Fran Williams is one of England Netball’s youngest rising stars. Following a phenomenal domestic season, Fran’s dreams came true when she was selected to be part of Tracey Neville’s World Cup squad.
‘This time last year I had no expectation that my season would have gone the way it has, and things escalated very quickly from getting my first Roses call-up,’ Fran tells Metro.co.uk.
‘I knew in that moment that I wanted to be a full-time athlete, it was the perfect scenario for me – I love training as well as playing.
‘I was given those opportunities unfortunately through other people’s injuries, but I was able to make the most of it and getting my first few England caps really did make it the best possible season I could have hoped for.
‘Stepping on court for the first time in that red dress – it was an unexplainable, indescribable emotion. I felt so emotional, my whole family where there watching. Just to be able to make them proud, and do it at home in the Copper Box, that was an incredibly special moment.’
Stepping into a new team is never easy – particularly when you are surrounded by players you have idolised for years. Fran says that the transition from fan to teammate was weird at first.
‘I’m not going to lie, I was intimidated when I first joined the Roses camp,’ Fran explains.
‘These are women who I watched playing when I was younger. I have photos of some of them from going to watch them playing in Superleague games when I was younger. So now, to be able to call them my teammates is just amazing.
‘But in the squad, I think the blend is just perfect. How the younger and older players mix in the group, there is still so much respect for each other. We learn so much from them and we also bring a certain energy to the group.’
Fran is a full-time athlete, but she is also a student. Deep in to the second year of her economics degree at Birmingham University. When she got the World Cup call-up she was actually right in the middle of her summer exams.
‘I’ve actually got an exam tomorrow – so it is pretty stressful,’ says Fran.
‘I definitely find it hard balancing being a student with professional netball. This year is my first year on the full-time Roses programme, it has been a big step-up in terms of time management.
‘But I have split my uni degree so I’m only doing half the amount of modules this year, and that’s really helped me get my priorities straight.
‘However it is definitely a balancing game. Sometimes certain things have to give. There are certain points in the season when netball has to be the priority, and when I have exams studying has to be the priority.
‘I definitely did think at points that I could just do netball and not go to university, but I know myself.
‘I love playing netball because I like being a netball player – I don’t see myself ever becoming a coach or an umpire or working in netball. So after I have to retire, I would always want a job outside of netball, so I think it’s important to keep educating myself while I’ve got the opportunity to do both.
‘England Netball are very supportive and understanding when young players also want to continue their studies – so it has been the right decision for me to make.’
Netball has progressed at an incredible pace over the last few years – joining the England squad now is worlds apart to what players would have experienced ten, or even five years ago.
Now it is professional, full-time and there are real opportunities to build a career. Something veteran England players didn’t have at the beginning of their careers.
‘I think I will be part of the first generation of players who, right from the start of their playing careers, can earn money and see it as a professional opportunity after university or studying.
‘This is the first time that players have the opportunity to treat netball as a proper career for however many years they want to play.
‘I think it’s really important that I – and all of the other girls on the programme who are my age – help to push netball to be seen in that professional light and to be treated with the respect that it deserves.
‘I want it to be a viable option – for people to choose to sacrifice a lot for netball because it is worth it.
‘I want netball to get the attention and recognition that it deserves. Hopefully with this summer’s home World Cup, everyone who’s not already involved in netball will get the chance to see just how good the international game is at the moment.
‘I think with growing visibility and awareness, people will be able to latch on to the game and give us that bolstering support that will push us into the realms of the professional.
‘The boost in awareness around netball has definitely been spurred on since the Commonwealth Games win last year. There are so many more people playing as a result of that gold medal.
‘If we can inspire other young girls to think that playing sport is cool, and something that they can enjoy – that would be a huge bonus for all of us.
‘I really think that as female athletes, we should be supporting other female athletes. The Lionesses also have their World Cup this summer and it will be great to be able to support each other and show that women’s sport is united as a whole. We are all pushing to give girls opportunity in sport.’
England are in real contention for a medal at the World Cup this summer. And not just any medal. England’s gold last year upset the world order of international netball and for the first time, the result is completely unpredictable.
‘There is so much talent in England at the moment. Our World Cup squad will definitely be aiming for a finals spot – and the dream is, obviously, to win gold,’ says Fran.
‘I think that with the home support, the media attention and all the momentum building towards the competition – everything is moving in the right direction to bring home that gold.’
Fran Williams is a member of the Vitality Roses, Vitality Health and Life Insurance and Investments are proud sponsors of the Roses and Vitality Netball World Cup 2019.
The action kicks off on 12th July and Sky Sports will be live streaming every single Netball World Cup match on Sky Sports’ YouTube channel.
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