This is my first blog, but please don’t let that put you off, I’ll try and make it as interesting as possible!
Okay, so you’re still reading even after that opening line, this is good. I was asked to write about what it’s like to be a part of Liverpool Ladies Football Club as we start the 2014 season as reigning champions, so here we are!
There have been a lot of questions thrown at us as we’ve started our preseason this year, but the one that seemed to be continuously reoccurring was along the lines of “do you feel under pressure to win the league again after last season?” To be honest, that’s a difficult question to answer simply.
This season is a lot different to the last for various reasons. Firstly, the opposition will be a lot stronger with the signings they’ve all made, as every team has strengthened their squad. But that said, so have we! So every game will be a tough game. And with the threat of relegation thrown into the mix ,every team will be battling to stay in the top division.
But enough about the opposition. This year the whole team is training full time, which is crazy considering what womens football used to be like. It’s pretty cool being able to answer “what do you do for a living?” with “I’m a professional footballer.” It took a bit of getting used to, but it is nice to now have free evenings with us training during the day! I know that playing football for a living is a dream for a lot of people, and I feel very lucky to be where I am now, but it doesn’t mean that it’s easy. Pre-season this year has felt extremely LONG. All of us agree. It’s been the toughest pre-season we’ve had, but also the most enjoyable. You might be wondering what it’s like to be a professional footballer for Liverpool Ladies (if you’re not you might want to skip the next paragraph)…
Well, we train and play at the Halton Stadium in Widnes. A typical training day involves us coming in around dinner time, a prehab session (injury prevention), training, ice baths, then home. Living in Liverpool with my teammates is great too. Not only because it’s less distance to travel, but because I can socialise with everyone. I’m quite a shy person until you get to know me, so living in the football house has let me become more myself with everyone. With the exception of a couple of players, we all pretty much live close to each other, so we spend a lot of time together (…sometimes it can be too much!), which has helped us become such a close group or players.
Apologies for going off on a tangent!
The support we have around us this season is the best I’ve ever experienced. From the staff right through to the facilities, everything is in place to help us to maximise our performance. So knowing that everything is there for you brings its own element of pressure because there are no excuses.
Regardless of the support we have as a team, nothing could have stopped the injuries we’ve suffered already, losing 2 players to ACL injuries, and another to a broken collarbone! Last season we were fortunate not to have any serious injuries, but our luck seems to have run out this year. Having suffered an ACL injury myself, it was horrible to see two of my teammates go through it, both of which for a second time. The squad were quite shell shocked at the fact we’d lost 2 players in the space of a few weeks, and it was potentially making our job at defending the title harder… So does this mean more pressure on the rest of the players? I actually don’t think so. If anything, it brought us closer. We supported each other, staff and players, and the players who were brought up from the development team, to help fill the gaps, have been brilliant. So no, it hasn’t put more pressure on us, we’re too focused on not letting these setbacks stop us getting to where we want to be, and that’s winning each game.
I couldn’t write this blog entry without mentioning the Hillsborough memorial ceremony that we attended at Anfield. After such a tragic event, seeing how both red and blue sides of Liverpool stand by each other is something that makes me teary! You may be wondering how this relates to pressure, but it does so bear with me.
On the day, we were the first of the men and academy teams to walk out of the tunnel, and the reception was unreal. I expected maybe a few claps from people as we made our way to the Kop, but that’s not what we got at all. Every single person stood and applauded us the whole way around. My hairs stood on end, and I had a tear in my eye. To be applauded like that by the same people that were mourning the loss of the 96 is something that I’ll never forget. To me, it just shows how the whole club are supporting us and it’s a day that will stay with me forever. Being able to attend that ceremony was an honour in itself, but to be able to represent the club is very special too. If anyone is reading this that attended the Anfield ceremony on the 25th anniversary I just want to say thank you. You have no idea how much that inspired us. In my opinion it takes the pressure off us, because fans of Liverpool FC aren’t the type to turn on you the moment results don’t start going your way. The fact we won the league last year, and the cheers of “go ‘ed girls!” from the LFC fans that came down from the Anfield stands doesn’t make me feel like the team NEEDS to win again this year (although we aim to!). Instead I feel like they’ve got our back, whatever happens.
The week after the Hillsborough memorial ceremony was the build up to our first competitive game against Sunderland in the FA Cup. After such a long pre season everyone was looking forward to getting a game under our belt. Obviously there was an element of nerves around us, and we knew that teams would want to knock us off our perch after winning the league last year. There had been such a big build up over the months, we’d had our injury setbacks, not every friendly had gone to plan, and some training sessions hadn’t gone well… but we’d worked our backsides off to give ourselves the best opportunity to do well in the game and make it through to the next round (all those ice baths we tortured ourselves with had paid off!). We knew that if we played our game then we’d make it through.
