History of Gilbert Netball

History of Gilbert Netball

16 Oct 19

160 years in sport . . .

The roots of Gilbert Netball can be traced back to 1855, when H J Gray, a well-known sportsman, first established Grays in Cambridge, England.
Grays of Cambridge International, owner of the Gilbert brand, celebrated its 160th anniversary in 2015 but its story has been intertwined with Gilbert since Grays first established strong connections with Rugby School in 1868, when Joseph Gray was appointed as the first of 3 generations of Grays to act as rackets professionals there. Only 30 years before Joseph’s brother, Harry Gray, was setting up the Grays business in Cambridge, William Gilbert (1799-1877) was the boot and shoe maker to Rugby School. He operated from a small shop in the town at 19, High Street which was later operated by Grays as a sports shop. By 1823, Gilbert was already supplying balls to Rugby School when William Webb Ellis first picked up and ran with the ball and the game of Rugby Football began. The fame and reputation of Gilbert’s Rugby balls had grown such that they won medals at the Great Exhibitions in London in 1851 and also in 1862. When William Gilbert died in 1877, his nephew James succeeded him and Gilbert’s business expanded. Gilbert started exporting balls to Australia and their export business soon grew rapidly.
James Gilbert was meticulous in everything he did, checking and stamping every Gilbert match ball to maintain the company’s reputation for excellence. With the advent of new materials and brands challenging Gilbert’s traditional leather business, the brand experienced difficult times and the Gilbert family decided to sell the business in 1978. Gilbert passed through the control of 3 different owners through the 80’s and 90’s. During this time, the brand embraced and perfected the use of new synthetic technologies. Financial difficulties in 2002 led to the acquisition of the brand by Grays but Gilbert soon recovered to supply the balls for the 2003 Rugby World Cup and for every world cup and netball world championships since. 

Gilbert decided to expand into netball

Just prior to the new millennium, and was soon supplying both kit and balls to a host clubs and nations, such as England and South Africa. Under Grays’ stewardship, Gilbert adapted its unique ball technology and design into the original Synergie netball and in 2005 it was chosen by INF as its official ball for all World Competitions; a position it still holds today. Soon, the majority of the world’s leading nations were choosing the Gilbert Netball and today Gilbert is proud to supply to England, Jamaica, Barbados, Canada, Argentina and Trinidad and Tobago to name a few. Over the same period, Gilbert Teamwear became a major force in the game and has been used by a number of major teams, including most recently: INF umpires; Jamaica, Scotland and a host of other nations, as well as, UK Super league champions 2014 Manchester Thunder. Gilbert footwear represents the latest addition to the Gilbert Netball line-up and is now established as a growing force in the game and used by a host of international players. As a result, Gilbert can now claim to be a genuine one-stop shop for netball.

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