To most people, the Baggy Green is the headgear proudly worn by the Australian cricket team. For others, the phrase has an altogether different connotation.
Some of us had to do our games lessons at school wearing skirts - short skimpy skirts, designed to reveal the podgy thighs characteristic of the adolescent British female - and under the skirts would be special knickers. Worn over the normal knickers, you understand, to provide an extra layer of modesty. They were more than the big pants of Bridget Jones fame: they were huge, baggy pants, and depending on your school uniform they might be navy, grey, or… dark green. One of us can never hear that Australian expression without a quiet smirk.
But worse, far worse than having to wear this combination of skimp and bag on a cold winter’s day while the teacher was warmly wrapped in her tracksuit, was having to play netball.
Research (well, one click on Wikipedia actually) informs us that netball, having been originally invented as a form of basketball specifically for women, is now “the pre-eminent women's team sport in Australia and New Zealand and is popular in Jamaica, Barbados, South Africa, Sri Lanka, and the United Kingdom”. Your correspondents find this hard to believe.
Based on personal experience, we maintain that netball is a stultifying distortion of everything that a ball game ought to be.
Think about this: when playing netball, you are not allowed to run with the ball. Or walk. Or move more than one step. Imagine a sport where, as soon as you get possession of the ball, you have to STAND STILL. That’s fun, isn’t it? Exciting? Dynamic? Not.
But you can’t stand still with the ball for more than three seconds. Got that? Can’t bounce the ball to keep possession, either.
You have to pass to somebody else. Aha. This is where we begin to see the hidden agenda of this ghastly game. Girlies must be made to share nicely. Girlies are not allowed to keep the ball and make a spectacular run down the court culminating in a flamboyant slam-dunk like the nasty boys do.
Only two players per team are allowed to shoot. So that’s great for the rest, eh? The star girlies who are the pets of the games teacher, they get to shoot, and everyone else has to be their little slaves and pass the ball to them so they can look good. And each player is only allowed in certain areas of the court. Girlies must remember their place and stay in it.And, naturally, physical contact of any kind is strictly forbidden. Because girlies can’t push and shove, now can they? Girlies might hurt their delicate selves. And if you should chance to hamper another player just a tiny bit, or even come within touching distance of her, she gets a free pass and you have to stand beside her and do nothing. That’ll teach you: nice girlies don’t play rough.
Zeph, who in those days was a bespectacled child who would rather have been reading a book anyway, recalls being bemused, in her baggy green knickers, by a so-called sport in which so many sporting skills were not allowed. “I remember the constant whistle-blowing from that games mistress with the strange frizzy hair, halting the game every time it threatened to get going - some infringement of the rules could be guaranteed to occur every two minutes or so. And the tall, rather boyish girl in the class who got on so well with the games mistress would somehow always come out ahead and get to score lots of goals.”
Mimitig, who was a teenage athletic star (her knickers were navy) remembers: “It’s cold, it’s wet, it’s winter. Games. That’s fine, obviously – we’ll run out onto to the field and play hockey. No, no – it’s time for netball. Oh the horror. First off it’s the picking of the team. Seven girls to each side, and I have to wait until the end to hear my name called. Me: Captain of the Under-15s (hockey), playing tennis for the Under-16s and swimming for my county – but I can’t get picked in a playground for netball. No wonder I hated it.” For Mimi, too, the sport is forever associated with the boys from the nearby school who would climb the fence to watch the girls playing netball. “We got cold, even colder on that little playground. It was desperate as the boys watched our knickers and we watched the favoured girls score goals.”
And yet, this restricted, artificial, frustrating game is ‘the pre-eminent women's team sport in Australia and New Zealand’. What’s wrong with Southern Hemisphere females? Why don’t they follow the fine traditions of their countries and play cricket or tennis? And it’s ‘popular in Jamaica, Barbados, South Africa, Sri Lanka, and the United Kingdom’. Well, it certainly isn’t popular with us two inhabitants of the UK, or anyone we know. And surely, surely if you live in Barbados there are better things to do than catch a ball and stand still for not more than three seconds before you pass it on, making sure that you’re in the right section of the court and not within touching distance of any other player? Wouldn’t a nice swim be preferable? Or a bit of beach volleyball?So let’s hear from these many women who apparently think netball is a great game. Are you out there? Are you readers of Pseuds? Come on, convince us. Tell us what’s so great about it. Persuade us that the time spent freezing in those baggy knickers wasn’t totally wasted, for to be sure we will never have that time again.