Football is dead... long live the sport of netball.
At least that’s the view of David McEwan from sports company Match Night, who have sold the football arm of their sports leagues business to concentrate on netball, especially in the thriving Sheffield League - where a remarkable 168 teams do battle on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday evenings.
“There has been an explosion of leagues and teams over the last few years,” McEwan told Grass Roots, “resulting in a netball culture in Sheffield which is unique, compared to the rest of the country.
“No city or region has anything like the number of leagues or teams that Sheffield can boast.”
With the closure of Don Valley Stadium, amongst other incidents, Sheffield’s reputation as the ‘City of Sport’ has been damaged.
“But the netball situation in Sheffield reverses this perception, and Sheffield is without question the ‘City of Netball’ in the UK,” McEwan added.
“On the back of the Olympics there was a commitment from media to focus more on women’s sport.
“We have seen this with women’s football, rugby and cricket but, bizarrely, the only women-only team sport still struggling to get the coverage it deserves is netball - even though it is arguably more popular than any of these other sports.
“Many other sports are in the shadow of the men’s game and will probably always struggle because of this, whereas netball stands alone for women’s sport. The Commonwealth Games was a good advert for the sport, and hopefully that will help promote it in the public eye.”
Each of the four Sheffield leagues is run by seperate organisations, with more commercial leagues recently launched in Chesterfield, Barnsley and Doncaster.
“Commercial companies are being set up to cater for the demand, and companies that have run 5-a-side football leagues in the past are spotting the demand and diversifying into netball,” McEwan continued.
“The passion the women have for netball is beyond anything I have seen before and I have worked and been involved in many sports.
“Many play three or four times a week, seeing it as a much more fun and social alternative than the gym, as well as giving them the competitive edge that leagues and team sports offer.”
Match Night’s new season begins on November 5, at Goals Soccer Centre, Sheffield Park Academy, Outwood Grange Academy City or Hillsborough College. The company also offer umpiring courses. “The commercial leagues are really helping, not only to cater for demand,” McEwan added.
“But also to encourage new teams to form, and to attract women that have not played since school back to the sport they loved.”
Netball is also being opened up to men, with the introduction of a ‘mixed division’ in the Sheffield Netball League.
For more information on Match Night’s netball leagues, visit www.match-night.co.uk. To enquire about the Sheffield Netball League, email firstname.lastname@example.org.