Getting to know… England Roses netball stars

realbuzz’s Carolynn Whorton sat down with England Roses players Francesca Williams and Gabriella Marshall to find out more about the 2018 Vitality Netball Superleague season, England’s historic Commonwealth Games gold medal and the exciting future of the sport.

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Can you both tell me a bit about yourselves and how you got into netball?

Francesca Williams (FW): “I’m Fran Williams and I play goal defence at Wasps netball. I first started playing netball when I was nine at my primary school and my teacher said I should go to my local club. From there I just kind of worked my way up through the England netball pathway to now playing in the Superleague and for England.”

Gabriella Marshall (GM): “I’m Gabby Marshall, I play center for Mavericks and I actually started playing when I was four years old. My sister played down at Oldham Netball club and the coach there bribed me to join in with a big teddy bear!”

Fran, you and the Wasps recently won the 2018 Vitality Netball Superleague Grand Final for the second year in a row, how are you feeling after the win?

FW: “I’m still buzzing - which is a Wasps cliche! It’s just so exciting and it was such a good final to be a part of too because it was a well contested game between Loughborough and Wasps. It’s been a tough season, full of ups and downs so to finish it on a high - it’s really nice!”

Tamsin Greenway announced that she would step down as Wasps director of netball after the final, was this a surprise to you and the team or was it something you already knew about?

FW: “The team were aware of it and we’d spoken about it earlier in the season. We all wish her the best and she will still be involved. I think she just wants a bit of a break. The team respect that but her heart’s still in Wasps and she’ll still be around. It’s not a big shock!”

How did the season go for Mavericks Gabby?

GM: “For me personally, it was good just to move down here from living my whole life up North.

That’s what I wanted, just a completely new environment and a new challenge and Mavericks definitely delivered with that. I think just learning off new coaches and new players has been hugely beneficial for my game. Unfortunately we did just miss out on the top four this season, which we were all really gutted about, as we believe we had a squad that was capable of challenging the top four. But I think looking ahead, we’ve got quite a young squad and I think we can build together and grow for years to come and I am excited to see what we can put out next season.”

Netball was definitely one of the standout sports at this year's Commonwealth Games, and England’s historic gold medal brought the sport great exposure from both the media and the general public. How monumental was the achievement for the sport?

FW: “Yeah it’s definitely huge. I think because we’ve been involved in netball for a while, we know how good the sport is and it’s great to see it being appreciated as it is now. But I think winning that gold medal at a Commonwealth Games - which is watched by people who enjoy all sports, has given us that push. It’s definitely really exciting and the Commonwealth Games gold medal is a huge factor.”

You’ve both been selected for the England Roses 2018/19 programme, congratulations! How excited are you about the prospect of representing your country at a senior level?

GM: “As a little girl it’s something that you dream of doing and I think for me spending last year in the programme, it was hugely beneficial just to have that consistent training load and to work with the best coaches and the best players in the country. A lot of girls put themselves forward and to be named in that group is a huge honour.”

England host the 2019 Netball World Cup, how exciting will a home tournament be?

GM: “I think particularly after such a successful Commonwealth Games in Australia, to be able to host such a big competition at home is so exciting. Hopefully, seeing the Commonwealth Games will motivate people to come to Liverpool next summer, enjoy the tournament and hopefully the England squad can recreate the same success!”

"After such a successful Commonwealth Games in Australia, to be able to host such a big competition at home is so exciting."
-Gabriella Marshall

Have you noticed a difference in spectator numbers at Vitality Superleague matches after the Commonwealth Games?

FW: “Yeah definitely. Although it made the season incredibly long, it was good that the Commonwealth Games was during the middle of the Superleague season because you could definitely see more fans coming along and there was that buzz around. It allowed us to use that momentum and drive attendance figures up really which I thought was good.”

You both played a big part in England’s bronze medal success at the Under 21s World Cup [May 2017,] how important is tournament experience for you both going forward and building on that in your careers?

FW: “Me and Gabby (Gabby even more than me) have been involved with England since we were young and so we’ve been fortunate enough to have lots of opportunities to travel. We’ve been on numerous tours to Australia and South Africa and lots of other places and I think going on those tours away with England and getting that experience has really helped us to be the players that we are now.”

GM: “I think obviously in netball the pinnacle is the World Cup and the Commonwealth Games. So as Fran said, to get that experience when you’re young of travelling internationally and having those back to back matches each day, when you are trying to put yourself forward for Commonwealth Games or World Cup selection (although I’m not saying that any of the tournaments we’ve been to have replicated that intensity) at least you’ve got a bit of experience of what it feels like.”

Netball is played a lot in schools, what would you say to people who are maybe thinking about getting involved again with the sport?

FW: “Definitely get back involved! At the moment there’s a huge ‘Back to Netball’ programme and Walking Netball for people who want to get involved. I know England Netball are putting on lots of programmes like that across the country. The level of netball at school for younger girls now is getting so much better and I think people are seeing the game at school as slightly different to how it used to be.”

Netball is not currently an Olympic Sport, is that something that you think holds the sport back?

GM: “It’s a big debate at the minute. I personally don’t think it holds it back.”

