Arsenal Ladies youngster Leah Williamson wants to make up for last year’s defeat when her side take to the pitch on Sunday in the club’s fifth consecutive Continental Tyres Cup final.
The Gunners are used to success in this competition, winning three finals in a row since its inception in 2011, but losing to Manchester City Women in Wycombe 12 months ago.
Then 17-year-old Williamson was a part of that side that went down 1-0 to an Isobel Christiansen goal in front of 3,600 people, and the midfielder admits her side will be up for the challenge.
“You want to win every final, you don’t go into any game not believing you can’t,” says Williamson.
“But the preparation has been the same as last year, it just wasn’t our final against Manchester City. We’ve got to make sure we perform to the best we can on Sunday.”
Both teams are out to avenge painful defeats, with Notts County losing the Women’s FA Cup at Wembley back in September by the same scoreline Arsenal were beaten in Wycombe last year.
Arsenal are rich in experience and have several players who have witnessed unrivalled success with the club, whilst the Lady Pies have left their own mark on the season and themselves boast five or six international players.
With both clubs out to prove a point and it being the final game of the 2015 season, the teenager believes Sunday will provide a very good test for everyone involved.
“I think it will be a really competitive game, the games in the league have been close and we’ve always had really good games against them. We’ve both suffered final defeats lately and we both want to go out there on Sunday and end the season in the best way possible.”
Whilst the introduction of the FA Women’s Super League and the ever increasing popularity of women’s football in the United Kingdom has seen Arsenal fall away from their dominant years, the likes of Williamson and her teammates are ready to continue the legacy of bringing trophies to North London.
Along with Carla Humphrey, Danielle Carter, Jade Bailey, Chloe Kelly and several others, it is a mark of how well thought of Arsenal were a decade ago that they now have such a rich array of young players coming through ready to continue the success.
“That was the plan!” laughs Williamson.
“It’s hard really because it was such a quick turnaround, the club went from being so successful to winning nothing or very little so it’s been a shock to the system. We’ve rebuilt and we’ve got to be patient but Sunday’s a chance for us to win a trophy together as a team.”
Carla Humphrey in particular has always been a close friend of Williamson, the two have known each other since they were children and the 18-year-old seems happy about the prospect of winning a major trophy together.
“They’re the little pieces of the jigsaw that make it incredible. Me and Carla have been together all the way, we’ve never not been in a final together except the FA Cup last year.”
Family is also clearly an important aspect of Williamson’s upbringing and her fledgling career in the game, she comes from a background of Arsenal fans and her little brother is also a keen footballer. Her and her Grandma are regular visitors to the Emirates stadium and winning a trophy with the Arsenal crest on her shirt is clearly meaningful to the midfielder.
“My family are always trailing behind me and I wouldn’t want to be winning trophies in any other shirt, it’s why most people are at the club. We’re firmly back in the hunt now and for me and my family it just makes me extra proud to be in a cup final for Arsenal.
“My family make a big deal out of me, even if it was an Under 9s tournament at Butlins they’d make sure if there was a chance of a trophy they’d make a big deal out of it!”
Whilst 2015 as a whole has been huge for the FA WSL and women’s football in England, there are few who have endured a more roller coaster year than Williamson.
After a breakthrough 2014, she was put in an unenviable position of needing to re-take a penalty to ensure England U19s qualified for the European Championships, several days after the original match took place as all the players came out to replay the final 18 seconds of the match.
That and some stand out performances for Arsenal saw her take home the PFA Young Women’s Player of the Year award earlier in 2015. She was also voted England’s Youth Player of the Year in 2014 as well as the best player in the 2014 Continental Cup.
“It’s hard to explain because the PFA awards and stuff comes off the back of last year’s success, 2014 was an incredible year and then I had the penalty situation with England earlier this year which you couldn’t have written if you’d tried,” she recalls.
“But I have had two serious injuries this year, I’ve had to deal with that in different ways and learn it’s not all plain sailing and glory. It’s been a different year, when I’ve been on the pitch it’s been good but it’s definitely been a learning curve for me, I’ve had to mature as a player.
“As with many things, you don’t learn until it happens to you, for me now I understand the importance of prehabilitation, the little things you’d usually put to the back of your mind but you realise how quickly it can be taken away from you. Now I’m grateful just to put on my boots and walk out on the pitch, that sounds silly but I realised I had to start appreciating my football and everything that came with it!”
Williamson would much rather get her hands on the trophy on Sunday than be voted player of the tournament again, but either way she’s heading for a big future in the FA WSL and on an international level.
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