Helen Housby: ‘My mum wears my gold medal like a necklace – I owe her a lot’
Helen Housby (centre) shows off her gold medal with team-mates Serena Guthrie (left) and Geva Mentor

“My mum walks around wearing my Commonwealth gold medal like a necklace,” laughs England netballer Helen Housby.

The 24-year-old shooter’s parents have recently returned to England following a trip to Australia to watch Housby play for New South Wales Swifts in Super Netball, the country’s elite league.

Her parents’ dedication to watching and supporting their daughter’s career is intrinsic to how far she has come, and they have every right to be proud, especially her mother.

Housby broke Australian hearts as she made history with Tracey Neville’s Roses last April, scoring in the final second to give England a 52-51 victory in the Commonwealth Games final.

“We had an England Test series in London and after the game I went to see my mum,” recalls Housby.

“She had a jacket on and as she undid it, she was wearing my gold medal underneath it! I couldn’t believe it. She absolutely loves it.

“My parents are very supportive. I think if I did any sport they’d be on the bandwagon. My mum spent hours and hours driving me to games and practice and never complained.”

The mother-daughter duo share a love of netball which dates back to the younger Housby’s school days, when they played on the same team, albeit on the opposite side of the court.

Housby’s mum, Gill, was present on the Gold Coast to witness her daughter repeat the same feat from four years earlier, when Helen helped secure the 2014 Netball Superleague title for former side Manchester Thunder when she was just 19.

Her performance in that game won her her first England cap at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games later that summer.

Another chapter in her England career will be written this summer if, as expected, she is named in the World Cup squad for the tournament being held in Liverpool.

Helen Housby is lifted up by her team-mates after scoring the winning goal in the dying seconds of the 2014 Superleague Grand Final – they won their first title since then at the weekend

As a child who excelled at most sports, her ability and athleticism could have landed her a spot in a team coached by another famous Neville, Tracey’s twin brother Phil, the manager of the England football team.

“If I wasn’t a netballer, I think I’d be some other athlete as it’s something I love and enjoy. I’d probably be a footballer, as I also love football,” said Housby, a big Manchester United fan.

Housby is now in her third season with Sydney-based NSW Swifts and has embraced the Australian lifestyle – which is a stark contrast to her upbringing on a rural farm in Cumbria.

“Heading out to the beaches is something I love doing here and the weather is great. I make sure I stock up on gravy in the English aisles in the supermarket, though!”

The shooter says the facilities in Australia are “amazing” thanks to the sport being 100% professional. Most players in the British Superleague, by contrast, are part-time.

“We have a dedicated netball centre in the Olympic Park in Sydney, they are few and far between back in England,” says Housby.

“We see the staff and our girls every day, sometimes twice a day, for hours on end, it’s very high performance and the best place to be to get the best out of yourself.

“In the Superleague [with Thunder] I would see my team on Tuesday and Thursday, and did solo weight sessions – it’s very different out here. I feel good, I’m in good shape.

“I saw England players, like Jo Harten, come back completely different players from playing overseas and I guess I wanted that lifestyle and to make myself a better netball player- this is the best place to be.”

There’s not much off-season to enjoy, however, with Housby selected for two England Quad Series squads and for Tests against Jamaica and Uganda since finishing last season’s league campaign in August.

“It is difficult to balance an international and domestic season, because it’s pretty much non-stop,” Housby adds.

“You have to be very careful where you put the rest in, the long flights aren’t easy on the body, but we handle it pretty well and there’s a really professional approach.”

Housby’s experience on the Gold Coast (left) was in complete contrast to her debut international tournament with the Roses aged 19, after England missed out on a medal at Glasgow 2014

Looking to the World Cup, which will be the second for Housby if she is named in Neville’s 12-player squad, the former Zoology student said: “I think every team going to the World Cup will want to beat England on home soil – I think everyone will be gunning for us.

“Defending champions Australia have a point to prove. But for us, we have to not get complacent.

“I don’t feel like there’s any pressure, they’re still technically ranked number one in the world. We just need to embrace the atmosphere and home crowd.”

Psychological preparation will be key and Housby will draw on the ground work she has put in with the Swifts.

Housby thrives under the increased media presence and worldwide recognition of her sport, and relishes the “favourites” tag England now find themselves wearing.

On England winning both Team of the Year and Moment of the Year at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards 2018, Housby added: “At the ceremony we were fortunate to meet Billie Jean King who is amazing with everything she has done for women’s sport. I think she paved the way for women like us.

“And it was so good to finally get women’s teams winning those awards. When I was growing up, most of my idols were male because they dominated the awards.

“It was pretty special to know that there could be young girls looking up to us winning those awards.”

BBC Sport has launched #ChangeTheGame this summer to showcase female athletes in a way they never have been before. Through more live women’s sport available to watch across the BBC this summer, complemented by our journalism, we are aiming to turn up the volume on women’s sport and alter perceptions. Find out more here.

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