England netball star Fran Williams believes netball can grow faster that women’s football due to men not playing the sport, writes Tom Dean.
The 21-year-old has undergone a meteoric rise in her field this year going from inter-university competition to a home World Cup bronze medal in a matter of months.
The response from the recent World Cup in Liverpool this summer, has been immensely positive with reports carried out by England Netball showing a huge spike in the sport.
And Williams, who plays for Birmingham University as well as Wasps in the Vitality Netball Super League, believes the lack of comparative male athletes can give netball the edge over other female sports, including football.
“Netball is in a strong position because it doesn’t have a male counterpart and shows female athletes at their absolute best,” said the Reading-born defender.
“The best netball players in this country are women and I think the sport benefits from the fact that we don’t suffer from that constant comparison.
“If you take something like football, the male teams can offer support to the women’s teams and we don’t have that which could be a negative.
“But if women are the only athletes taking part in a specific sport then we should be championing that and that is what netball does.
“In football that comparison shouldn’t exist anyway because we should view male and female footballers as two totally kind of athletes.”
Playing on three different fronts can have its difficulties and Williams is forced to spend a lot of time away from home whether it be playing for Birmingham University, where she studies economics, or training with the national team in Loughborough.
Unlike football however, netball is yet to take the leap to full-professional status and with six million Britons saying they either watched or attended England’s run to the a third-place play-off victory over South Africa in the summer, Williams is hoping that she won’t need to call upon her studies until well into the future.
Honoured and excited for the opportunity to train with these talented athletes on the Roses Programme for another year...can’t wait to get back to it 👊🏼🌹 https://t.co/W2Rsdfp1xO— Francesca Williams (@fwills11) August 6, 2019
“Right now netball is my priority and I’d like to continue being as professional in the sport as much as I can be for as long as I can,” she said.
“One day I want to be a fully professional athlete and that is going to take a lot of my focus and time but I know I need to keep something going on the side.”
Next month England head to Cape Town under new head coach Jess Thirlby for a three-match Test series against South Africa who themselves have just appointed a new head coach in Dorette Badenhorst.
The 2023 World Cup hosts were left without a head coach for several months when Norma Plummer stepped down in July but Badenhorst has already led the Proteas to an Africa Netball Cup title in her first month in charge.
And meeting again so soon after the World Cup presents England with the perfect chance to continue their growth according to Williams.
“We are a new and younger England squad and it is a great opportunity to travel out there and test ourselves against some of the best players in the world,” she said.