LIVERPOOL – Sky Sports said the Zimbabwean supporters have set the bar very high, “for the most enthusiastic fans,’’ as they inspired the plucky Gems team to produce a winning formula in their first Netball World Cup match here yesterday.
The Gems beat Sri Lanka 79-49 to record their first victory in a World Cup match.
“The bar has been set very high indeed… this is why we love World Cups! At their first Netball World Cup, Zimbabwe have started with a big win and have shared with us all their superb fans,’’ Sky Sports said.
“If you missed them then, we’ll show you their support a little later but for now here’s confirmation of the final score – 79 – 49. Next stop for the Zimbabwe Gems will be Australia… a formidable task!’’
The Netball World Cup Official Website also gave a ringing endorsement to the events yesterday.
“With remarkable shooting statistics from both sides the match was a compellingly competitive affair,’’ they said. “With their raucous support creating a so-far unparalleled atmosphere, the Zim Gems made a huge impression with their first ever World Cup victory.’’
And, it was the same story on Twitter.
Netball World Cup Twitter
“What a crowd, what an atmosphere #ThisIsNetball. They’ve done it! Zimbabwe win their first-ever #NetballWorldCup game 79-49 over Sri Lanka!
“This will be a day to remember! What a start from the debutants! The brilliant crowd inside the @MandSBankArena are loving every moment,’’ the organisers tweeted.
The world, it appears, has fallen in love with the Gems and their singing fans.
‘‘Even the spectators did not waste any time. At 8.30am the queue to pick up tickets at the box office was already a surprising 50 people long,’’ The Guardian noted in their report.
“They waited cheerfully and patiently – netball fans are passionate but they are also incredibly collegiate. And while the arena was still largely empty as New Zealand and Malawi began the first session to a blast of Republica, it did not stay that way for long.
“By half-time – the Kiwis had long begun to pull away – the cheap seats were almost full and the first chant had started.
“More than 103 000 tickets have already been sold for the next 11 days’ play, out of a total capacity of 125 000. And while several sessions are sold out, including many of England’s sessions – 6 500 tickets had been sold to their opening game – the organisers are keen to emphasise the remaining availability, and opportunities for people to join in, particularly in next week’s midweek games.
“For the preliminary rounds two courts have been created, one on each side of the arena, so that four teams can play at once, and the result is a blur of activity and colour.
“But it’s the sounds of netball that are truly distinctive, and here they infiltrated every part of the stadium as if they were a living, breathing member of the crowd.
“No one made as much noise as the Zimbabwe fans who took over court two at lunchtime with their flags, their families and their joyful presence.
“After the Kiwi game (and in spite of a large defeat), a small knot of Malawi supporters had broken into happy, spontaneous song next to the food and drink concessions. It was a mere prelude to the full-on musical that accompanied Zimbabwe v Sri Lanka.
“Zimbabwe’s team – and their passionate fans – had plenty of reason to be delighted even before a ball was thrown. The Gems had to launch a crowdfunding campaign to be able to afford to attend this World Cup, having qualified as the runners-up of last year’s African Netball Championship.
“Their opening game felt like a celebration party; fans with drums and dance moves and outrageously tight harmonies cheered the very first goal as if it were the match-winner, and from then on the decibel level inside the stadium never dropped lower than 110.’’
The game, noted The Guardian, has also been changing.
“For much of its existence netball has been a sporting arms race between two teams, Australia and New Zealand, and England’s Commonwealth Games win was a signal their duopoly could be ending,’’ the newspaper reported.
“But this World Cup is about much more than just the new pretenders to the crown. Africa is the most represented continent at this tournament. Fans have flown in from 30 different countries. This is a summer jubilee for a sport that is gaining ground fast.
“Professional netball has spent the past few years refining its product, listening to what its fans want, learning how to build an atmosphere.
“There was plenty of mid-game entertainment on offer at the M&S Bank Arena, from t-shirt cannons to audience games, even an on-court version of The Price Is Right.
“But the Zimbabwe game suggested this tournament will barely need the extra trimmings. When Australia’s match against Northern Ireland finished, their respective fans immediately shuffled over to the edges of court one to get a taste, however brief, of the magic happening next door.
“The Zimbabwe players leapt up to the stands at the end of their win to high-five their new friends. The captain, Perpetua Siyachitema, was so overwhelmed by the support she had a little cry.
“If this atmosphere keeps on going, Liverpool is in for a big week.’’ – Sports Reporter/The Guardian