Fast-rising England star Funmi Fadoju was still pasting pictures of her netball heroes on her bedroom walls when Tracey Neville’s side scored their historic win over Australia at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
Five years on, the 20-year-old says she still has to pinch herself on a daily basis at being part of the squad alongside the same players who inspired her compelling journey through the ranks.
Fadoju made her senior England debut against Uganda in October and started in Wednesday’s win over last year’s Commonwealth Games finalists Jamaica, in the first match of a three-test series that concludes this weekend in London.
“It’s still a shock to me every day,” Fadoju told the PA news agency. “I look across and think, ‘oh my God, I’m close to Geva Mentor’. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it.
“I used to have posters of these girls in my room. I remember the first time I was given a poster, I was literally screaming. And now I’m playing side by side with them which is an amazing opportunity.”
Fadoju was singled out as one of the faces of England netball’s future in the immediate aftermath of a disappointing campaign in Birmingham, after which stalwarts Eboni Usoro-Brown and Stacey Francis-Bayman both announced their retirement.
In a team still stacked with Gold Coast stars like Helen Housby and Jo Harten, Fadoju was given a torrid introduction to world-class standards in Manchester on Wednesday when she struggled in the opening quarter against Jamaican powerhouse Jhaniele Fowler.
But Fadoju, who plays for London Pulse in Super League, believes the experience will have done her the world of good as she targets a place in the squad for next summer’s World Cup in South Africa.
“It’s amazing to get the experience to play against Jhaniele. Her hold is so strong and it’s nice ahead of the World Cup to think up what we can do to stop her and isolate her,” said Fadoju.
“International level is so different and I’m still trying to get used to it. There’s a lot more communication and talk, and the intensity and work-rate of these girls is so much harder.
“It is exciting and there is also pressure, but I have all these girls to help and support me, so I feel like as long as I carry on learning and look at what they’re all doing, it’s going to be OK.”
Fadoju stepped into a squad still smarting from their semi-final exit at the Commonwealth Games and determined to make some fundamental changes to give themselves the best chance of reaching their first world final since 1975 in Cape Town.
“For the first few weeks it was a bit of a touchy topic but I feel like we’ve put that behind us now, and it’s about what we can improve on and how best to move forward,” said Fadoju.
“The sport has changed so much since Gold Coast. I was flying home from an under-19s tournament at the time so I tried to avoid the score to watch it later, but by the time I got to school everyone was talking about it.
“If you’d told me then that I would be here now I’d never have believed it. When I first tried netball I just loved it and wanted to play it for fun.
“I don’t know what happened. I just went from step to step, and I sometimes do think ‘how did I actually get to where I am today?’ It’s still a big shock but I’m so happy to wear the red dress.”