England men’s netball captain on the stigma he faces

Gary-Patrick-Brown Men's netball

Gary Patrick Brown wants to show you his new trainers

Netball is not something that guys usually do in the UK so how did you get involved?
When I was at primary school we had a girl who petitioned to play for the boys football team and they allowed her to do so but in the spirit of equality they said they had to open up netball for boys.

So me and some mates just joined as a laugh and discovered I was good at it.

When I went travelling at 18 I saw some guys playing netball in Canada and so I joined in.

When I moved back to the UK a female colleague played in a mixed league so I just started playing then.

Then we went to a tournament in London and I was spotted by Andy Dawson who used to run the Mixed Netball Association team and he asked me if I’d play and it snowballed from there to doing England trials.

And you’re the England men’s netball captain?
The England team I play for has been rebranded. It used to be under the auspices of the International Netball Association and I was the England’s men’s captain from 2012 onwards but it’s been rebranded as Nets and is now under England Netball.

How popular is men’s netball around the world?
We have a World Championships but because of the limited funding for the mixed and men’s event there are fewer countries that take part so that’s why sometimes you only have four countries and sometimes six or seven – it’ll just depend where it’s played.

The South East Asian Championships have just started and Tanazania are creating a men’s league.

Pakistan and India have men’s leagues and Singapore too, so once those national leagues get more publicity then hopefully they’ll be able to join the bigger countries – so England, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand – at these more global tournaments, but it’s all about funding.

So the weird thing that we’re talking about here is women receiving more publicity than men in sport. How do you feel about that?
Well, it’s hard to feel in any way annoyed. If you look at netball in general, even though women get all of the coverage, they still get very little.

Part of our struggle has been that the International Netball Federation as well as the national federations for netball don’t recognise men’s participation in the sport.

So now that England Netball are starting to accept us in this one form, the Nets format, which is the only one where they get to progress to an advanced level and compete against other countries.

So it’s been hard to get even the netball federations to accept us.

The other thing is that all the national netball federations want netball to be in the Olympics but the Olympics don’t like single sex sports.

The only single sex sport they now have is synchronised swimming – the Olympics want sports that both genders can compete in.

Sky’s the limit
So if you look at the likes of Sky Sports, it is still, whether it’s right or wrong – I’m not commenting on that – but it’s still largely male dominated, but if they did open up to other sectors, like men’s netball, that might actually help grow and move the sport forward.

But while they continue to focus on women’s involvement I’m not sure I can see it at the Olympics.

Gary Patrick Brown Men's netball

There’s also rhythmic gymnastics as well as synchronised swimming, which is an Olympic sport just for women…
Oh yeah, and I guess that’s the perception isn’t it because those are sports that men probably don’t want to do because they’re too feminine and that’s part of the stigma I think netball has.

But it’s really weird in that I’ve been playing now, properly, for 19 years and it’s completely changed.

When I first started maybe not when I was at school but 19, 20ish there was a big stigma attached to it but now you get rugby players and AFL players playing it because it’s so good for hand-eye coordination and balance, elevation, that kind of stuff, and also there’s the real social side to it.

Mixed netball is one of few sports that men and women can compete in at the same time in the same game and it’s on an even playing field.

The weird thing is, in this country it’s still seen as strange for guys to play netball…
There will always be the macho guy who thinks it’s too feminine to play but my best friend, for example, who is the straightest a straight man can be came to watch one of our league finals and was so impressed that he decided to give it a go.

I think the thought of socialising with women might have been a bit of a lure but he’s gone from turning his nose up at it to playing twice a week.

There’s another guy who used to mock it and he was persuaded to try it and he now plays four nights a week. But what’s interesting is that he still tells his friends he’s going to play basketball because he’s worried what they might think of him.

Does the men’s team ever play against women’s teams?
We often train against the Netball Superleague sides like Surrey Storm and in those kind of closed training matches, we’ve played our men’s team.

It has been really close but that’s bearing in mind that they’re trying out combinations and doing different things so it’s not necessarily the Surrey Storm’s starting seven that we play.

The closed training matches are often pre-season and the men’s game is just a bit quicker, a bit more physical, so it’s to get them a bit sharper because you can’t go from training and doing drills to playing a Superleague match.

Tamsin Greenway has come to an indoor Nets training session before to try and help with publicity.

Who’s your pick for the Superleague this season?
The Storm have come so close now in the last two seasons – I just think they really, really want it, especially after an unbeaten season so I’m going to put my money on (Surrey) Storm.

And the World Cup?
Of course I’d love to say England but there’s so much tinkering going on in the team.

To be honest I’d just love them to get a big win against the Kiwis or Aussies in a major championships because they’ve done it mostly in Test series, but I can’t really see past the Aussies to be honest.

When’s the next men’s World Cup?
In 2016, I think. I’m coming to the end of my career, though.

I’m 35 now and live in Amsterdam so it’s a bit harder to train.

When we did our Test series against South Africa, I was working here in the week and flying back to London or Bristol for training and then coming back and it was pretty tough.

I kind of feel like I’ve got one more World Cup in me but obviously training by yourself is difficult as they don’t really have netball here.

There’s a couple of ex-pat teams who play against each other but it’s mainly women.

In The Hague they have a mixed team and so I’m joining their training just to practise my shooting.

Gary-Patrick-Brown Men's Netball

What’s your worst moment in netball?
It was a match against South Africa in October and we were something like 16 points down going in to half time and we were still 12 points down going into the last quarter.

We pulled it back and then I had a parcel shot and it was 35-34 and in Nets six-a-side you can shoot outside of the two goals for two points so I had a penalty I took the shot but missed.

They called another penalty, so I had two at my side and a 6ft 6ins guy marking my shot.

Stupidly I looked at the scoreboard and saw that the time was about to run out and saw that we’d win the match and I just completely air-balled it.

It was just a mind blank and I should have not just looked at the screen and it would have been my first win against South Africa as well, which was just annoying.

And your best moment?
I think that was it as well. We had a stern talking to by the coach and told to play for pride and it really worked – I didn’t know there was such a fight in the team and belief so to come within one point was good.

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Author: Jo Gunston

Roving blogging superfan shares behind the scenes stories of her sports life and the best of those from like-minded souls.

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