Abbi Grant talks to Jessy Parker Humphreys about life at Birmingham City and how the team are keeping connected during the lockdown, and playing for Scotland.
It’s easy to forget that being a footballer is not only about playing at the weekend. It also involves being part of a “team” – not in the corporate managementsense of a group of people who once did some trust exercises together, but in the real sense of spending day in day out with a group of people who have a unified aim.
For Birmingham City forward Abbi Grant missing the rest of her teammates has been one of the hardest parts of the lockdown.
“It’s just weird not seeing everyone every day,” Grant told the The Offside Rule.
“We try to have webinars and chat to each other. We’re still doing like analysis or foam rolling sessions or strength sessions on the webinars with each other.”
It’s not all been hard work though.
“We have done like a cookalong of healthy snacks so that’s quite fun.”
Birmingham City were in a state of flux even before the lockdown hit. Second from bottom of the Women’s Super League, they parted company with manager Marta Tejedor on 3rd March, just one point above Liverpool with a game in hand over them. As players returned from their international breaks, the momentum at the club was shifting.
“I came back from Scotland, [and] everybody was ready to go.”
With Charlie Baxter now in the role of interim head coach, focus was turning to making sure the club stayed in the top division of women’s football.
“We had a good two or three training sessions ready for, I think we were going to play Brighton that weekend, but everything stopped.”
Despite the precarious situation Birmingham have found themselves in, Grant is intent that she hopes to be able to complete the season.
“I would prefer to finish the season, to be honest, [to prove] that we should be in the league.
“I feel like it could just be void really. But I would prefer to play it out and show all our hard work that we’ve been doing.”
This season has been Grant’s first in the Women’s Super League following a long period playing in her native Scotland and a six-month stint at Belgian champions Anderlecht. Her experience cements how much further ahead the league is in terms of athleticism and competitiveness.
“it’s been a challenge. You need to be fit to play in this league. That’s one thing that I noticed straight away. [There’s] a big difference in fitness and physicality.
“Every game is hard. You’ve got to work to win no matter what, no matter who you’re playing.”
That’s not always been an experience Grant has had in the leagues she has played in.
“It’s more competitive down here. I played at Glasgow City and we’d won twelve league titles [in a row]. You would go into a game and be like ‘Oh we’re probably going to win this game’.”
Moving to a club which has lost 10 of its thirteen games this season has taken some psychological adjustment.
“It knocked me a bit because when you lose, you’re not that confident are you? When you’re constantly losing games on the trot, it’s just quite hard trying to pick yourself up.
“It’s been hard for me to switch that mentality because I’ve just never been in that kind of situation. But I’m learning each day, how to deal with that. It’s good to actually have that side of me and learn from it.”
Playing with the Scottish national team has given her the opportunity to build up some confidence, as well as helping her teammates move on from the frustrating collapse that saw them go out of the World Cup at the group stages.
“I was on the verge of going to the World Cup. I got the phone call that I wasn’t going but it was good to be there or thereabouts.”
Scotland went into their final group game knowing a win against Argentina would see them through. After 70 minutes, they were 3-0 up and looked to be heading to the last-16 before conceding three late goals.
By being part of a new group of players moving into the national squad, Grant hopes that it can help everyone move on from the tournament.
“If [the squad] are still a bit heartbroken about going out then I’ve not got that feeling that they have so I’m just ready to go.
“It’s good to come in and start fresh and [be] giving what I can to the team.”
Getting to go away with the national squad was what had left Grant raring to go in order to help keep Birmingham in the top division.
“I went away with Scotland and I was much more confident because I was playing [well] and scoring.
“I had a fresh kind of start, being away, [a] different environment. I was ready to go and I was feeling much more confident.”
But just as they were about to push on, everything ground to a halt.
Now Birmingham will have to hope that they can keep the players motivated and prepared with a new management team via webinars, while they wait and see if the season will resume. If it does, Grant will be ready to fight for their place in the Women’s Super League.
Follow Jessy on Twitter at @jessyjph