Jade Clarke is the Vitality Roses’ vice-captain and record appearance holder with 167 caps to her name. The 35-year-old has also collected a variety of medals, including gold at the Commonwealth Games last year, across her established career.
More than that, Clarke embodies her country’s long journey to this stage. Making her international debut in 2002 against New Zealand, the Wasps Netball centre is about to face the Silver Ferns once more in a Vitality Netball World Cup semi-final on home soil.
It is Clarke who has experienced first-hand exactly how far the national team and netball as a whole has evolved over the last 15 years.
“I was always passionate about netball”
In fact, it is difficult to imagine the Vitality Roses without the presence of Clarke in the squad. However, she was once in a similar position to many young girls currently idolising the midcourter; playing netball at school and for her local club.
“I started at school when I was nine. We didn’t actually have a netball team at school so I was nagging my mum to start one so she could come in and coach us. I then got involved in a club outside of school, playing at Trafford Netball Club and then at Oldham Netball Club, and just went from there,” she said.
“My mum gave me every opportunity to just try every sport. I played tennis, cross country, athletics and hockey. I loved them all but netball was always my favourite. I was always passionate about it.”
Oldham proved to be the spot where Clarke would acquire her steely determination and discipline that she so often exudes on court. This, she said, all came from the club’s founder and coach.
“I had an inspirational coach in the form of Mike Greenwood, who created Oldham Netball Club. He was ex-army so he just gave us amazing discipline. You would never miss a training session because, if you missed one, you wouldn’t get to play on the weekend.
“He would always take a group out to Australia every year and play us in ladies leagues. He just knew how to get the best out of you and how you could play at the very top level. I know I wouldn’t be where I am without Mike Greenwood.”
“I have always played centre”
Clarke has played professionally for eight different clubs in three different countries, winning Canterbury Tactix Player of the Year in 2013, but has always operated from the same position.
The Wasps Netball player has forged her stellar reputation from the middle of the court, a fitting position for a netballer with such a wide range of skills.
“I have always played centre, I always loved it. You can go in the most space on the court and I like running, so I don’t think I could ever be a shooter because I just like running around really,” she said.
“It was amazing to have them as role models”
With the help of her grassroots coaches, Clarke constructed her own unique style. With television coverage of the sport unfortunately sparse when she was growing up, her sporting heroes were Team GB stars Sally Gunnell and Colin Jackson.
It was only when she joined the Vitality Roses squad for the first time in 2002 that she began to extrapolate any desired skills from her newfound netballing idols.
“It wasn’t really on television so it wasn’t until we had the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002 that I got to see an England game. It was the following September that I got in the England team. As soon as I got on the team I looked up to Karen Atkinson and Olivia Murphy,” she said.
“It was like ‘I want to be like you’ – they were so fit, so skilful and had just done it all before so it was amazing to have them as role models.”
“We’re a family”
Clarke’s netball journey has always been centred around her family from her mum starting her first netball team to her elder sister showing her just how hard an England call-up would be.
“I had an older sister that would go to trials and would sometimes get on and sometimes wouldn’t. So, I always knew selection was down to other people but all you can do is be the best you can be,” she explained.
“I wanted to be good enough for England and wanted to be one of the best players in the world. I was really ambitious but, ultimately, I knew that the decision wasn’t down to me. I had a high drive and wanted to be the best I could be but I never knew whether I was going to play for England or not.”
Going into the Vitality Netball World Cup semi-final after 167 appearances, netball still remains a family affair for Clarke.
“We’re a family. We live in each other’s pockets and we’ve been living for the last three or four years. We know we have to pick each other up so if anyone is on the floor we get them up and get them going again.”