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'It's an exciting time for us' - New dawn for Sheffield Hatters in Canon Medical Arena

Georgia Gayle is now on a full-time contract with Sheffield Hatters ahead of their debut season in the Canon Medical Arena (Picture: Ian Anderson)
Georgia Gayle is now on a full-time contract with Sheffield Hatters ahead of their debut season in the Canon Medical Arena (Picture: Ian Anderson)

For the founding members of women’s basketball in this country, it was a worrying moment.

Those dark days will not be far from the thoughts of head coach Vanessa Ellis on Sunday when the Hatters take to the court in the brand new Canon Medical Arena for the first game of the 2023-24 season. A year ago they were invited by the men’s Sheffield Sharks to join them in the new venue funded by private investment and the game against the Nottingham Wildcats (4pm) marks the dawn of a new era for the team founded by the late Betty Codona in 1961.

“We couldn’t raise money during Covid so we took the decision to take a year out, things seemed quite bleak,” recalls Ellis, “but we got a lot of support from people, plus the sports survival package from the government which enabled us to get going after Covid.

“And then Sharks contacted us and said do you want to become a part of this arena, and it’s just been so exciting for us ever since that meeting.

“This venue is fantastic, we’re training here every day, did a pre-season game here the other day, we’ve been practicing in the set-up; just the feeling of playing on a really nice basketball court, it just makes the players feel special.”

The Hatters are also progressing a long-term vision to becoming a full-time outfit.

Last year they had three full-time players, this time it is six, including homegrown player and GB international Georgia Gayle, pictured.

“The ambition from myself and Sarah (Backovic) our general manager is to get a fully professional team in the next two to three years,” said Ellis.

"That’s really exciting news for us.”

“And our fans are really excited – even for a behind-closed-doors friendly we had 100 or so people come and have a nosey at what we’re doing and that’s one of our aims, to increase our crowd.

“We’re already above our maximum of last year and our aim is to get 1,000 people regularly by the end of the season.”