Manchester Thunder’s Malawi netball import Joyce Mvula continues to inspire her hosts by reflecting on her career in Malawi and success in UK

* The Manchester Thunder star’s stature serves as a benefit in netball, a sport she discovered at 13

* That awkward age where some girls stayed small and others sprouted up — Mvula was a sprout

By Caroline Nyekanyeka

Joyce Mvula, Malawi’s first netball player export to the United Kingdom continues to inspire her host team, Manchester Thunder — which acknowledges that the 476 goals she has netted this season has contributed towards Thunder this season has helped the UK Netball Superleague.

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She joined Thunder in 2017 and Beat Media says “at 5’9″, Joyce Mvula stands out” saying this is an average height for a woman in Malawi, who hovers just over five feet tall”.

“The Manchester Thunder star’s stature serves as a benefit in netball, a sport she discovered at 13 — that awkward age where some girls stayed small and others sprouted up: Mvula was a sprout,” says the Beat Media report.

She is quoted as saying in her younger days, she “didn’t have any friends and I was bullied. In Malawi people are short, so they were pulling me up on my height.”

From humble beginnings

To professional league

The report continues to say one fateful day a coach told Mvula about netball, but it wasn’t love at first height, saying “at first I was like, ‘Oh!’ because I saw it was physical”.

“At first I thought I couldn’t manage; I was saying no every time when they said I should join” but still something about the sport intrigued her with the bonus of a court just round the corner.

“After being bullied at school I thought, ‘I should start playing netball,’” Mvula is quoted as saying. “I remember it was two minutes’ walk from my house. So I was spending all my time on the netball court, doing shooting parties with my friends.

“It was nice, because in netball, that was my advantage. My height was my advantage. I didn’t know that some people can love me because of that height.”

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She further disclosed that her father didn’t initially think she should play, and netball didn’t really seem like a career possibility for the girl from David Momba Village. Now everyone in the village talks about her.

She said: “I remember when I started with Blue Eagles [Netball Club] I twisted my ankle and went home limping, and he said, ‘I told you not to go back there!’”

But she did, even sneaking out of the house to play. — “Then in my first tournament I was the best shooter and my dad was like, ‘Oh!’. He was surprised. Then he started supporting me, following me everywhere, and then I started getting scholarships. I had opportunities to go to school.

“He was pleased, and he’s never had to buy me supplies or groceries or things for school. Everything I was doing myself because I was receiving a little bit from netball.”

Mvula has netted 476 goals in the Vitality Netball Superleague so far this season — enough to put her in fourth place in the scoring charts.

The report says she wasn’t always a goal shooter. In fact, her netball career began at the other end of the court: “I started playing GK, then they changed me. I don’t know why they changed me.

“I love it [playing goal shooter] because I don’t get tired like most. It’s a cool position.”

Despite her success for club and country, it’s not a career she ever thought possible.

Inspiring upcoming kids in London


“I didn’t expect to sign my first contract [in UK]. I was like, do you think I can manage playing in the UK? I was so scared [but] it was good news for me and my family.”

Mvula has been a stalwart for the VNSL-leading Thunder since signing in 2017, seven years after her selection to the Malawi national team.

The Queens are currently ranked seventh in the world ahead of this summer’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, and Mvula has represented her nation in both the 2014 Commonwealth Games and 2019 Vitality Netball World Cup.

At club level, Thunder have already secured a spot in the Play-Offs and sit three points clear at the top, but Mvula knows the hardest games are still to come.

She said: “Now we’re in the top four, that’s where the fight is. If we can focus until the last day of finals, anything can happen.”

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Six seasons after her debut Mvula is now the one throwing the welcome parties, most recently for teammate Shadine van der Merwe, who signed with Thunder after playing in Australia’s Suncorp Super Netball.

The report says “if you want an example of just how deep the netball family runs just look at Mvula’s living arrangement — with van der Merwe, in a house belonging to former England international Sara Francis-Bayman, her art still adorning the wall behind the sofa.

“Ask Mvula her favourite thing about netball and she doesn’t skip a beat”, saying ‘travelling — making friends. We meet different people, we stay with different people, like I’m staying with Shadine who I didn’t know before but she’s such an angel’.

Before leaving for the UK, Mvula was a police officer and she recently posted on Facebook a picture of her in Malawi Police Service  uniform, saying: “Yes! I am a protector of my people.

“Most people don’t know this about me. These were only dreams of a little girl at some point. I’m glad God granted me this great privilege to serve!”

In that post Mvula encouraged up-and-coming Malawian netballers that they can do anything if they decide to put their minds to, saying “take every opportunity in front of you to serve others”.

She quoted Sir Ken Robinson, who once said: “What you do for yourself, dies with you when you leave this world. What you do for others lives on forever”.

Mvula is the first Malawian netball player to play in the UK Netball Superleague and was later joined by Towera Vinkhumbo. She became the second player from Malawi to play overseas after Mwawi Kumwenda, who plies her trade in Australia.

The 26-year-old goal-shooter is now in her 4th season with Manchester Thunder having joined the team in 2016 before making her debut appearance in 2017.

Mvula has also won a number of awards with the team. In 2018, she won the Players’ Player of the Year awards and the Most Improved Player at the Thunder’s awards ceremony. Last year, she also won the Fan’s Player of the Season award.

Mvula started her netball career at a very tender age and was considered for Malawi Queens at 16 through playing for Blue Eagles.

She told Africa Netball News: “I am so humbled to be playing abroad and it has completely changed my life and also my netball skills. Yes, there challenges but I manage.”

Africa Netball News chronicles that during last edition of the Netball World Cup, she was the 5th top goal scorer with 216 goals from the whole tournament and helped the Queens to 6th position.

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