#36) Jade Clarke


Understated is not a term you would currently associate with England Netball.

From that incredible last minute victory at Gold Coast 2018 to narrowly missing out on thrilling Quad Series title last month, they’ve certainly been making plenty of noise over the last year, as Ella Jerman described.

And with Liverpool’s Echo Arena hosting the 2019 Netball World Cup in July, expect that to continue for a while yet.

However when it comes to Jade Clarke, the term is much more apt.

Since being selected for the national team in 2002 and making her senior debut the next year, the 35-year-old has enjoyed a superb career at the top of the game.

Alongside winning that sensational gold back in April, the 2018 Commonwealth Games also saw her make her 150th international appearance, a feat no England player has ever reached before.

As well as this, Clarke captained her country to a first ever World Netball Series title in 2011 and picked up bronzes at the 2006 and 2010 Commonwealth Games.

Furthermore she also spent several seasons in the ANZ Championship – at the time the best club league in the world – and was named Player of the Season in 2013 and 2014 before winning the Vitality Super League with Wasps last year.

Add all that up and Clarke is one of the finest athletes the game has ever seen.

England Roses

Not that you’d know it when talking to her though.

Rather than focusing on individual triumphs, the former Loughborough Lightning player always puts the achievements of the team ahead of herself.

That includes being a role model to young girls and women up and down the country, something the Vitality Roses certainly have been since that famous evening last spring.

“It’s something we’ve always wanted,” she said.

“We work hard, we train hard, we’re well behaved and we actually want to be role models.

“We want to be out there promoting our sport, we want to be meeting our fans after every game and stay out as long as we can to see all the little girls and little boys who have come out to watch and support.

“We’ve been there when there has been a couple of hundred people at a game and now there’s thousands just at our league games in the UK. We’ve seen where it’s come from and where it’s going so we really do appreciate everyone that’s coming out to support.”

England have the opportunity to grow their legacy even further this year when they take on the world’s best once again at the World Cup, which Clarke is an ambassador for.

And at a time where many sports are starting to take their main fixtures away from London, Clarke believes hosting the event in the north west is the perfect opportunity to help inspire thousands more aspiring netballers.

Having grown up in Manchester and with members of the squad hailing from across the country, she is keen to show during the summer that netball really is for anyone, no matter where you’re from.

The centre said: ”It’s brilliant. The thing about netball is that it’s so accessible.

“It’s played in schools and clubs all over the country – we want to take it everywhere and we want it to be played everywhere and people will want to watch it all over the country.

“Growing up in the north west really propelled me forward and helped me get in the team at a young age – we love our sport in the area!

“I know all the main games and finals are sold out already – it’s like gold dust.

“Even though it’s not in London it’s going to be a massive spectacle – we’re expecting sell out crowds for every game.”

One of the reasons tickets have been in such great demand is the opportunity of seeing the team who pulled off such a remarkable victory that players, fans and commentators alike descended into delirious meltdown.

Despite not even a year passing since, the growth of the sport has been immense and not just in terms of participation but also the public’s awareness of and attitudes towards the game, something which Clarke and the team are very proud of.

“That next month after we got back was really special,” she recalled.

“We’ve had so many loyal fans who’ve stuck with us and so many people that joined in the journey as well.

“When we got back we had an event looking forward to the next Commonwealth Games in Birmingham – we had people coming up to us saying how they’d got up to watch in the morning and how they’d never watched netball before.

“There were also so many men saying how much they’d enjoyed it and how they’re going to keep watching. And then finishing off with Team of the Year at SPOTY was just amazing, as was the Moment of the Year as that was the public’s vote.”

As for Clarke herself, the victory was the culmination of more than a decade of incredible service to the sport.

To beat Australia on their home turf to win a first Commonwealth title is as big as it gets in netball, although a World Cup win on home soil this summer near her hometown would arguably be even greater.

Whatever happens though, Clarke knows that the immense sacrifices she has made for her sport have been more than worth it.

 

Speaking about the Commonwealth victory, she said: “It’s one of the best moments of my life, the best moment I’ve had in netball.

“When I look at it it’s not just about winning and the team performance but because of the team that was there, the team behind the team and all the girls at home that didn’t get selected.

“We’d built our culture for years and it was that moment where it all came together. No-one was in it for themselves, it was all about the team and it was just such a gusty performance.

“When you start playing you think you know what’s possible.

“You’ve got huge dreams and you just go for it, you put everything into it and put your life, your career, your relationships on hold – you never know if it’s going to happen.

“It’s a huge risk but it’s one I’m so glad I’ve taken whether we won that gold medal or not.

“It’s never going to be a waste to try and get your country to the top of the sport and do the best that you can do in whatever field you are passionate about.

“I didn’t know if it was possible but I always believed.”

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