Team Derby - Derbyshire’s sporting stars join the National Badminton League

Donna Kellogg

Donna Kellogg - Credit: Archant

Nigel Powlson reports on Team Derby, the county’s first professional badminton team which is competing in the new national league

Gail Emms

Gail Emms - Credit: Archant

Derbyshire sports fans have a new professional team to get excited about as world-class badminton comes to the county.

The University of Derby has secured one of the franchises in the first-ever UK national league season and has recruited some of the sports leading lights.

Perennial champion Rajiv Ouseph and Olympic silver medallist Gail Emms join the squad for the university’s first venture into professional sport.

The top players were secured in an auction of talent by coach Donna Kellogg, who hails from Derby and who is a former top player herself.

The team hopes to challenge for honours in the 2014/15 National Badminton League (NBL) season and will have a plush new home base at Derby Arena, which is due to open later this year.

Team Derby franchise director Ollie Shearer believes that it’s an exciting opportunity to develop the game in the county and to bring a third professional sport to Derby, after football and cricket.

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He says: ‘It’s going to create a buzz around the sport. It’s not just about the two-hour matches. Around that we will be doing a lot of community-based badminton, here at the university and with other partners.’

Ollie says that having Sky as the broadcasting partner will add to the interest in the league. ‘Badminton is a sport played by all ages and Sky have seen the potential there. You only normally get it on TV every couple of years in the Olympic or Commonwealth Games. This will bring it into people’s living rooms more often and Sky are extremely experienced in that and will maximise the exposure for the team, players and university.

‘The university was invited to be a founding franchise by Badminton England and that’s why we started looking at it. The biggest thing for us was the infrastructure around the county regarding badminton. We have started the England Performance Centres here, taking the best youngsters from the locality and we have a strong partnership with the Derbyshire Badminton Association and a developing one with Badminton England.

‘We had started to develop a new facility here and were conscious of what the city was doing with the arena. All those ingredients came together and we thought it was the next step for us in promoting the university as serious about sport.

‘We then spent a lot of time assessing which players we wanted to go for at the auction in what order and what cap we had put on it. We secured all but one of our targets in the auction and got them early on. On the back of those names secured in the auction we have added very well to the squad. The auction system was fair and equitable across all the franchises, it was not about who had the most money.

‘That means we have a good chance to be very competitive in the league.’

Team Derby will be using Derby Arena for its homes fixtures in March and April 2015.

Ollie says: ‘We will be one of the first major events at the arena. We are a university-led franchise but we are a countywide project. We are hoping the people will support what is the third professional sports team in the county.’

The NBL team is initially a three-year commitment for the university but Ollie says that developing badminton is a long-term ambition. ‘It’s one of our performance sports here at the university, something we are building a reputation for and something we want to maintain our commitment to.’

Donna Kellogg

DERBY’S own Donna Kellogg twice struck gold in the women’s doubles at the European Championships. She also represented her country at the Olympics and world championships and formed a formidable doubles partnership with Team Derby player Gail Emms. Donna was awarded the MBE in 2010 and currently leads the University of Derby Performance Sports Programme and is head coach of the university club.

But until the start of the NBL she had never had to bid for players in an auction.

Donna admits: ‘It was a nerve-racking experience and there was a lot of pressure to make sure we came out with the players we wanted. But we worked hard on going in there with a strategy and it paid off and we came away with some really good players.

‘It was a different experience but one I’m not sure I would want to do again to be honest – at least not for quite some time!

‘It attracted a lot of media attention and was exciting for the players. They have played in leagues all around the world but have never had an opportunity to play in England in front of their own fans. It’s a good thing for the sport and the players, raising the profile of badminton and the individuals concerned.

‘It’s an honour to be able to coach the first professional team in the county. Julia and I are delighted to be working with a group of very talented players. It’s great for Derby that these players will be representing the university.

‘I think the matches will be very competitive and it will be about who plays best on the night. For the benefit of the sport we wanted the league to be quite even and to keep the interest all the way through to finals day.

‘There are a few new rules to make it more exciting as well. We want to sell it to the fans and have packed houses at the games.’

Donna is enjoying her coaching role with the university and developing new talent in the sport she loves.

She says: ‘I get to work with quite a range of abilities and that feeling of giving something back to the sport is great. It’s nice to go on that ride with these players and see them succeed.

