"Covid killed it for us," says Sheffield Hatters founder, as team is forced to withdraw from the league

Sheffield Hatters, the UK’s first and most successful women’s basketball club, has been forced to withdraw from the Women’s British Basketball League - due to financial reasons.

Tuesday, 15th September 2020, 10:06 pm

The club revealed this week it has been forced to bow out of the league, after the impact of Covid-19 meant it failed to raise the £60,000 funding needed for its 2020/2021 season.

It is the first time in the history of the WBBL – of which Sheffield Hatters is a founding member – that the steel city team will not be competing.

“It’s a real blow,” confirms Sarah McQueen, Sheffield Hatters trustee.

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Betty Codona at home in Ecclesfield as she celebrates another successful year for the Sheffield Hatters

“We were all so disappointed to have to make the announcement, but these are strange and uncertain times we’re living in at the moment, and no one knows what will happen over the next season.

“One thing I can tell you is that the Hatters have fighting spirit, and we’ll be back next season, when Covid is behind us.”

It’s been a busy summer for the Sheffield team as they battled to raise the necessary funding, even as supporters and investors were forced to pull donations, as a result of the pandemic.

The team hosted as many fundraising events as it could in July and August, and even launched a Crowdfunding campaign, but in the end, the final figure fell short.

Ann Zammit and Ann Jameson, who have played for Hatters for years and currently represent GB 50s.

A statement from the club earlier this week read: ‘Sadly, despite our best efforts, we have been unable to secure the funding we were aiming for to secure the Hatters’ future in the WBBL.

‘Therefore, it is with deep sadness, we have this morning informed the league that we have to withdraw from the league effective immediately.

‘We are deeply grateful to everyone who worked tirelessly to secure the club’s future, especially during such a turbulent time.’

Sheffield Hatters founder, Betty Codona OBE, revealed this week that 2020 isn’t the first year the team has come close to being forced to withdraw.

This is Abbey Whitehouse and Alice Fallon who have represented GB.

“That £60k is always a struggle, it’s hard work to raise it year in and year out,” she confirmed.

“This year, of course, Covid just killed it totally.

“We were pursuing a number of hopeful leads right up to the last moment, but in the end, we just couldn’t manage it.

“Obviously I’m not feeling very happy about it, but we’re already working very hard and building up to coming back fighting in the 2021-2022 season.”

Head coach for 11 years, Vanessa Ellis

Sarah adds: “People are often surprised by how much we need to raise to compete, but court costs, accommodation, and the expense of flying players over all adds up.

“We’re a completely self-funded and voluntary-run team, so we rely on the public’s support.

“It’s always a challenge to raise that figure, and this year the obstacles were just too big.”

Betty formed Sheffield Hatters in 1961, and the team has dominated the game since the early 1990s, when it claimed 27 out of 30 possible trophies for British women’s basketball teams.

During her time as coach, Betty won 40 national titles with the Hatters and coached 500 games.

She passed the torch to her daughter and former team member, Vanessa Ellis, who took over as head coach in 2009.

Sheffield Hatters hug head coach Vanessa Ellis

In the last 11 years, Vanessa has guided the team to 20 national titles, supported players within the club to represent their country, and has been part of the GB Basketball and Basketball England coaching teams.

“It’s not just about winning, we’re successful in getting girls playing sport,” Vanessa said.

“The fact we won’t have a WBBL team means we don’t have the role models for younger players to look up to and it has a big knock-on effect in our community outreach work.”

But in amidst their disappointment, Sarah says that the team already has its eye on the future, and is keen to ask for the public’s support as it prepares for its 2021/2022 season.

“Of course it’s such a shame this happened in our 60th anniversary year - but the important thing is that we’ll live to fight another year,” she says.

“We’re planning a tournament and game for our anniversary year, which will help to fund our WWBL team for next season, and we hope people will continue to donate to our current Crowdfunding campaign, which is running until September 29.

“We also have to say a huge thank you to Westfield Health, who has continued to support us all the way through the pandemic, and without whom we wouldn’t have had a WBBL team for the last ten years, so we owe them a lot.”

A spokesperson for the WBBL said: “We are saddened by the withdrawal of Sheffield Hatters but given the current climate, we understand and appreciate the difficulties the club has experienced over the past few months.

“Our thoughts are with the club’s players, staff, supporters, and dedicated volunteers, all of whom worked endlessly to see the club continue.

“The loss of Sheffield Hatters will be one felt across the basketball community.

“The oldest and most successful team in women’s basketball, their accomplishments speak for themselves and they should be incredibly proud of the foundation they have built for women’s basketball over the past 60 years.

“We sincerely hope they’ll be able to re-join the league for the 2021-22 season.

“The WBBL will be progressing with 11 teams for the 2020-21 season, which we hope to have details on in the very near future.”

This is the WBBL with Hatters u12s. They volunteered and helped run a Central Venue League. A regional monthly tournament hosted for those under 14
Hatters legend and founder, Betty, with her three first team (and former WBBL team players) Helen Naylor, Naomi Campbell and Georgia Gayle). Sheffield Hatters, the UK’s first and most successful women’s basketball club, has been forced to withdraw from the Women’s British Basketball League - due to financial reasons.
The div 2 team in practice at All Saints with new coach, Garnet Gayle. Sheffield Hatters, the UK’s first and most successful women’s basketball club, has been forced to withdraw from the Women’s British Basketball League - due to financial reasons.