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 Grangetown Netball Club of Premier League 1 …
Position: 7th – Premier League 1
Coach: Geraldine Williams
Captain: Vicky Rees
Venue: Grangetown Youth and Community Centre
Last Six Games: LLLWWL
Last Game: Oldham 77-55 Grangetown
Next Game: Cumberland (A) – Sunday 3 November
Grangetown Netball Club have been on an eventful journey over the last half a decade. Their expedition from one end of the Premier League to the other in such a short space of time has been a unique one since the third division was introduced in 2010.
The Tigers suffered one relegation – to Premier League 3 in 2016 – and have experienced two successive promotions in the last three years. Their regular and dramatic changes in circumstance have brought new challenges and even more highlights.
The Yorkshire outfit might have fluctuated between the divisions but have now established some newfound consistency in the form of two consecutive seasons in Premier League 1 since their promotion in 2018. Their rise has meant that they are currently enjoying their first spell in the top flight in their 30-year history.
Grangetown’s motivation to play among the best and achieve their off-court ambitions, something they see as symbiotic, was the driving factor in their remarkable journey.
Their reaction to relegation – finishing runners-up to achieve promotion in 2017 – demonstrated their mental resilience while their success the following season – winning the Premier League title at the first time of asking at the end of the 2017/18 season – showed that they had the quality to compete.
The club’s first-ever season in Premier League 1 in 2018/19 might have been their biggest success to date. They proved more than a match to the new level of opposition and finished in a highly-respectable fourth position; securing their place for the following season, again at the first time of asking.
Momentum has clearly played some part in these achievements and, according to head coach Geraldine Williams, their hardest challenge might be sustaining their form in one division over a lengthy period of time.
“We had a couple of really good seasons and won a couple of promotions. At that point, momentum really does start to kick in. You gather momentum and belief on a journey like ours. The difficult thing this season will be sustaining that. We haven’t been in this position for a long time,” said Williams.
“We were relegated down to Premier League 3, came straight back up to win Premier League 2 and now we are at the highest level. We had to step up each time and we’re going to have to do so again this season.
“The teams we are now coming up against are established at this level such as Oldham and New Cambell. We’ve got to try and measure up to that.”
Williams’ side faced Oldham Netball Club in their previous outing and recorded their lowest margin of defeat – 22 points – against the champions in their three previous encounters with the Owls.
The defeat still showed progression after two victories in a row which they earned against Leeds Athletic and Hucclecote respectively. This proved the perfect anecdote to the two losses that started the 2019/20 season for Grangetown.
“It’s been a good season so far. It’s difficult to assess because Premier League 1 is such a tight, strong division at the moment. For that reason, the start of the season is always very stressful,” said Williams.
“I was hugely impressed with the character we’ve shown since the two defeats at the start of the season. We had a massive win against Hucclecote and a win against Leeds Athletic as well. You just have to capitalise on your good performances to get the wins.
“We’re learning so much. It’s been an amazing learning curve for us.”
Grangetown take on newcomers Cumberland away from home in their next outing on Sunday 3 November.
With a Vitality Netball World Cup player, an England Nets international and a Vitality Netball Superleague star in their ranks, the squad definitely has the required quality to win most of their matches this term.
“We’re trying to build a consistent Premier League 1 team. We want to stay there, become regulars and consolidate our players here.” – Geraldine Williams.
The team currently have these bigger names – including the likes of Niamh McCall, Hannah Raine and Ash Neal – to accompany some of their younger players. The mix can prove prosperous and this is something they are hoping to explore further.
“Cumberland are coming from Premier League 3 and have that momentum. We were on a rollercoaster ride and I think they’re the same. Hopefully, with the experience we gained last year and with our experienced players, we should be going with the aim of getting five points but it won’t be easy.”
“The stars we have will help us because they bring that competitive edge with them and that winning mentality. It can be hard to attract seven to ten Premier League 1 standard players to one club but, realistically, if you don’t have those big names then you are going to get relegated.
“We’re trying to build a consistent Premier League 1 team. We want to stay there, become regulars and consolidate our players here. We also want to introduce more homegrown talent to the players we currently have.”
Bringing through young talent is a priority for a number of Premier League sides but takes on extra significance for Grangetown and Williams herself.
Williams founded the club after she left school three decades ago and therefore has always had a desire to see it develop and grow.
“I founded the club when I left school. I played at school and got seven girls together to play about 30 years ago. We just kept on learning about other leagues and it made us ambitious. I always had a drive to better a club but I never saw us playing at this level when it started,” she explained.
Their home venue – Grangetown Youth and Community Centre – is situated in one of the most deprived areas of the country and has become a pillar of the community due to their work with young people.
Captain Vicky Rees was seen running a Pilates session with the U16 side recently and that devotion to improving the lives of young girls can be seen throughout the club.
“At Grangetown, we are quite unique with our development of young players. We try to be really creative so it’s not just netball. We have a senior player who is a doctor who often works on the psychological side of sport with the younger players, Vicky [Rees] with the Pilates and outside sources.
“The local community absolutely buy into our club. If you mention us in the area then you quickly find out that people have a lot of respect for us and what we’re doing. It is quite humbling to know you’re making a difference to the area and women’s sport in general.
“We’ve set a precedent now because we are doing things differently and that will last long after we’ve finished. We’ve made people want to be a part of it but those who aren’t still respect us.”
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