England netballer Stacey Francis on being in lockdown 9,000 miles from fiancee

Stacey Francis playing for West Coast Fever in the Super Netball league in Australia
Stacey Francis (in green) is the daughter of former Birmingham City and Stockport men's footballer Kevin Francis

Australia-based England defender Stacey Francis says she did not "realise how far away" from home she was until the coronavirus pandemic hit.

West Coast Fever player Francis, 32, remains in Perth, with the country in lockdown and state borders closed.

The "slow" decision to postpone start of the Super Netball season was part of the reason Francis was forced to stay.

"There was a mindset for quite a long time that all sport would be going ahead,” Francis told BBC Sport.

"It was partly optimistic and partly misguided, and decisions were made relatively slowly.

"The Australian Football League season started here and they played one round, even though the whole world had started to be put on lockdown.

"I think because the AFL started, it set a precedent that there was the potential for Super Netball to be able to start in May as well."

Because of the delayed decision, Francis was effectively left unable to fly the 9,000 miles home to her fiancee, Sara Bayman, the former England netballer and current Loughborough Lightning head coach.

"I felt panicked," Francis said.

"I'm very independent. I've always lived quite far away from my family; my parents emigrated to Canada when I was 17, and I've been living and working in Australia, and my fiancee is in England.

"But until a pandemic or something that starts to affect the whole world goes on, you don't realise how far away you really are."

Francis, who has played professionally in Australia for several years, knew that if she returned home, her visa would be likely to run out and that she may not be able to apply for a new one, which could have led to the cancellation of her contract.

She said: "The league has never been in a position like this before. I couldn't guarantee that I could get home safely and not get stuck midway through.

"They couldn’t guarantee I could get back into the country, so essentially going home would be in breach of my contract. There were no certainties and it was difficult to make a decision.”

The England Rose - along with every player in a league largely funded by commercial means and TV sponsorship - agreed to take a three-week, 70% pay cut, a timespan she expects will "go on for longer".

Francis and other overseas players will not be eligible for government support because they are not Australian citizens.

The netballer, who returned to the international game in November 2019 after several years away, is set to marry Bayman, 35, in October.

Although she says she will be able to stretch her reduced budget for the celebration, the list of wedding invites "may get culled" or "food may be cut".

Francis says she is "no stranger to existing in a relationship that involves a screen", but that doing it during a global pandemic is "an additional concern".

But having her sister Keisha, who moved to Perth from Sydney after losing her job as a result of coronavirus, has alleviated Francis’ worries of feeling isolated from her loved ones.

"It's amazing to have my sister here, and Sara has been brilliant. She's been the strong one," Francis added.

“I’m normally the more sensible, level-headed one.

“But the first week was all stress and trying to make decisions - and a slight possibility of me coming home. That was hanging heavily with anxiety.

“I now have an isolation routine and we [her sister and her housemate] have a daily routine of quarantine challenges. I'm very competitive, so I’m quite into that."

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