ANYONE with a passing interest in grassroots sport know that Penarth is home to a number of successful teams.

In particular, the local netball club, Penarth All Stars, has produced a number of international players and has won national titles - yet they are without a purpose built home.

Most recently, the U16s team won the Welsh league and were confirmed as the best team in their age group in the country.

This is despite a longstanding issue of not being able to call one particular venue home.

At the moment, the teams train at St Cyres School primarily and Cogan, with one other venue used.

It's not an ideal situation, as booking venues to train can cost around £50 an hour - plus all the issues of not being purpose-built for the team.

Playing in a school sports hall could have a huge impact on netball players of this level as the slippery surface is not ideal for the sport.

What the team need is multiple courts outdoors that have a roof and lighting.

One of the main issues is not being able to have two courts side by side, meaning that some players have to sit out as the court will become too crowded.

The situation is even more farcical when considering the huge amount of members the club has - in fact the club has had an explosion of participation since the beginning of the Covid pandemic.

At the moment, there are around 250 players across multiple ages groups at the club.

The court situation has marginally improved since the pandemic, as the team were forced to train in reduced numbers at a Tesco car park for around six months.

The issues facing this highly successful club is indicative of the position netball has in Wales.

Despite a big player base and a number of talented players, netball is still treated as a fringe sport by many.

Head Coach Lisa Birchall said: “You don’t see any football teams having to beg for a venue.

“I don’t know what it is about netball, it’s becoming an elite sport.

“Girls selected for Wales have to pay hundreds of pounds to play for their country – it’s just a ridiculous amount.”

Penarth Times: Funding problems have left Penarth's netball team without a permanent homeFunding problems have left Penarth's netball team without a permanent home (Image: Newsquest)

Ms Birchall insisted that Wales Netball try their best, but the issue again comes round to funding.

However way you look at it, netball is not a popular sport to watch – at least not compared to football, rugby or cricket.

There are no multi-million pound TV deals for netball leagues in the UK.

This lack of coverage at the top level means there is much less money filtered down to grassroots level.

As many of the team are successful in other sports that may get the extra funding, this could pose a problem for participation in netball moving forward as players will have to make a choice.

More will be prompted to focus on only one sport due to the individual fees involved – a situation exacerbated by the current cost of living crisis.

A few reading this article will probably wonder what all the fuss is about, as without a huge amount of funding Ms Birchall and her coaching team are still taking Penarth All Stars to the very top of the sport in Wales.

Yes, there has been a great deal of success for the club, but it is not sustainable.

Although bullish about carrying on with the club regardless of any financial situation, Ms Birchall recognised that the current levels of participation cannot be maintained in the long term if things stay as they are.

“It’s not sustainable having three venues on the go, the costs alone are unsustainable,” said Ms Birchall.

“We pay £425 in hall fees per week – in total we pay around £1,683 a month.

“The travel expenses are unsustainable, I currently travel 105.2 miles per month getting to netball.

“In today’s climate and living costs, can we keep going and getting bigger? No!”

Consider how other netball teams in Wales must be faring if one of the top teams in the country are facing such a struggle.

Another explanation for the struggles netball faces could be the fact it is considered a gendered sport.

Other success stories in women’s sport, such as the Wales rugby union team and the England football team, are built on the infrastructure of the men’s game.

Netball does not have that luxury.

Ms Birchall said: “It’s like a constant hurdle, you get past one and another is immediately put up in front of you.

“We’re constantly just treading water.

“I'm not asking for the world if I'm honest, we are quite happy to train outside.

“Because it's a sport that affects the knees and the ankles so much, it's the flooring, the grip - give me an outdoor court and as long as it's got a roof and lighting we’ll train outside all through winter.”

If there is future funding in the club beyond simply getting the basics of club-owned facilities, the coaching team hope to set up several more teams, such as a team for those with limited mobility and a boy’s team.

Regardless of the hardships that the club is facing, it is clear that the coaching staff are immensely proud of the players for how they have reacted.

Ms Birchall said: “We have 22 of girls that were selected to play for schools and counties across three different age groups.

“We had five selected for Cardiff and Vale Regional Academy.

“We had four selected for under 17 and under 19 Wales and six of our players played for the Super League Celtic Dragons.

“So for a little Vale team I just can't even tell you how immensely proud I am.

“They are fantastic. The girls that won Nationals this year - we've been chasing that title for a very long time.

“I have to say they are the most talented team I've ever had the pleasure of working with.”

With such a history of success in difficult circumstances, one can only hope that the team are allowed to go from strength to strength - or at the very least secure a permanent home.