…but yet again injury struck! We lost our midfield maestro in the warm up. You could sense an element of “please no, not another injury!” The game started off a bit frantic, but once we settled down and tried to play our football we always looked likely to score. We won the game 2.0, woohoo!
After the game there was a sense of relief, first games are never easy no matter how much you prepare. Nothing compares to a competitive game. Then thoughts turned to the first game of the season, at home to Manchester City. Live on BT Sport. Reigning champions versus the highly rated new comers.
The few days between the Sunderland and City game were filled with recovery, game analysis, training and match preparation. Manchester City were in a similar position to us last year, having invested a lot in the club and bringing in some world class players, so the game was always going to be a tough battle. The fact that they’d made such a dramatic transformation took some of the limelight (and pressure) off us and transferred it onto them. This time they were the team that wanted to repeat our feat last year and win the league. Maybe they had more pressure to win the league first time round and repeat our success last year! There was no need to motivate any of us for this game, we were all buzzing!
Our team is full of world class players with tonnes of experience, and everyone helps each other to improve. As cheesy as it sounds “Together Everyone Achieves More” is so true. Liverpool LFC is such a strong team, pushing each other and always demanding more. In my opinion this changes the pressure to win into confidence in ourselves and in each other. We prepared for the game as we always do, but we still had time to enjoy ourselves and relax. I can only speak for my house, but it felt pretty relaxed on the day of the game. No endless visiting the toilet for a nervous wee! At the stadium people still seemed relaxed, all of us joking with each other and smiling… What’s the point in playing football if you don’t enjoy it?! As soon as we reach the time to get ready for the warm up the mood shifts and everyone goes into game mode. Switched on and ready to go. As much as we like to joke around, we can become very serious when we need to (we are professionals after all!). I won’t go into great detail about the game, the highlights will be online somewhere if you want to watch it! We won 1.0, and after all the build up it was such a relief to get the first league game out of the way! Even though some players weren’t entirely happy with their performance, we knew that getting the result was the most important part. 3 POINTS!
The fixtures at the start of this season are a bit crazy to say the least, with the games coming so close together! Sunderland away on the Sunday, Man City at home on Thursday, and Chelsea away on Sunday… So to fit in recovery, analysis, training and prep was intense. Not to mention the squad struggling with injuries! Being up against it has really helped us though I think, I feel it has anyway. It’s brought us closer as a team and we’ve not let the setbacks slows us down. I suppose it distracts us from the expectations to win the league that some people seem to have. We’re focusing on a game at a time and not getting carried away with the results that we had last year. There’s a strong sense of “throw what you want at us, we’ll still keep on coming!” from all the players and staff. And we’re determined. Very determined!
Next up, its Chelsea away. We travelled down the night before, which is definitely a massive help when you’re preparing for a tough game. Last season Chelsea beat us the first time we played them away, but both teams have brought in some brilliant players this season so the game would be even more competitive than last year! And because of how the results went last year (we lost 2.1, then won 4.0, and won again 4.3 later on that season) there seemed to be an air of tension between both teams, and it definitely turned into a feisty game too! The game ended 0.0 with a few ‘strong’ challenges being thrown around, bookings, and a sending off. Another battling game, as we expected every game to be. With the way the past week had been, and the injuries we’d suffered (we had some more as well as the 2 ACL’s and broken collarbone…) a point was probably a good result. Even if we all craved the win and 3 points! We have a week to prepare before Everton in the cup on Saturday and regardless of past results or our current form, a Merseyside derby is always unpredictable!
So do we feel under pressure?
Personally, I’m putting pressure on myself to do well (I always do). Whether that’s a good or a bad thing I don’t know, but I can’t help it. My teammates are world class players who have played at the highest level and I want to be the best I can be when I play with them. But do I feel under pressure to win the league again? No. I don’t feel under pressure to win the league, but I want it SO bad. After the up and down season I had last year, personally, to win the league again would mean so much to me.
Our manager has always insisted that he’s not putting pressure on us, and I believe him. But what about the fans? Are they expecting us to win the league again? I can’t answer that because I honestly don’t know. Maybe they are, maybe they just want us to do as well as we can possibly do. But regardless of whether they are or not, the support they’ve given us so far has been second to none. We’ve enjoyed them following us all over so far this season, up to Sunderland and all the way down to London, and were so grateful for that. When games get tough and things aren’t going our way, it will be the support we have around us that will help pull us through. The fact that other teams have strengthened has took pressure off us in a way, because there is more expectation on them. But that doesn’t take anything away from the fact that we won last year, and everyone else will be wanting to prove a point against us.
Under pressure? No. Determined to win it again? Most definitely.
Full time professional football player for Liverpool LFC in the FAWSL. Represented her country England at U-19 and U-23 level.