Time for women’s football to take next stride

This is going to be a really important season for women’s football in this country. Last year was massive because of our bronze medal-winning success in the World Cup and the interest that created. Now we have to sustain that.

It’s really exciting being involved in the sport at this time because when I first played in the league with Sunderland about 15 years ago, when I was 14 or 15, it was really only family members who came to watch. There was only about 50 spectators back then, whereas at our last game we had 3,000 people watching. So when you take a step back, we have to be pleased with the progress we’ve made. We’ve made massive strides and if you fast forward another 15 years, it’s frightening to think how far the game could go.

But keeping the interest high is down to us as players. We need to do the right things on and off the pitch. Also, the league needs to make it accessible for fans in terms of when the fixtures are played. I believe that people want to watch good football and I think that the players are improving all the time. The World Cup was fantastic, but I think the players have improved even since last summer because they’ve got that experience now.

So what has been happening since the Women’s Super League went into hibernation for the winter in November? We had three weeks completely off – it had been a long, hard season with the World Cup last summer so we really needed a break. Then we had two weeks to get back into training – just a little bit of running and weights to get our bodies used to it again, so we wouldn’t be going into pre-season having done nothing because then you’re at risk of injury. We’d all been looking forward to our break, but then after a while you start to miss it a bit. So when we came back to training, I think we were all pretty excited to be back playing.

We had a week in Abu Dhabi in pre-season, too, so it was good to get some sun. We also had a game against Melbourne while we were out there which was great. It was good to have everyone together. We’ve got a few new signings so it was good for us all to be away and everyone really enjoyed it. To help the new signings settle in, we got them to do a bit of singing just to embarrass them. I think that worked!

The good thing about Manchester City is that they don’t just look at the individual as a player, they also look at the person. Over the course of a season there are going to be times when you all need to pull together and be positive, and if you have a negative influence then they can have a detrimental effect on everyone. But the new signings have fitted in really well because they’re all very good people as well as good footballer players.

It’s been good this year because normally we only have one month of pre-season, but this time we’ve had three months. We’ve been able to build it up a bit more gradually which has been nice. Everyone’s looking really sharp so I think it’s worked pretty well.
We’re feeling confident about the season. There’s been a lot of movement between the teams and everyone seems to be talking about Arsenal, Chelsea and us being right up there. But there’s also going to be stiff competition from the likes of Notts County and Liverpool, who have signed about nine new players. I never like to predict who’s going to be at the top; I know it’s a cliché but we really do take it one game at a time. Looking round at the girls, though, I wouldn’t want to be a part of any other squad.

On a personal note, I’m feeling good. I’m just back from the SheBelieves Cup in America where we played against France, Germany and America. I felt good in the games so hopefully I haven’t peaked too soon. I’m looking forward to getting more games now.

I’m excited to get going with the Euro 2017 qualifiers this summer, starting with a game against Serbia at Wycombe on June 4. Those games in the States really tested us and if we want to be the best, we need to play the best. We definitely won’t be taking these qualifiers lightly. Yes, we’ll be confident, but I’d never say yes, we’re definitely going to win it or anything like that because so much can happen. So we really do just have to take it one match at a time.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

The Manchester City and England midfielder was talking to Susan Egelstaff.   Susan’s latest articles.

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