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Interview: Former England netball star Tamsin Greenway

Sports Mole chats to former England netball star Tamsin Greenway about raising the sport's profile and her hopes for Surrey Storm this season.

Three months ago Tamsin Greenway announced that her netball playing days were over following a 10-year England career and spells with Superleague outfits Team Bath and Surrey Storm.

However, the 33-year-old will not be too far away from the court as she will coach defending champions Storm this season while also trying to boost netball's profile in a country that is beginning to embrace the female sport.

England's figurehead Tracey Neville will coach the team in a three-match Test series against Australia later this month, before all eight Superleague teams kickstart the 2016 domestic season with back-to-back matches in Sky Sports' 'Super Saturday' in Birmingham on January 30.

Sports Mole recently caught up with Greenway to discuss the upcoming season, netball's hope of inspiring young women and why a certain ex-Liverpool midfielder was her idol growing up.

Tamsin Greenway in action for England on August 11, 2015© Getty Images

It has been almost three months since you announced your retirement. Has it sunk in yet that you'll solely be on the sidelines this season?

"You know what, no. The first game will probably be the hardest part of that. I think I want to play until I'm 70! It's just one of those things. It was a really good time to go out - the way netball is at the moment, the growth that I've seen over the past 10 years. To win the Superleague with Storm and then to get a bronze at the World Cup, it's the right time. I'll always miss the playing side, but I tell you what, it's really nice not having to train!"

I suppose then it must feel a bit strange for you that you won't be involved in the upcoming Test series against Australia?

"Yeah, I suppose it is. I've been so lucky in my career that the only time I ever had out was when I was pregnant, I've had no major injuries so it will be weird sitting on the sidelines but also quite exciting with the new team moving forward. Netball is in such a great place. This year is going to be huge for netball. Attendance is up, participation is up and I've seen that growth over the last 10 years playing for England. Although it's strange watching your team, I'm such a big fan of the sport, it's just so nice to still be involved."

England coach Tracey Neville was recently awarded an MBE - that must say a lot about the quality of netball in this country right now.

"Yeah, of course. I think from playing from the beginning 10 years ago when I got into the England squad to see what's happened now, to have Sky showing so many live games this year and nine this month is absolutely amazing. Super Saturday has never been done before - four massive games back to back - and with Tracey Neville coming in as new England coach, winning a bronze medal, getting an MBE, the publicity and the grassroots figures coming out showing how many people are playing netball, it's just a fantastic time. I've been talking about it for years of how much I love netball and it's just so nice to see it reap the rewards and actually have people seriously talking about the sport."

Prior to Neville's role as England coach, the media would often describe her as the sister of ex-Manchester United players Phil and Gary Neville. Do you think she had a point to prove?

"Yeah I think so. Tracey Neville has earned her right following the success she had with Manchester Thunder and going out to the World Cup. I think everybody is well aware of the difficulties that she had at home (her father Neville Neville passed away in August). She composed herself and got through and her brothers have always been so supportive coming to games - they're such a tight family unit. I'm guessing there will probably be rivalries there but they're very supportive of each other. It's so nice for Tracey now to have her own name. When we first started playing she was 'the Neville brothers' sister' and now it's Tracey Neville MBE - good for her and great for netball."

Tamsin Greenway speaks with Tracey Neville on August 8, 2015© Getty Images

Let's switch to the Superleague now - as Surrey Storm coach, is there pressure on the team to retain the title this season?

"Do I feel pressure? No. I think this year is going to be the most exciting Superleague season that there's ever been. Although I love Storm, I'm also all about seeing how well the sport's doing - the way the league's sitting, how much promotion we're getting, all the live games that are going to be on, I think it's going to be such a great year for netball. Of course whatever team I'm involved in I want to win, but I think this year is going to be 'netball boom' and that excites me more than anything else."

Sky Sports Super Saturday is obviously part of that. What are your thoughts on everyone playing their round one fixtures on the same day?

"It's going to be interesting! I think it will be great for the game and for the spectators. I think we've sold 7,000 tickets now and there's 8,500 capacity [at the Genting Arena]. I'm hoping it will fill up by the end of this month and that's the plan. To have those games in front of that many people, that's probably one of the things I'll miss - that will be such an amazing atmosphere to play in front of that amount of people, and also having all the games back to back for the teams to see how each other play and to see how far it's come. I'm expecting it to be such a great event and obviously having it on Sky Sports gets it out to such a wide audience."

Your team are up last in the schedule. Is it an advantage to play once you know the rest of the results or would you prefer to set the tone, so to speak, by playing first?

"I've always said that the league doesn't start until you get to the semi-finals and that's your make or break of the entire season because several teams have won the league and not gone on to actually take the trophy at the end of it, so the game will be great, but what happens on that day will mean nothing to who's victorious at the end of the season. What will be nice will be to see all the teams at one venue. Normally you don't get to do that so to get to see them, to see what the plans are against them, to see how people are performing, I think that will be absolutely brilliant. I don't think there will be any pressure being last up, I think the whole experience will be fantastic and a great opportunity for the girls to get experience moving into the finals at the end of the season because of the crowd and the venue."

As we know, netball's profile is not as high as some other sports in this country, but so much has happened over the last few years and with Sky getting involved, do you think that netball can grow to the same level?

"Yeah, I don't see why not. Everybody in netball knows about netball and to people outside it's like 'oh, hang on, what's this sport that everybody's playing and talking about?' I think the fact that participation is up and the fact that we can put on a Super Saturday at a venue where we're expected to get 8,500 people shows how many people want to watch the sport, how involved people are and there's no reason why the sport can't keep growing.

"Netball is a great role model for females as well, it's such a social sport - all the time during netball and work at Sky, the amount of people that say they've got involved in a 'back to netball' programme [is a lot], so we're not just talking elite netball. I think what's great now is that people playing at grassroots level - kids and women - can actually see the elite side and that's always been the missing gap. I think if that continues to grow, the sport will continue to grow."

Tamsin Greenway in action for England on August 11, 2015© Getty Images

Adding to that, having the matches on TV, do you think it will inspire the younger generation? For example, a lot of young boys play football because they want to emulate their favourite player. Netball is popular in schools so if young girls watch the teams on the TV, they might want to do the same.

"Definitely. When I was a kid growing up - I always joke about this - my role model was John Barnes! He was at Liverpool at the time and they were the best football team then and that's what happened for me. I couldn't have named you a female role model then. What I love now, at the Storm games and the England games, is the amount of girls who say, 'one day I want to play for your team', 'one day I want to be the Rachel Dunn of your team or the Geva Mentor'. I think it's absolutely incredible that they've actually got the opportunity and the only way that happens is by the exposure it's getting and showing how professional and how far the sport's come. Sky Sports have done a great job of that and so have England Netball."

Sport England have tried to encourage more females to participate in sport with This Girl Can campaign - do you think enough is being done to boost participation among women?

"It's a bit of a catch-22 for me. All the programmes and publicity and promotion it's getting is absolutely fantastic, but the more the sport is taken seriously, the more the participation and attendance will come. I think all these campaigns are great at the grassroots level to get people involved. I'd love to see just as much being done at the elite end as well because that's where the kids see what's going on and get to support a team, get to live and breathe netball, so I think these programmes are fantastic. Could more be done? Of course I'd love more to be done, but that will come with more people watching, more people playing and more exposure, which I think is what 2016 is all about."

Sky Sports' biggest ever season of netball begins with live coverage of all three international matches between England and Australia followed by every round of the Vitality Netball Superleague.

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Neville Neville pictured on August 7, 2014
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