There are currently 19 teams in total.
As Head of Coaching and head coach of their Premier League side, Langi has worked hard to implement the family values that are so important to her and her Tongan heritage. Now, when asked about their favourite aspect of the club, almost all of her 17-strong squad reference family or friendship.
It’s that really tight, strong team culture that’s important to us and helped us get where we are today.” – Polini Langi.
“Those family values are such a huge part of our club’s ethos. I think that’s why we have become the biggest club in London,” she said.
“One of the things that we take pride in at Cumberland is having that family network. All of us work really hard in trying to maintain those strong family values. That’s why our club has prospered and why we are where we are today.
“We are always there for each other, have that respect and trust, and are really positive. This is particularly true in the Premier League squad; our pre-game chat is all about having those positive team vibes.”
This family ethos is solidified by the work the club are doing to ensure that they reflect the diversity and multiculturalism of the city they inhabit. Cumberland have even set up a fund to help those who wish to play but might struggle with membership fees.
Through other initiatives such as their ‘Prem Masterclasses’, the club feels like one large group rather than a fragmented collection of different teams. As a result, juniors come and watch the Premier League fixtures on a regular basis. After games, they are often desperate to talk to star players such as co-captain Sophie Croft.
The family has been growing as a result of these projects. Last year, the club had to turn away approximately 80 potential new members and still needed to recruit additional coaches to cope with the latest influx of players.
“We’re based in Camden and our focus is to be accessible for people of all sorts of backgrounds. It’s something that we are trying to improve upon every year,” said Langi, a financial controller for a sports marketing company.
“We pride ourselves on trying to support all parts of society so we’ve set up a special fund just to help support those families who might be struggling financially. London is a very multicultural city so we’re trying to reach people from multiple backgrounds.
“Junior development is something that we really try to focus on because they are the future of our sport. If we get them in our pathways now then that will only help them to progress through to Premier League or possibly Vitality Netball Superleague level.”
Cumberland’s newfound focus on younger players is evident in their Premier League squad. England U21 international Kira Rothwell and 16-year-old defender Aliyah Zaranyika, who started in the G-team, are now regulars in the side.
This mixture of youth and experience has been one of the main reasons behind the club’s remarkable rise. Under Langi, Cumberland went from the bottom half of Premier League 3 to the top flight via two successive promotions from 2018 to 2019.
Now, after 20 years, the London outfit are playing at Premier League 1 level for the first time in their history. Thus far, life in the top flight has been a positive experience for Cumberland who sit two places above the relegation zone in seventh after seven games.
They got off to the best possible start with a close-fought win over Weston Park Blades on the opening day and then, in week four, they secured their second victory of the season at home to Leeds Athletic.
“We’re really pleased with the start to the season. I think the girls have surprised themselves. Sometimes they do lack a bit of confidence but once they got that first win, they knew they could genuinely compete. We’ve now got two wins from seven and we couldn’t be happier,” said Langi.
“We’re just excited to be a part of this league. It’s the first time the club have ever reached this level so we are just over the moon to be part of it. Our aim is just to be competitive and hopefully avoid relegation.
“We’re still pinching ourselves going ‘wow’. To win our first game in front of our home crowd was such a pinnacle moment. I’m so proud of the girls and the club. It’s been such a big team effort with those involved behind the scenes and everyone in the club has helped us get here.”
Their record of two consecutive promotions is one that not many can boast. According to Langi, a former Surrey Storm player who brings with her a wealth of top-level experience, there was no formal plan to take their place amongst the elite.
Instead, their success can be credited to a dramatic change in mindset and developing players already in the ranks. Cumberland and their players, some of whom were playing in Premier League 3 just two years ago, have been reaping the rewards ever since.
“We did have a couple of seasons where we had a lot of new players. We had a lot of Australian players come along and unfortunately they only stayed for one or two seasons. We were constantly trying to fill the gap that these players vacated. Now we’re trying to develop the players within the club.
“Our philosophy has changed. Focussing on us as a team and what we can control helps rather than thinking about the other teams. It’s the focus on ourselves and what we can control which has been a big factor in our success and it will be going forward.
“Everyone is just so delighted that we’ve achieved this. It’s been a joint effort and I’m just so proud to be able to coach a great bunch of people on and off the court. It’s been such a joy to watch and to see these players progress every single year. It’s a wonderful thing to be involved in. I feel blessed to be involved with this team.”
Fixtures and Current Standings: