When Carla Ward arrived at Birmingham City after her appointment as manager this summer, there were only eight first-team players available to her.
The season began in three weeks’ time and some within the club were not sure if the women’s team would even continue.
“Well she didn’t sell it to me like that!” laughs Rachel Corsie, speaking exclusively to @jessyjph.
Rachel Corsie was one of the players Carla Ward turned to. The Scottish captain has over 100 caps for her country and has played all over the world. Birmingham were able to sign her on loan from her club in the US, Utah Royals.
“The next day I was meant to fly back to the US at 8 in the morning,” Corsie said. “I spoke to Carla on the phone. She just wanted to see if I was interested but we ended up having quite a long conversation about football. Sometimes I think you can get a sense that somebody works in a way that you would work well with.”
It is unsurprising that Carla Ward wanted to sign an experienced defender like Corsie. Birmingham might not have stayed in the WSL if it was not for the early curtailment of the season, and there were points where it seemed like the team were unable to muster themselves for a relegation battle.
“I’ll be totally honest – I was apprehensive about what the environment would be like,” admits Corsie. “Culturally, I think it’s fair to say there’s probably a lot more criticism around the game than in America.
“That’s been the greatest surprise. It’s not been like that at all at Birmingham. The girls have been so together, and that’s rare to find.”
Carla Ward worked quickly to bring players in. It went so down to the wire that Birmingham were announcing players signed on loan an hour before games they were featuring in. Several of the players Ward signed had had their opportunities limited elsewhere.
Mollie Green joined from Manchester United having scored 16 times in 27 games during their 2018/19 Championship season, but only making two starts in the Continental Cup after they were promoted. Destiny Touissant was picked up as a free agent having been let go by London Bees by email when they refused to pay for treatment for her ACL injury.
“There’s probably some players who feel that maybe they’ve not had the chance elsewhere to express themselves,” muses Corsie when asked if the team feel like they have a point to prove.
“There’s a lot of talented players [at Birmingham] who just haven’t had the environment to allow them to flourish as well.”
Birmingham’s start to the season certainly supports Corsie’s supposition. There has been a steady progress despite early defeats to Brighton and Manchester United. Corsie pinpoints the narrow 1-0 loss to Chelsea as the game where the team started to come together.
“It was probably the one that had the biggest impact on the group as a whole,” she explains. “I think that one was at a point where there were players who were trying to believe they were feeling more confident, but I don’t quite know if it had truly hit them.
“I think after that there was a mindset shift. We have something here, we have a good group, we have a core that we can build on now.”
Birmingham have gone on to back to back wins against Reading and Bristol City. The fact that it has taken some by surprise is testament to the difficulty that Birmingham face as one of only two teams in the WSL whose men’s team is not in the Premier League. Yet Corsie believes that it is easy to focus on the financial aspects, when there are still many more basic inequalities facing women’s footballers.
“A lot of things that you would expect and ask of clubs don’t have a financial impact,” she says. “It’s our default – we always talk about the money side of things.
“But there’s things that players just value like being allowed into the changing rooms at certain times or getting access to facilities. Those things don’t necessarily cost any more money because they are already there, they’re already on site.
“If you’re a professional footballer, you should feel like a professional athlete. You shouldn’t feel like you’re just picking up second best.”
Corsie is due to return to Utah in March- her loan deal means she will miss the end of the season with Birmingham. She is philosophical about the situation – “in professional sport,” she says, “things don’t always align perfectly.” When it comes to looking forward, her focus is international.
“We [Scotland] want to be at the Euros, and hopefully the World Cup isn’t out of reach either for me. I feel like we didn’t do ourselves justice.”
At the 2019 World Cup in France, Scotland’s first international tournament, they were 3-0 up with 20 minutes to go against Argentina in their last group game before capitulating and drawing 3-3. The result saw them exit the tournament, bottom of the group.
Corsie pauses when asked about it. “I don’t want to say we’re not over it. But equally it was a very traumatic way to go out of a tournament. It was very hurtful and upsetting.
“I think there will always be something about that tournament that will live with all of us forever. But sometimes that can be good.
“Sometimes, to have that feeling, being able to resonate with that emotion can be something that you can use to your advantage. It can be a hurtful memory but that can also be powerful.”
Corsie feels confident that Scotland can still qualify for the Euros, due to be held in England next summer. They are currently third in their group with four games still to play.
“There’s a bit of pressure, but I think when you look at the team we have, they play for top clubs, they play with that pressure every week. Ability-wise, we’re more than good enough to do it, but in football, nothing is a certainty.
“I think it would be great to get to [an international tournament] again and put more demanding ambitions on what we can actually do.”
The desire to play for Scotland this winter is part of what led Corsie to joining Birmingham this summer.
“Changing clubs, trying to find a new opportunity, it’s quite stressful.” She jokes that is the accountant in her. “But after you go and do it, every time, you always feel “I should have known the right thing was going to come at the time it was going to come””.
Birmingham will be glad of that same serendipity.
Follow Jessy on Twitter at @jessyjph