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Feature

Plenty reasons for optimism ahead of final run in - Women's captain Williams

5 March 2024

Feature

Plenty reasons for optimism ahead of final run in - Women's captain Williams

5 March 2024

Ahead of International Women's Day, we sat down with Harrogate Town Women’s Team Captain Ella Williams, who has a lot of optimism for the rest of the season.

“It’s been a tough two seasons and things are really turning around. We have been unlucky recently and lost a couple of games, but I think the most important thing for us has been keeping that consistency at training and keeping the good energy.”

Ella’s interest in playing football began at eight years old, when a local community club visited her older sister’s school. She began playing with older girls and then with boys her own age, until her dad set up a girls’ team for her age group. She played for them throughout her youth career and for a local women’s team as she got older. After moving to Leeds for university, she joined the team there.

After graduating, Williams began to look for a new team, but was drawn to Town from the get-go: “I had the intention of trialling with a few clubs to be honest, but Harrogate was the first I went to and it just seemed like a nice place, It’s worked out really well and I love the club.”

Growing up, Ella credits her dad as inspiration: “He’s been pushing for the women’s game and advocating in that space. His enthusiasm for the game inspired me a lot.

“I’m a big Portsmouth fan, so I used to love Kanu and all of those players back in the day, so that inspired me as well.”

Despite enjoying the sport, the women’s captain found her shyness prevented her from making the most of opportunities.

“I wasn’t super shy, but the fact that playing football wasn’t the most normal thing made me have a lot less confidence with it, maybe I’d be better than I am now, I don’t know!

"I was always quite scared of throwing myself into things like playing at lunchtime and never really did that because I felt like it was a bit unusual or weird. Looking back, I think that’s ridiculous, but how do you tell a ten-year-old girl that?”

Luckily, Ella had a great group of friends who also played and continue to do so.

One factor contributing to this lack of confidence, Ella says, is finding kit: “You’re playing a game where things as simple as shirts and shorts are labelled as ‘Youth Boys’, when really there’s no difference.

“I think that’s such a deterrent for a lot of girls – entering a sport which doesn’t feel like it’s made for you.”

Examples of this include light-coloured shorts and ill-fitting boots, which contribute to women getting more ACL injuries: “There’s definitely so much more research to come in that space.

“There’s still a lot of people who are bitter about the growth of the women’s game. I think that’s such a shame because football is the best thing, in my opinion, ever! So why shouldn’t more people get to enjoy it?

“It’s a good thing as long as the infrastructure keeps up with the amount of girls who want to play... We’ve just got to create that representation in leadership roles - so coaching, officiating - getting women into those roles for young girls and young boys to look up to is so important and probably the slowest area of growth. That might be slightly limiting and an area to work on.”

“Representation is so important.” Having important figures represented, especially in media, helps to normalise the presence of all characteristics in the game.

“If you see it, you can be it and I think that is really important for young people.

“In terms of the women’s game, I think it’s growing exponentially which is just amazing. Girls in ten years’ time are going to have opportunities that I wouldn’t have even dreamt of as an eight year old.”

Reflecting on last season, Ella highlighted the strategy most important for success: “It was a lot about seeing the season out and sticking together. As a group we really came together… We have got such a good energy within the team, and I think a lot of that starts at training. Making sure it’s fun for people, making them want to come back has been important.”

The 24-year-old says that “Our young players [between 17 to 21] are some of the most integral players in the squad. It’s really important to keep the morale high for them and ensure the longevity of the team… they bring so much value in every way.”

On leading the team, Ella has a clear role model: “I absolutely love Sarina Wiegman. I just think she’s amazing. Her style, her temperament, the energy she gives off, everything about her is just brilliant and she is so respected because of all those things.

"I am in no way saying I am trying to embody Sarina Wiegman because that is a difficult feat, but I think there is a lot about her leadership that I really admire and if I was to take something from someone and try to emulate that, then it would definitely be her.”

Other than “Be Yourself” and “Keep Playing”, Ella can offer some sound advice for those starting out in sport: “Take every opportunity that comes. That’s on the pitch and off the pitch. There’s such a small network of people in the sport sector and football off the pitch that building your network is so, so important. Doors can open wherever.

“That’s one of the best things about football – the people you meet and the connections you make. I would say to any young player, just keep playing and take advantage of all the opportunities because you get so much from it.”

Ella admitted that the song She Wolf has recently become a pre-match anthem for the team. “Certain players of the squad are the instigators of that! She Wolf is the Harrogate Town Women tradition of the season for sure!

“The team is very aware that we’ve got a number of games coming up that are really, really important.

“It’s looking up and they’re such a wonderful group of girls. It’s such a great team feeling and that’s what we will get through the rest of the season with and hopefully get those results locked in that we need.

“Something has really switched in the squad… where this team has come together to really fight through to the end of the season. I think the conviction is there from the players to win those games that we know we need to. Everyone is very focused on the same thing. The optimism is there.”


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