Over the course of last season, we ran a series of features in the Official Matchday Programme with some Arsenal-supporting London 2012 Olympic hopefuls. We continue with volleyball star Nathan French...
Nathan French is one of the stars of the Great Britain team. A member of the national side since the age of 18, the native of Chelmsford now has approaching 50 caps for his country - and he’s still only 21.
So Nathan, tell us a bit about your Arsenal support
I’ve supported the team since I was a little kid. For me it was mainly because of my friends and particularly my next-door neighbour, who’s a real fanatic and travels everywhere to see them. It’s funny because my dad is a Man United fan but my mates proved a stronger influence. Me and my dad have had a few arguments in front of the TV over the years. I don’t get to see Arsenal very often other than on the TV to be honest, really because since I was young I’ve been playing sport every weekend. I played a lot of rugby and then volleyball of course.
Who’s your all-time favourite player?
I’d have to say Dennis Bergkamp. He had everything - the skill and the vision and he was also so loyal to the Club and deserved to have that amazing testimonial to open Emirates Stadium, incredible. I loved Wrighty when I was little too, you could say he was my favourite English player.
So tell us, how did you get into volleyball?
I was fortunate enough that when I was 14 the PE teacher at school was an excellent volleyball player and coached the sport, which is really unusual in schools. To start with you mucked about with your friends and it was good because in winter it meant we could play sport inside but then I just got more and more into it.
And you were soon playing for your country…
Yes, I was selected for the England cadets in 2005 and then we won the Olympic bid and I knew there would be a GB team at the Games - and there was no greater incentive to try and get into the junior England side and then the seniors. I was in the GB development squad three years ago and made my full debut when I was 18. At the minute I’m in the starting six and getting a lot of court time so I have to make sure I maintain that. A volleyball squad is 12, but obviously you want to be one of the six on the court as much as you can.
Looking at the GB squad, at 6ft 4in you are one of the smaller players - it’s like the land of the giants!
You’re right, there are always players much taller than me in the team, and the smaller you are, the higher you have to jump. Volleyball is a game played more in the air, so a great deal of time is spent in the gym working on your spring. But volleyball’s an extremely technical sport too and also a lot of work takes place on endurance - two hours of volleyball is very tiring. A lot of my skills are actually on the floor, going for the ball and passing, you have to be big but agile as well.
What position do you play?
In football terms I’m on the left wing, it’s kind of like a midfielder role in that you need to be able to read the game, make the plays and attack - I have to be versatile.
What’s the format at the Olympics and who should we look out for?
There will be two groups of six, if we win the first two games we can qualify into the quarter-finals, win that and you’re challenging for a medal. Brazil and USA are always challenging for the gold. Russia, Serbia, Cuba - they have incredible athleticism - are very good too. But if we can just get out of the group, it’s the old cliché that anything can happen in the knockout stages. In the Olympics Test Event we beat a very good Mexico side and Egypt who were ninth in the world too. We’ve also beaten China, who I think were 12th. So although we are ranked around the 90 mark we are improving and now competing with the best.