We Meet Huddersfield-Born Imogen Allison on her Return from the 2023 Netball World Cup
We caught up with Yorkshire's Imogen Allison to find out what it means to play for her country in a World Cup final
Imogen’s friends introduced her to netball when she was at school. ‘I played the high-five version of netball at primary school and when I got to secondary school all my friends were playing. My best friend went to a club called Yorkshire Terriers, so I decided to give it a go too,’ Imogen recalls. The Yorkshire Terriers became her first netball club and Imogen soon realised how much she enjoyed the game. ‘My PE teachers sent me to county and then regional trials, where I then got into the West Yorkshire Academy and then the Yorkshire Academy. I then went on to England.’
Success and plenty of hard work have taken Imogen all over the world, picking up medals along the way. Her journey to becoming a professional netballer wasn’t without its hiccups, but Imogen made her England Vitality Roses debut back in 2020 when they were on tour in New Zealand. ‘It was more of a development tour as it was in peak Covid time and we had to go into quarantine. I didn’t even know if I would be picked for any squads, and I wasn’t really expecting anything,’ she explains. But Imogen was selected and got her first cap for England. ‘It was an absolute whirlwind and I don’t think a game has ever gone faster in my life – every minute was fast-paced madness, but I absolutely loved it.’
Competing in under 17s Netball Europe competitions, winning golds at under 21s, and then being part of the squad which won bronze in the Netball World Youth Cup in Botswana gave Imogen a taste of international competitions. This was around the same time the full-time programme which enabled players to go professional was being made. ‘I just thought “wow, I’d love to do this”. I was at uni at the time and I remember thinking I needed to do uni and then see. I knew I wanted to play netball [professionally] ever since I got into England,’ she says.
‘I grew up following all sports so I looked up to a lot of different people. I aspired to be a successful sportswoman so looked up to the likes of Serena Williams and Kelly Holmes, people who were thriving [when I was] growing up,’ she says.
As Imogen got more into netball her sporting icons included England netball players like Serena Guthrie, who has spent almost the entirety of her professional netball career playing for the Vitality Roses, debuting at just 18 years old. Before Serena retired, Imogen got the chance to play alongside her and they have since become good friends.
‘It feels a bit like a dream to be honest with you,’ Imogen explains. ‘I’d done the Commonwealth Games the year before and was brought in as a reserve, and I remember going into the World Cup thinking, “right this is going to go really quick, just cherish every day and remember everything because it is going to be a memory in no time”.’
Imogen was playing in games back to back throughout the tournament, and she was determined to soak up every moment. ‘It was such an incredible experience and to be in my debut World Cup, as well as to get a silver medal, I just couldn’t have dreamt it better. It was a pretty amazing experience to make history with that group. There were five of us playing in our first World Cup and it was an experience that I probably can’t describe properly, but I’m very grateful for the opportunity.’
Imogen also recalls how incredible it was to have such a mixture of people in the England squad. ‘There were some hugely experienced players who were also debuting in the World Cup like me; the likes of Eleanor Cardwell and Laura Malcolm who are hugely experienced players and players I'm still learning from, but we were going through that first experience together. We also had players like Layla Guscoth who I’ve played with at club level before. I've always looked up to her and learnt from how she plays the game, as well as leadership with Nat [Metcalf] and Jade Clarke at vice captain – there are not many better players to learn from than them.’
Despite getting to their first ever World Cup final and making history, it wasn’t to be for the Vitality Roses, narrowly missing out on gold to Australia by 16 goals. ‘We had a good tournament and we won all our games in the lead up to the final. We couldn’t have asked for a better lead up. Beating Australia in a major tournament in our group game was a big achievement for us and then being able to edge New Zealand by six in the end at our semi-final was a good score against a top-quality team,’ Imogen explains.
‘Going into that final was almost less nerve-wracking, possibly because the semi-final was so intense. Obviously we’d never been in a World Cup final before and I think we went into that semi-final full of nerves and not knowing what was going to happen. Once we got into the final it was like everyone could take a breath and think “wow, we’re here and whatever happens, happens”. We knew that if we played our best we could take Australia. It just wasn’t our day, but I think we are all very grateful to have had that experience at the World Cup.’
To get to this point Imogen has had to put in plenty of training time, and luckily she has a supportive network which allows her to focus on netball. ‘I didn’t really know if it was even a possibility [to play netball as a career] to be honest. I always knew that I wanted to play sport when I grew up, I guess it was one of those where full-time netball wasn’t a thing back then. I was just playing it because I loved netball and loved sport,’ she says.
Imogen’s job outside netball allows her to focus on performing the best she can. ‘I got a job working at RecoverFit and we sell sports recovery equipment. It’s a pretty cool job to have and I went into it really honest and said “I might get pulled for New Zealand or to go into a World Cup”, but during the Super League season it’s pretty good because I’ve got a lot more time. I was super honest with the owner Ryan Brunt, who is an ex-professional footballer, and he understands that you’ve got to train and you’ve got to play to the best of your ability.’
Looking ahead to the Super League season, Imogen has recently signed with Manchester Thunder netball team and is hoping to play as much as she can whilst continuing her training. ‘I really love the experiences you get from netball and it’s pretty unique that you can play and you can work, or you can do netball full-time. If I get asked to play in New Zealand or Australia that’s an adventure I could take, but I'm currently loving netball in the UK and happy to go with the flow and see where netball takes me,’ she says.
Imogen thinks since England took the gold in the 2018 Commonwealth Games there are more initiatives out there to get people involved. ‘There has been a huge spike in the uptake of netball as people realised it’s a pretty cool sport. People watched England win and from there new initiatives have been set up for people to get back into the sport. They always say there is a huge drop off after school for teenage girls but there are more opportunities for the age bracket of 17 to mid-20s to play netball recreationally now, and have fun playing it rather than just seeing it as a PE game that they’re forced to play. For me, I take any opportunity to get on the court and I can’t complain.’
Favourite thing about Yorkshire?
The Yorkshire pride and culture of the people. I’m proud to be from Yorkshire.
An item you couldn’t live without?
I actually couldn’t live without a ball of some sort. It’s weird but if I'm playing catch or kicking a ball about, then I'm pretty happy.
Blueberries are a snack I have quite often, they’re an easy go-to.
Best advice for someone wanting to get into netball?
Enjoy it. It’s so important that if you’re going to pick up a sport, especially if you’re starting at a beginner level, you want to have fun and that is what will make you fall in love with it.