Leah Williamson: the England captain with impostor syndrome

Lifelong Arsenal fan Leah Williamson interrupted a family holiday to be a mascot and meet Theo Walcott at a League Cup match in 2006
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Leah Williamson, whether she likes it or not, has become the face of women’s football in England.

Having gone from fan and mascot of her beloved Arsenal to key player for the Gunners and first name on her country’s roster, she feels like an impostor.

Their appointment as England captain for this summer’s European Championship might have turned heads considering the Arsenal defender’s major tournament experience.

Previously, he only had six minutes as a substitute at the 2019 World Cup in France before clinching the top spot for England.

But the lack of detractors speaks volumes about the 25-year-old’s position in the game.

“Things have changed a bit, haven’t they?” says Williamson, who had yet to make his senior international debut when the last European Championship was held in 2017, but has now made 29 appearances for the Lionesses.

“Somebody told me the other day that if I started that opening game, it would be my first start in a major tournament. Now I’m doing it as captain.

“Maybe I haven’t had the opportunities in the past, but I’ve been preparing myself to be ready for this now. It’s the next part of the journey, that’s how I see it.”

Leah Williamson as a mascot before the UEFA Women's Cup Final second leg between Arsenal Women and Umea on 29 April 2007
Leah Williamson, aged ten (6th from left), was Arsenal’s match mascot in the 2007 UEFA Women’s Cup Final.

For 60 minutes in her company strolling the streets of north London, nothing is off limits for a player England coach Sarina Wiegman called a “great leader” when she presented her with the captain’s armband in April.

Talking about where the women’s game is headed is why Williamson is in conversation with Arsenal legend Alex Scott for a BBC documentary focusing on the future of the game in this country and the world.

She tells Scott, “When I was younger, I was the girl who had my role models in football: you, Kel.” [Kelly Smith]yankees [Rachel Yankey]. So now, to be in that position, I feel, as they say, a bit of an impostor because I don’t look anywhere near what you guys were when you played.

“Now someone is looking up to me. They come to see me week after week, so I’m a bit like, ‘hard shoes to fill.'”

Her appointment as captain Steph Houghton’s replacement was warmly received by her England team-mates.

Millie Bright described her as someone who “walks the talk” and a “very mature person” on and off the pitch. Defender Demi Stokes singled out Williamson’s “consistent” personality as a key trait, while Houghton said she was “a driven leader” with “all the attributes an England captain needs to be successful”.

‘We don’t have to graft’

Williamson is only 25 years old, but even in his time in the game, the landscape has changed enormously.

As a youngster, he didn’t know if making a living as a footballer was feasible, but now top players can expect to earn close to £500,000 a year in wages and business deals, and a Euro house will only add to the purchasing power. of the Lionesses.

“My dad always told me that he hoped there would be a salary, so that I could be a footballer as a job,” says Williamson.

“The game has exploded. The opportunities that come with it now, obviously we benefit from them, but it’s never been what I thought it was going to grow – the whole picture has changed.”

“Now we’re all footballers and that’s what we do: we don’t have another job, we don’t have to graft. I don’t know what I expected, but it wasn’t this. It wasn’t that people recognized you on the street.”

Two girls hold up a banner asking for Leah Williamson's shirt
Arsenal fans hold up a banner asking for Leah Williamson’s shirt

Speaking during the break between the end of the domestic season and joining England, Williamson will shortly be heading to Italy for a Gucci fashion show, another opportunity she never imagined. “People will invite you because you have influence in society and I guess I never saw myself in that position,” she says.

But with the increased opportunities and media coverage comes added scrutiny, something English players are only too aware of.

Williamson says talks about how to approach social media during the European Championships – “post, don’t scroll” and “absolutely” avoid comments – have taken place at the Lionesses’ camp.

“In the 2019 World Cup I didn’t play, so I was fine,” he explains. “I was in every [social media platform]I did not care”.

Williamson says that this time she will be much more careful, although she will continue to use it: “I will be posting and I want to participate, because it is a good time in my life and I want to celebrate with my people and share my story.” .”

Players had originally joined social media to help grow the game, she says, “but a lot of the girls have been really affected by it.”

“They had to go back to get out of it. And I don’t know many now that are involved in their social media, because it’s disgusting.”

Many female footballers face a constant stream of messages from people who want to disparage women’s football. “I think female footballers take patronizing personally, because it’s my game, I’m here to protect it,” says Williamson.

“I don’t particularly like watching fencing, but I don’t tweet to say I don’t like it.

“If you’re a football fan, not a rugby fan, you don’t want rugby to not exist. You just think football is better, so you only watch football. But if it’s women, then it means we need to remove it.

“But we’re not going anywhere,” he adds.

Leah Williamson drinks from a bottle with Casey Stoney
Leah Williamson has won the FA Cup twice with Arsenal, as well as a league title and two League Cup crowns.

Williamson negotiates the wide-ranging conversation with all the calm that England head coach Wiegman signaled when he announced his appointment as captain.

But the 25-year-old becomes like a wide-eyed child when she talks about the world record. crowds of over 90,000 which saw the quarterfinals and semifinals of Barcelona’s Women’s Champions League at the Camp Nou.

“I didn’t think I’d see that in my life,” she says. “I’m jealous. It would have been amazing to play.”

When it comes to a European Championship at home, where tickets to all three of England’s group matches and the final at Wembley have sold out, that excitement boils over again.

“I think there’s always been a direct correlation between success in a tournament and what happens to the league after that,” she says. “I’m excited to see where we go and how much he can bring to the game in this country.

“If you had told me as a kid that I would play at Old Trafford, which is sold out for England at the home European Championship, I would have bit your hand off. It gives me the creeps because I think it’s literally unbelievable.”

And with that, Williamson leaves. She left to catch a flight to Italy to start her summer that could end with her becoming the first England soccer captain to lift a major trophy since 1966.

Now those are tough shoes to fill.

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