BY KATE HUNTER
There’s a kiss of winter in the air.
Big doonas are replacing waffle blankets, there are stew recipes in the Sunday papers and if I worried about pedicures, I’d worry even less for a few months.
And it’s football season. Yeah yeah yeah.
But equally exciting, for more Australians, it’s netty time.
More people run onto netball courts than AFL fields every Saturday. Actually, netty players don’t run on – they poise like coiled springs, waiting for the umpire’s whistle. It’s more civilized and a whole heap more humble than bursting through a crepe paper banner three stories high. They do this even in under 12s AFL games – not all of them, but enough to make you think, seriously?
Most Australian women at some point have pulled on a netball bib. The good ones wore a ‘C’, the rest of us played ‘WD’ on and off, forever. The tall girls wore something featuring a ‘G’.
But the thing about netty is thousands keep doing it. AFL players in their 30s and 40s are remarkable, and practically crippled, but look around a netball park on a winter Saturday or a sports centre any night of the week and you’ll see girls of all ages – from 8 to 80 looking for an attacking break or a sneaky bounce pass.
My daughter is 9 and gearing up for her second season. Just quietly, I suspect she’ll be WD throughout her netball life, but she loves it. There’s no healthier addiction than the feeling that comes with a goal being scored after 6 unchallenged passes.
Somehow, I’ve become an umpire, which is not especially stressful at the littler levels, unless you come across a coach who was a state rep player in 1997 and is at pains to remind you of that fact. Also, I have to wear white shorts. But we do these things for love.
I try very hard not to blow the whistle too often. In Under 10s the game is really one 40 minute long infringement so umpiring is a case of choosing the worst offences and making an example of the offender. But doing it nicely. ‘Darling, you just took about nine steps so I have to give the ball to the other side, but I want to say that your shoulder passes rock.’ Umpires can’t do that at Commonwealth Games level. It’s one of the joys of junior sport.
There are many reasons to love netty. Here are mine:
1. Sharon Strzeleki, who proved that netty welcomes all.
2. Women organize netball. I’m sorry if this offends, but it makes a difference. My daughter’s games are the same time, same place, every single week. I’m a veteran of boys’ soccer, rugby and AFL and this never happened. I can picture the women at the Downey Park Netball Association AGM saying, ‘Oh for goodness sake, families need to plan. How hard can it be to make all Under 10 matches at 9am?’
3. One set of rules fits all. Even Under 10s are told, no jewelry, except a wedding band.
4. Netty is about respect and confidence. There’s a lady at Downey Park who’s 80 if she’s a day and she’s not giving up her pleated skirt for anybody. People keep playing netball for the joy of it, not for the beers afterwards (Although for sure someone will correct me on this). A netball end of season trip could go as feral as a rugby one, but it’s a better kept secret if it is.
5. Netball the only sport where players get a manicure (of sorts) before the game. Nail inspection please ladies.
6. At the time of writing no professional netball player has been up on sexual assault charges.
7. Labels can be positive things. Knowing who’s GK and who’s WA means there is little room for argument. We all know in which third we stand. If only life could be like that.
8. Other than buggered ankles, there are few serious injuries. Head protection is unnecessary in netball and this speaks volumes. Note, however visors must be soft. Nothing worse than a poke from a rigid peak.
9. Major league teams have lovely names – Diamonds, Firebirds, Kestrels. This makes a refreshing change from the angry animals of football – Bulldogs, Sharks, Bears, Eagles.
10. Fellas are welcome. Mixed netball is thriving. On the other hand, co-ed football is pretty much unheard of (except touch). And no, cheerleaders don’t count as players.
Are you rocking up for netball this year? Tell us about the sports you love.