The elite netball player, Fran Williams, explains the sport’s growing appeal ahead of the Nations Cup coming to Brum next month
So significant was England’s gold medal winning victory in the Commonwealth Games in 2018, it’s one of those sporting moments that begs the question: ‘Where were you?’ Since that stunning triumph, the popularity of netball has grown exponentially with approximately 320,000 adults now playing the sport fortnightly in the UK while other team sport participation has plateaued.
We’ve a while to wait for the home Commonwealth Games in 2022, but you can get your netball fix right here in Brum next month when the brand new international tournament, Vitality Netball Nations Cup, rolls into town. A round robin format between England, Jamaica, South Africa and current World Champions New Zealand, it promises to be explosive. Ahead of the tournament we caught up with England defender Fran Williams to find out what makes the sport so special.
Fran has built up quite a CV. The local Wasps defender plays in the Vitality Netball Superleague in addition to her national commitments. She captained the England under-21 team and made her senior Vitality Roses (England’s elite team) debut against Uganda last year, making an immediate impression on the national side. She was selected for the England squad for the Vitality Netball International Series as part of the Quad Series in January this year and will feature in the Nations Cup next month.
Playing the sport since she was nine-years-old, Fran knew pretty much straight away that netball was the sport for her. She says: “I’ve always loved competing and it requires so many skills – fitness, strength, the fast-paced change of direction.” By aged 14/15 years, Fran realised the sport could be more than a hobby and she was progressing quickly through county level followed by regional academy before joining the England pathway.
A balance was required between netball and schoolwork which was a bit tough. Doing homework in the car featured at times. Travelling long distances to train and play was the hardest part of the process, although you could say it made more time for homework on the move. Silver linings and all that!
Fran says: “Funding kicks in at international level, so parents support along the way is key.” Now training ‘full-time’ although she is studying economics part-time at University of Birmingham too, Fran can really focus. She explains: “I’m a full-time athlete now which means proper rest and recovery. Some girls have to pick up work, but I’m lucky.”
BEST AND WORST
Some of the squad have known one another since their teenage years progressing through the same pathway programmes as well as touring together and it makes for a bonding experience. Of the team spirit Fran says: “We’re away on long tours together. You see the best and worst of your team-mates. You experience the same pain and successes, high and lows, so you do get close.”
Head Coach of the Vitality Roses, Jess Thirlby says of the Nations Cup: “The competition is higher than ever and teams are out to prove themselves following the incredible exposure of the World Cup. Not only will we be gaining a valuable opportunity to face some of the world’s best teams, we will also be competing in a completely brand new international competition.”
Fran rates Birmingham’s sporting facilities and regularly plays at Arena Birmingham in Superleague as well as in international competitions and says a lively home crowd has the ability to lift a team hugely. “A big home crowd makes a massive difference particularly in close matches.”
Let’s get behind the Roses!