‘There’s a lot of preparation which goes into coaching and I get as nervous watching as I did playing.’

Having her old playing partner Gail Emms on board in Team Derby is a big bonus for Donna. She says: ‘She has so much experience at the highest level and it’s great that she will be able to use that to guide some of our younger players through these matches and teach them how to win.

‘I have travelled the world with Gail and we have been room-mates so it’s having a friend on board as well as a player. She’s very competitive and will want to win.’

Donna says that the NBL will be a ‘win-win’ for everyone in the sport. ‘It will be more in the media spotlight,’ she says. ‘Hopefully, this will encourage more youngsters to play the sport across the county and the squad will become role models to aspire to.’

Gail Emms

‘I’m the only mother in the league!’ says Gail Emms, who has stepped out of retirement to join Team Derby.

Gail has been honoured with an MBE and has struck gold in the world championships and silver in the Olympics, but had taken a step back from the sport to start a family. However, she couldn’t resist making a comeback in the NBL.

She says: ‘I have been retired for six years now and I thought if I had a role in the NBL it would be a media one. But since January I have been back on court and I was thinking “you know what – I have still got it”. I was getting it over the net. I can still move. If I have some young lad running around with me at the back then maybe.

‘I thought that if a team wanted me I might be of use and I could help out with some of the younger players – being well aware that I’m old enough to be some of their mothers.

‘There was never a league like this when I was playing so I really wanted to give it a try. Donna is my old doubles partner and was saying “Come on Gail, give it a go – come to Team Derby”. So out of complete loyalty to her I went for Team Derby.’

Gail is also now looking forward to playing in the new arena.

‘I love these places. They can be used for so many different things. It will be very glam, I think.’

Gail is hoping that Team Derby and the NBL will have a knock-on effect on the game.

‘A lot of people play badminton. It’s in the top five sports in terms of participation. But they are mostly club players, hobby players. There is a good mix of people. But what we struggle with is bridging the gap between club and elite levels and this is where I think the NBL will help.’

Gail is looking forward to working with Donna Kellogg again.

She says: ‘Donna is a legend – she really is. I don’t tell stories about myself I tell them about Donna. She was never a show-off on the court, she just got in there and worked so hard it was an honour to be on court with her.

‘If I did a good shot I would be out there going “Did everyone see that?” Whereas Donna would just get on with on it. Badminton is so lucky to have her as she could have played in so many sports as she’s such a good athlete.’

Gail has two small boys to look after but says she owes a lot to badminton.

‘I was so lucky to do something as a job that I Iove. I got to travel the world, represent my country. I’m so grateful I have had that chance.’

So can she turn back the clock and bring glory to Team Derby?

‘I’m back in competitive mode and feeling really confident. We have got a good team. I have played club matches in Holland, Denmark and Germany and it comes down to experience and who can control it on the day.’

Meet the team

Rajiv Ouseph, who set an English badminton record by winning the English National Championship four times in a row and who will compete in the men’s singles event for Team Derby.

Andy Ellis, who formed one half of England’s number one men’s double pair.

European bronze medallist Karin Schnaase.

Kate Robertshaw, who joined Ouseph and Ellis in representing England at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

Martin Campbell, who represented Scotland at the Commonwealth Games.

- Ollie Baczala, Rhys Walker, Chris Coles and Lydia Powell, who have all represented England at youth level, and Helena Lewczynska, who has experience in women’s singles, doubles and mixed doubles, have also joined the squad.

Team Derby will be coached by ex-Olympian and world silver medallist Donna Kellogg and Julia Mann.

The full Team Derby National Badminton League squad

Andy Ellis – men’s doubles/mixed doubles

Chris Coles – men’s doubles/mixed doubles

Gail Emms – ladies doubles/mixed doubles

Helena Lewczynska – ladies singles/ladies doubles/mixed doubles

Karin Schnaase – ladies’ singles

Kate Robertshaw – women’s doubles/mixed doubles

Lydia Powell – U21 ladies singles/ladies doubles/mixed doubles

Martin Campbell – men’s doubles/mixed doubles

Ollie Baczala – under 21 men’s player/men’s doubles/mixed doubles

Rajiv Ouseph – men’s singles

Rhys Walker – men’s singles

Joshua Hong – men’s singles/mixed doubles

Tiara Samuel – ladies’ singles/ mixed doubles

For information on Team Derby and the National Badminton League see