BY YANN TEAR
It will be a tall order getting the better of hosts South Africa and the twin threat posed by Australia and New Zealand – but the woman overseeing the England Nets team in this summer’s indoor netball World Championships knows all about defying the odds.
Rowena Scott-Fairclough has the experience and motivation to make a decisive impact in her player-head coach role, but even more than that, she knows about overcoming adversity.
The 35-year-old from Crystal Palace was told she would have to quit netball forever when massive bilateral pulmonary embolisms were discovered on her lungs two years ago.
The blood-clotting required an intensive course of blood thinners and she was advised to forget about ever getting on a court again.
But somehow she has made a full recovery and will be able to lead the women’s team at this year’s championships. Unsurprisingly, she can hardly wait. She told the South London Press: “It’s going to be an amazing event for us.
“The game doesn’t get as much exposure as traditional netball and it’s a relatively new sport. But we want to try and put it on the map here.
“We are the reigning world champions from 2016 but know it will be difficult when we travel to Cape Town for the tournament. South Africa own the sport at the moment, while Australia and New Zealand are always really tough sides who have played it longer than us. We are always considered as underdogs, but 100 per cent we can go and win it again.”
The sport is a variation on outdoor netball, taking place inside cages with high-tension nets you can use to bounce passes to team-mates. It was invented in Australia in 2000 and has its own name – Nets – to set it apart from its famous cousin. To the uninitiated, think of it as a netball version of five-a-side football.
Scott-Fairclough has a strong background in traditional netball, having turned out for Crystal Palace and Leyton, but in 2012 attended trails for indoor nets and was selected for touring England Nets sides on a couple of overseas trips to Australia.
However, her life changed dramatically two years ago when a worrying chest infection turned out to be the sign of something serious. So serious, in fact, that had she not had the blood tests when she did, she might have died flying to Las Vegas on holiday.
“That was scary,” she said. “Realising how I might have died, flying with that condition. I was due to travel just two weeks after blood tests revealed the extent of the problem.
“I was told I could never play netball again due to impact risk – especially as I had also suffered from epilepsy in the past.
“I had a year of medication before it was reduced, until a consultant finally said I had progressed so well I could go back to playing after all and a year ago I started playing again.
“I fell into netball coaching because of my condition, as I thought that was the only way I could stay involved in the sport. I coached the youth and senior teams at Lewisham [Raiders Netball Club] and at West Norwood [Alpha Netball Club].
“Then I heard they were looking for Nets coaches and went for coaching sessions in Birmingham – and the result is this call up to lead the England team. I’m so thrilled.
“This is a huge opportunity for me as I never thought I would be able to play netball again, and here I am now, coaching and playing for England.”
She is also a regional or ‘hub’ coach for the London Pulse Netball Club – overseeing youngsters attached to the Stratford club. And she is also in the process of launching her own club in Streatham – Aces Netball Club.
The only dose of reality is the £3,000 she will have to pay to take part in the Nets World Championships.
She is trying to find sponsorship, but may have to raid any savings she can put aside from her day job in the revenues and benefits department for Hackney council.
Compared with the medical problems she has overcome, however, it should be a walk in the park.