Funmi Fadoju will be making her major event debut for England in South Korea - credit Naomi Baker.
From a first-ever Olympic hockey gold in 2016, to the Lionesses’ maiden European Championship victory and Emma Raducanu’s stunning US Open victory; those are just a few examples of history-making achievements by British women over the last decade.
The England netball team also had their iconic ‘medal moment’ after victory over bitter rivals – and hosts – Australia at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
Now they are seeking another landmark success at the Netball World Cup in South Africa.
It is a competition the side has never won, having only reached the final once – back in 1975.
England have claimed bronze at the last three editions, but now with a squad which blends youth with experience the Vitality Roses believe they can go one, if not two, steps further.
“We want to make history,” 20-year-old rising star Funmi Fadoju tells the Women’s Sports Alliance (WSA).
“We feel like we can and we want this so much!”
Funmi in action against Jamaica - credit Morgan Harlow
Funmi, who plays across goal defence, goal keeper and wing defence for her club side London Pulse, only made her senior international debut last year, but has made rapid progress since then.
Her rise perhaps surprising only one person – herself.
“I started playing when I was around eight and at primary school,” says Funmi. “I've always been kind of fast, really bouncy and really energetic.
“I was playing with friends, doing it for fun really and to keep fit, but the next thing I knew I was picked for regionals and asked if I’d like to try out for England."
“I was like ‘there’s an England team?’”
Funmi was 14 when she joined with England U17’s squad and while she still enjoyed taking part in athletics, football, cricket, basketball, tennis and badminton – her netball talent was clear.
“After the U17’s, the next year I was in the U19’s, then the U21’s and then I joined my first-ever Super League team called London Pulse and it's been an upward journey,” she says.
“I guess I’ve had a lot of breaks, but it's been a lot of fun and I'm happy to be here.”
Funmi is humble when asked to talk about her achievements and she freely admits that she experiences “plenty” of nerves when she first joined up with the senior international team.
Years earlier she had proudly displayed a poster of legendary England international Geva Mentor on her bedroom wall, now the Commonwealth champion is a team-mate.
“I remember my first time with the ‘Futures Team’ and it was my first training camp and I walked in to see all the big players and big names there and I was scared, genuinely terrified in the corner,” she recalls with a laugh.
“It was nerve-wracking, but they were so nice and welcoming – so supportive with no egos and they helped make it such a smooth transition.”
Watching, Learning, Progressing
That said the experience proved to be a serious wake-up call for the player.
“Intensity-wise, in terms of training it was really hard,” Funmi recalls.
“I realised at the start that I need to improve, I needed to do more gym work and all of the stuff behind-the-scenes because that's what these girls do.
“They were going 120% for the whole session and I could hardly only do it for 50% so I needed to step it up.”
Funmi in training with her England team-mates - credit Ben Lumley.
Senior Netball 'Surreal'
Funmi certainly has and after making her international debut against Uganda in early 2022, she went on to become a regular feature in the side for the series against Australia late last year.
“It was basically my first international tour and I didn't really think I was gonna play much,” She tells the WSA.
“I remember the first game and England were doing really well with Geva Mentor on court and I was like, ‘wow, this is so cool’ and then came the question and I went on as goalkeeper!
“I think I must have looked so scared, because I was literally shaken at that point and really nervous.
“I just went ‘you've got this, you can do it’ and went on court.”
Funmi Fadoju with fans at Jamaica Series in January - Credit Naomi Baker
The 20-year-old admits she does not recall much of what happened in the following 10 minutes, but came through the experience well and has gone on to win eight caps ahead of the 2023 World Cup.
“There was so much energy and so much adrenaline that it’s all a bit of a blur, but the girls and I had a lot of fun, so that was probably my first ‘pinch me’ moment when I realised I'm actually a senior netball player!”
'WE CAN MAKE HISTORY!'
Now she is part of a team seeking history and aiming to claim a maiden Netball World Cup title at this year’s event in Cape Town, South Africa.
“We want it so badly!” she tells the WSA.
“The girls are so passionate and I’d don’t think people realise how much work we all put into it.
“Obviously, we're representing our country so it would be nice to get go out there and do our best and make history because we feel like we can, but also there are so many people behind-the-scenes who have helped us get to where we are now.
“We want to make them proud and kind of give back to them as well!”
Funmi Fadoju in new trainingwear in Loughborough - Credit England Netball