FW: “I think it would help netball but I don’t think it hinders us. A lot of people said that their highlight of the Commonwealth Games was netball winning the gold medal. So if it can do that at a multi sport competition - I think that’s quite significant. People say one of the reasons why netball is not at the Olympics is due to it not having a male version but I think actually that works in netball’s favour sometimes - the fact that there’s not a male game to compare us to. I think that our sport can stand alone as women at the top of their sport.”

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given in your career so far?

FW: “It does sound a bit cliche but just enjoy it. I think that’s such a big part of why I started playing and why I carry on - because I love playing netball. That’s what I have to make sure I remember when I’m struggling or there’s loads of pressure: 'actually, at the end of the day I’m here because I really enjoy playing netball' and that’s when I do play better, when I just think about making sure I have fun.”

GM: “I was told that there are no shortcuts to any place worth going by my former coach Mike Greenwood. If I was to give someone advice, I’d agree with Fran, it would just be to enjoy yourself - have fun and the rewards will come. I feel like I can trademark that!”

In a match situation, if you make a mistake, how do you pick yourself up and carry on with the game?

FW: “What’s great about netball is that it’s a team sport so we’re constantly talking to each other and giving each other support. If one of us makes an error or a mistake, make sure you get some encouragement off someone else on your team. It’s about realising that you’re all in it together, it’s not just your mistake, you all play a part in everything. That really helps me.”

"What’s great about netball is that it’s a team sport so we’re constantly talking to each other and giving each other support."
-Francesca Williams

GM: “Yeah I agree, I think it’s just trying to find that sense of connection. It’s easy if you make a mistake to become isolated and to really start to dwell on it but I think it’s like Fran said, just try to connect with the people around you. There’s not an awful lot of time in netball to stand around and dwell on anything, you just have to get back to your job.”

How important is the communication and bond that you have with your teammates? And how does your team work on this both on and off the pitch?

FW: “At Wasps, we’re all really good friends on and off the court and we do social things at weekends or after training. With Wasps, our training is on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, so we all stay in a hotel together and we’ll often go back to the hotel and have tea and biscuits in somebody’s room! I think that having those connections and friendships off the court means that when we’re playing together, you really want to do it for your teammates.”

GM: “For Mavericks this year was quite different because it was essentially a whole new team. We spent a lot of time trying to learn what each individual likes because everybody is different and I think that’s one of the great things about playing a team sport, learning the nuances I guess of how teammates like to be spoken to. For example, a shooter might like you to encourage them as they are shooting, some people like complete silence.”

You’re both sponsored by Mizuno, how important are the correct shoes to play netball in?

FW: “So important and I think Mizuno were one of the first footwear brands in netball to really pay attention to what the shoe is doing for you, to help technically on court. Mizuno explain to us each part of the shoe, what it does and the impact this has on you playing netball, rather than just saying ‘This is a good all round netball shoe.’ Whether it’s the sole, the grip, the insole or the mid layer, each part of the shoe is very specific and will offer something different for different types of players. We’ve not really had that in netball before and I think that attention to detail really does make a difference.”

What advice would you give to players who are tempted to wear running shoes to play in?

GM: “To be honest, I’m a big advocate of playing in what's comfortable for you. I’d first say to just go and try a pair of netball shoes, Mizuno have got a great range and as Fran said, there are lots of different types and I’m fairly confident that you will find a type that you enjoy playing in. It took me a little while to find the shoe that was right for me but once I wore the Mirage I just knew that it was the perfect fit. The sock design is just so comfortable and that’s what I really like about it. So yeah I’d definitely say just to try a pair out and you’ll find something that works for you.”

Quickfire questions...

 Sporting hero? 

F.W: “I’m going to say Serena Williams, I think she is just an all round legend for everything she does in sport and for women.”

G.M: “I was going to say Serena Williams as well! I feel like I need to say someone else… Jordan Pickford.”

Do you have any pre-match rituals?  

G.M: “I’m a creature of habit so I quite like routine on a game day. I like to go for a walk, have a coffee, I normally make a big stack of pancakes too.”

F.W: “Mine’s really boring, I just have to warm-up in my warm-up top so even if I’m sweating in a hot sports hall, I can’t just be in my dress to warm-up but that’s it!”

Favourite sport besides netball?

G.M: “To support, it’s definitely football because I go and watch Everton a lot, but I like any sport actually!”

F.W: “I like watching Rugby Union and I like playing tennis. I play a lot of tennis in the summer with my brother.”

Favorite film?

G.M: “I like Billy Elliot. It’s a good old school, Northern film and I like to listen to the soundtrack on the way to a game!”

F.W: “I like Forrest Gump, that’s a good film.”

What superpower would you have?

F.W: “Teleportation. Imagine just being like: ‘I’ve got a spare 30 minutes, where can I go?’"

G.M: “I agree with that, especially with the amount of travelling we do, it would be handy. I’d like to be invisible sometimes but that’s just me, I quite like a bit of alone time!”

What song would you play to pump your team up before a match?

F.W: “We often have a singalong at Wasps before we go out, the song changes each week but it’s always something people know all of the words to.”

G.M: “I remember one year we could hear them [Wasps] singing in the changing rooms, I think it was a bit of High School Musical! So we just turned our music up a bit!”