As England's 16-woman netball squad embarks on a friendly tour of Australia and New Zealand, the nation's army of fans should be looking forward to a first ever championship at the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games. Instead, they are worrying that excessive media attention to the so-called HABs, the husbands and boyfriends of the players, could undermine team harmony.
'It's sadly typical,' said Brenda Wright of Netball Fans United. 'When Pamela Cookey is named England vice-captain and Co-Operative Netball Superleague Player of the Year on the same day, it barely gets mentioned. But just because she goes out with one of the most successful self-employed plasterers in Basingstoke, he's all over the papers.'
Recent injuries to key squad players meant a late call-up for Team Bath Wing Attack Lindsey Keble. However, many tabloids have preferred to focus on the fact that Keble, who has been granted unpaid leave from her teaching job and clears nearly £600 per week before tax, has an extremely handsome husband. Repeated catcalls from some fans to 'give him one for us' have reportedly left Keble near to a nervous breakdown.
England Centre and captain Karen Atkinson has been sheltered to some degree by refusing to appear in celebrity magazines. However, she is worried that all the attention on HABs may cause a backlash if the team does not do well in Delhi. She is particularly concerned about the youngest squad member, Goal Defence Naomi Siddall.
'Naomi's other half is a nice enough bloke and apparently a very capable surveyor,' said Atkinson, 'but if I read another article about where he buys his aftershave, I think I'm going to throw up my white wine spritzer. Honestly, I'd feel sorry for her if her legs didn't look so much nicer than mine in a pleated skirt, the jammy cow.'