Blue & Gold legends say farewell to competitive netball during emotional conclusion to Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games
It was an emotional conclusion to the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games netball competition as two Team Bath legends retired following England’s bronze-medal match defeat to New Zealand.
Defenders Stacey Francis-Bayman and Eboni Usoro-Brown, who have nine Superleague title medals between them from their domestic careers in the Blue & Gold, were given a guard of honour and presented with flowers by their England team-mates after Sunday’s match and received a rapturous reception from spectators in the NEC.
Sadly there was no final medal to add to their collections, the Silver Ferns proving too strong as they ran out 55-48 victors to secure a place on the podium along with champions Australia – who had beaten England in the semi-finals on Saturday – and silver-medallists Jamaica.
Francis-Bayman, an inductee into the University of Bath Hall of Fame for Sport, said: “I don’t think it will sink in for a little while longer yet but when I reflect back, I’ll feel so privileged that we were able to be out on court in a home Commonwealth Games, wearing the red dress that we don’t take for granted.”
Usoro-Brown, a Commonwealth champion in 2018, had announced her retirement on Sunday morning and said: “It’s been absolutely incredible. The crowd, in general, have been amazing for the whole competition but I think it was extra special for me because after having Savannah [her daughter], I didn’t think I would be back here.”
Team Bath Netball Superleague trio Imogen Allison, Sophie Drakeford-Lewis and Layla Guscoth were also in an England squad led by former Blue & Gold player and coach Jess Thirlby.
“We’re going to feel a bit bruised for a while but I can’t fault the effort and the intent of the team,” said Thirlby. “Their relentless ability to keep going until the end for each other and have each other’s backs is something to be admired.”
Friday’s classification matches had seen Blue & Gold attacker Betsy Creak make her sixth start at the Commonwealth Games as Wales narrowly lost 62-56 to Malawi in the seventh-placed play-off.
Team Bath Superleague player Phumza Maweni once again started for South Africa as they finished sixth overall after losing Uganda 54-48.
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Top picture: The England netball squad with former Team Bath defenders Stacey Francis-Bayman (front, second from left) and Eboni Usoro-Brown (front, third from left), who have both announced their retirement. CREDIT: Morgan Harlow.