Tracey Neville has revealed she suffered a miscarriage a day after leading England to netball Commonwealth gold.
Neville, who recently announced she is expecting a child with partner Michael Timmins, coached the Roses to their first major title on the Gold Coast in April 2018.
“I had a miscarriage and then I went into a three-hour media fest to celebrate what is something that I’d been waiting something like 30 years for,” 42-year-old Neville recalls in an interview with BBC Breakfast.
“You think to yourself: ‘This can’t be right.’ You see other ladies who have been through traumatic situations take time off work, but I just wasn’t willing to do that.
“This was my family, this was my commitment. I didn’t want to miss this journey that the Roses were on because, in a way – and it’s awful to say – the Roses were my priority.”
In a wide-ranging interview, Neville also discussed the stigma of being an older mum, the support of her high-profile family, a possible return to coaching England and her faith in successor Jess Thirlby.
Neville decides it is time to put family first
Neville announced she would be leaving as head coach just before the World Cup began in Liverpool in July, but it was a decision she had made months earlier.
She had suffered another miscarriage at Christmas and then made the decision – one she describes as “one of most difficult of my life” – two months after January’s international Quad Series.
She explains: “It was when the girls had gone back to their clubs and then reality started to hit.
“I looked at taking a sabbatical but I’d be putting huge pressure on myself to get pregnant, and we all know it doesn’t work like that.
“My family said don’t do it until after the World Cup, but I’m a really honest person and I said I can’t go into the tournament knowing that information.”
Neville told the squad, located around the world, on a group phone call.
Recalling how she felt sick prior to making the call, Neville adds: “The girls were amazing. They knew how important it was to me, they knew how much Michael meant to me and my family.”
Neville, who is the sister of former Manchester United footballers Gary and Phil, led the Roses to bronze in Liverpool, matching their performance of four years earlier in Sydney, her first major tournament in charge.
Facing negativity as an older mum
At 42, Neville’s pregnancy is deemed relatively high risk but, as she looks forward to starting her own family, she is keen to change the conversation around older mums from “negative to positive”, comparing the approach to coaching.
“We know the stats. We know that I’m 42 and the risks are high, but it creates a fearful environment,” said Neville, who has a due date in March 2020.
“If only there was just a bit more positivity around health and wellbeing.
“[With our athletes] we don’t sit down and quote stats at them, and quote how many times we’ve lost. We sit down and look at how we can win.
“[The doctors] go down the route of: ‘Well, we’re preparing you for the fail.’ I don’t prepare my team for the fail.
“Why is pregnancy not targeted like that? Why is it not given that positivity?
“I’d come out of a miscarriage and another consultant was giving me these stats again. No, tell me what can I do.”
The importance of being a Neville
Neville is a member of one of the country’s most famous sporting families. Her twin, Phil, is head coach of the England women’s football team and her older brother, Gary, is a football pundit and successful businessman.
She says the support from her whole family has been invaluable.
“I’m their little sister and that’s how they always treat me. They want me to be happy,” she says.
“I’m very close to my niece and nephews. They know how important this is to me. I think having two brothers has been really positive, and of course my mum as well. They don’t only drive me, they’ve been so supportive.”
Neville could bloom as head coach again – but it is Thirlby’s time now
In July it was announced that former Team Bath head coach Thirlby would be the new England coach and Neville has now stepped aside completely following several weeks of transition.
Neville is “100% behind Jess” as she guides the Roses through the ‘fallow’ years that come before the next cycle of major competition in 2022 and 2023. However, she has also said she wants to return to the coaching set-up in the future.
“Yes, I want the opportunity to be part of the Roses,” Neville said. “What capacity that looks like I don’t know.
“It might not be in the next year as I need this time out but netball has been part of my life since I was five-years-old and it’s something that I want to be part of whether that’s at national or international level.
“I still have aspirations. The Roses head coach was the ultimate dream and I probably got it earlier than I thought.
“I’m hoping this is going to be a really positive break for me to sit back and decide what I want to do next.”
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