Leah: My first club
Like many young girls getting into the game, Leah Williamson’s introduction to football was a bit of a struggle – but she used those tough moments as motivation to make it to the very top.
The Arsenal and England defender’s journey began at Scot Youth, a boys’ team in Bletchley.
She was six years old and was only at the club for a year but it helped shape the rest of her career.
Leah explained: “I started playing football at the end of one of my gymnastics sessions. My coach threw a ball out for a bit of fun and all the girls just ran around after it.
“But I was actually quite good and I really enjoyed it so I went home and told my mum that I wanted to play football.
“Mum got me a trial at Scot Youth, the local team, and the coach said he wasn’t going to give me any sympathy just because I was a girl; if I wasn’t good enough I wouldn’t be able to join the team.
“After one training session I think it was clear that I was good enough. And that was it; I was their star striker for the next year.
“And I met my best friend in the world at Scot Youth so it was a pretty special time for me looking back.”
Getting into the team might have been relatively easy, but some tough times lay ahead.
“I was the only girl in the team and I used to get abuse from the sidelines every week,” recalled Leah.
“My mum made me wear a gumshield to protect my teeth because everybody wanted to kick lumps out of me, but it didn’t put me off. You couldn’t get me out of my football kit. I absolutely loved it.
“That year at Scot Youth made me a stronger person, 100 per cent.
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“I knew some people were getting angry on the sidelines that a girl was the best player on the pitch, but for me what was better than matching their aggression was winning the game.
“And that’s something I’ve remembered throughout my career. If you’re good enough then you just need to let the football do the talking.”
After overcoming a season of challenges, Leah moved on to Rushden & Diamonds’ centre of excellence before her 12-year association with Arsenal began.
She joined the Gunners in 2006, worked her way up through the development teams and made her senior team debut in the 2016-17 season.
The 21-year-old has represented England at every age group from the U15s and made her senior team debut against Russia in June before earning her first start against Kazakhstan in September.
And it all began with that career-defining season at Scot Youth.