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Manchester-born Jade Clarke believes the England Netball team, known as the Vitality Roses, can inspire the next generation with success in the 2022 Commonwealth Games, writes Jack Lacey.
This week marks one year until the games get under way in Birmingham, with Head Coach Jess Thirlby’s England side looking to retain the gold medal they won in Australia back in 2018.
Clarke, the most-capped player in Vitality Roses’ history, now plays her club netball for Leeds Rhinos who finished fourth in their first season in the Vitality Netball Superleague earlier this year.
Should she play in Birmingham, it will be her fifth Commonwealth Games.
But the 37-year-old, who has 179 international caps to her name, is as full of enthusiasm for the 2022 event as she was for Melbourne back in 2006.
She said: “I think it is really nice to know it is only a year away now, because the last 12 months have been so strange, I am looking forward to this more than any other major tournament I have played in.
“Hopefully, there will be lots of fans there by then. I just remember the World Cup being at home, the fans made it what it was. They loved it as much as we did.
“That was my first experience of playing a world tournament in front of a home crowd, and it made such a difference.
“Anything you do gets support, even just walking out onto court everyone went crazy.
“I’m sure the Commonwealth Games might be even bigger.”
Netball has seen a surge in popularity in recent years, thanks to the success of the England team at both Gold Coast 2018 and in the World Cup in Liverpool a year later.
A home multi-sport games with netball as a blue-riband event is an opportunity to go even further.
“Aside from the winning and losing, the effect it has on the community is massive,” said Clarke, whose performances on the court have helped to attract 160,000 women to play netball or more netball following the World Cup in 2019 in Liverpool, with 125,000 women having now also returned to the sport through England Netball’s highly successful Back to Netball programme.
“To have so many people playing after winning the Commonwealth Games last time and playing in that home World Cup, that is what you want to see.
“You want little girls watching thinking ‘I can be like that; I want to grow up and be part of the Roses’.
“At every age there is netball to play, there is something for everyone, so we want to inspire people to get out and play.”
There are different opportunities to play whether that’s through Back to Netball and Walking Netball programmes, and you can find out about your local session through the ‘Session Finder’ on the England Netball website.
Winning her first cap back in 2002, Clarke has seen several different head coaches and backroom staff come and go through the years. And Clarke is convinced the current management team, led by Jess Thirlby, can continue to flourish and one day could be the best in the world.
Clarke added: “We have added real depth to the coaching team, with Sonia (Mkloma) and Olivia Murphy. Together with Jess they are an absolute dream team.
“We are just desperate to get into training and learn from them, they have a wealth of experience in every position.
“As an older player that makes things really exciting, it makes you feel young again and actually look forward to training.”
To keep up to date with all the Vitality Roses news follow @englandnetball on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram or visit the England Netball website.