‘A chance to make history’: Meet the Vitality Roses


Three of England’s elite echelon talk to Vitality Magazine about their love of the sport, alongside Head Coach, Jess Thirlby

Vitality Roses players England Netball

It’s been almost a decade since Vitality joined forces with England Netball to sponsor the national Roses team; and this month, Vitality is proud to reaffirm its commitment to the team by extending its partnership for another three years.

Together Vitality and England Netball have encouraged thousands of people to rejoin the sport through the ‘Back to Netball’ programme and helped drive awareness of the sport at grassroots level.

So, to mark the extension of this partnership, Vitality Magazine met up with the team’s Head Coach, Jess Thirlby, and Vitality Roses players Laura Malcolm(above left), Funmi Fadoju (centre) and Jade Clarke(right) to talk about their journey into the sport they love and what it means to wear the red dress.

When did you first start playing netball?

It was Funmi’s PE teacher who first noticed her potential on a netball court aged eight. “They thought I was quite sporty, so I went to watch the older girls play [netball] and at that point I wanted to join,” she recalls.

Like most young girls, both Jade and Laura also started their netball journey at school, but Laura got the bug when she finally found a sport that was different to that of her two older brothers. “Since then, they’ve been out in the garden with me helping me train and play,” she says.

Jade, the teams’ most capped player however, liked the team aspect of the sport. “It was a team sport that I loved, as I didn’t really like competing on my own, I prefer to be part of a team.”

What position do you play?

Laura’s strengths in the mid-court (centre, wing defence and wing attack) she says came from her experience in defence and attack.

“I just love the mid-court, because we’ve got skills from all over the shop, and we have an understanding of both sides of the game,” she explains.

Jade on the other hand relishes in the challenges mid-court playing presents: “I always liked centre from a young age; you have to be really fit and you don’t stop running.”

Standing at 5ft9, meanwhile, it’s no surprise that Funmi’s one of the best defenders in the game. “I’m GD [goal defence] now; after a while I realised I couldn’t shoot,” she chuckles.

“I love being able to get a turnover and spotting the attackers’ spaces.”

Which other position would you pick to play?

Both Laura and Funmi have their eye on goal attack, despite the fact they’re not getting the 97% conversion rate of their teammates.

“It’s fun because you get to shoot a lot, even though I can’t shoot at all,” says Laura.

And Funmi is under a similar impression: “I like to pretend I can shoot and that’s okay with me.”

But Jade’s love of physicality means she would rather be on the defending end of the court.

“Aggression is my thing, I love getting into that circle and it’s a bit of a fight in there,” she says.

How long have you been playing for the Vitality Roses?

Funmi might be the greenest of the girls, having played for the Vitality Roses for just two years, but she’s no stranger to playing at the highest level. “I’d been in the age groups with a lot of girls and we came up through U17 and U19s, and carried on.”

At the other end of the spectrum is Jade, who is the longest standing member of the three with two decades of service under her belt.

“I’m a bit older than the other two, so I was selected 20 years’ ago.”

Laura’s tenure also makes her a Roses veteran.


What was your reaction when you were selected?

Ten years on, it’s still an emotional memory for Laura.

“To me that was just an amazing moment because I'd worked so hard to get back in. I trained all summer for it […] and then we all just stood by the wall, and they read out the names of the people that had got in and my name got read out and I was in total shock.”

Jade shared the moment with her mum in the car park after her trial day. “They gave you a letter and I walked to my mum’s car and opened it, and we were both screaming outside; it’s such a cool memory to share with my mum because she’s supported me the whole way.”

Funmi, meanwhile, got a call from Jess Thirlby herself to confirm her spot in the squad. “I was like, ‘really?’”

“I was so nervous then, because you [Jade and Laura] are such legends and I was going be playing next to them, but I've loved every moment since then.”

What does playing for the Vitality Roses mean to you?

“For me I think the most exciting part is the chance to make history,” says Jade.

“Everyone’s so different and we really celebrate being so diverse, but we all come together for this goal and we get the chance to play for our country.”

Something Funmi echoes: “It means the world. Being able to represent your country at this level is amazing. We all know how much hard work we’ve put in to get to where we are today: the progress, all the travelling, all the money that goes into it.

“It feels good to tell mum and dad I made it.”

For Laura, the hard work is worth it because you’re one of the lucky ones.

“We see everything that everybody goes through behind the scenes, which nobody else gets to see, it’s really hard work and you have to be committed every single day.

“But it’s such a special thing that you actually get to step out there and represent.”

A note from Head Coach, Jess Thirlby

When asked the piece of advice she gives to the player, Jess doesn’t miss a beat. “Stay true to yourself but leave no stone unturned,” says the former Roses player.

“I think the worst thing anyone can have in life is regret, so just be the best version of yourself that can be in everything you do, and it is normal for stuff to feel hard, for it to be tiring.”

And this determined nature which motivates Jess in taking her team to the next level. “There’s definitely something in me that is never satisfied,” she admits

“I always believe something can be done better; I believe I can be better. I’m always on the hunt for those innovative ways of thinking, surrounding myself with people that think differently

“As a player I always did everything and maximised all the resources and support around me because I didn’t ever want to have any regrets.”

“It’s a pretty inspiring place to work. However clichéd it sounds, the privilege and opportunity to work with world class athletes who are also world class people, is what gets me up on a morning.”

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