A stone’s throw from Celtic Park, home of one of Glasgow’s most famous sporting institutions, just over 1,200 people descend on the Emirates Arena on a rainy Friday evening to watch another of the city’s premier teams.
It’s all very Miami Heat. As a siren sounds the lights go out and, as instructed, the audience illuminate the way to welcome their team with their phone torches.
This is netball, folks. But it’s not what you played in high school. This is the grandiosely dubbed “Vitality Netball Superleague”, it’s live on Sky Sports, and it’s a pretty damn big deal. And guess what: Strathy is slap bang in the middle of it.
The University of Strathclyde Sirens (formerly UWS Sirens) are in their third year of competition, and their first under the new name after a three-year sponsorship deal was agreed with the university.
You may have seen them on campus: at least one night a week the girls train at the new Strathclyde Sport facility. They popped up at the recent Refreshers Fair in the Union and new signings Cat Tuivati from New Zealand and Gia Abernethy from Australia stay in the very same halls as students.
Sirens captain, Claire Maxwell, says: “We love our partnership with Strathclyde. They’re behind us in everything we do. Their sports facilities are second-to-none.
“Emirates Arena can be great, but Strathclyde has a pool which helps with recovery. And we had our schools festival in there as well. So we’re so grateful for their backing in allowing us to be a good team on the court but also off the court.”
As a male writer, full disclosure: I’ve never played nor watched a game of netball in my life. So part of me did wonder, what actually makes netball worth going to watch? Isn’t it the same sport that girls (and only girls) up and down the country were dragged by the collar of their P.E. polo shirt to play twice a week?
Around five minutes in, I’m shown that couldn’t be further from the case. Tuivati is like the netball equivalent of a Harlem Globetrotter. The girls are firing passes at each other that would probably take my arm off. Some of the girls take huge falls. I’m told battered shins, ligament damage, flying elbows and head knocks are regular occurrences.
The game finishes 45-55 in favour of the away side, Team Bath. An unfortunate result, with Bath’s excellent goal shooter Kim Commane proving the difference. But you wouldn’t know the result from the atmosphere at the end of the fourth quarter.
Within minutes of stepping off-court, the players and fans mingle in the concourse of the Emirates Arena. This occurs after every home game in the “Fan Zone”. Much of the attendance is made up of netball clubs and schools from across the country, who are able to meet their heroes straight after the game.
Many of the squad are involved in the Scottish national team and were in the Gold Coast last year for the Commonwealth Games. To meet athletes of that calibre is a special experience for the young netball fanatic.
And as this writer can attest to, it’s not a “wee lassie” sport. It’s something much bigger. And it’s growing still.
The Sirens’ official hashtag reads “#ChangingTheGame”. Consider it changed.
By Steven Mair