Mollie Green’s further education with WSL surprise package Birmingham City

The Birmingham City midfielder spoke to Ali Rampling about her old school days with former Liverpool and Manchester United team-mate Alex Greenwood, crossing the Merseyside divide, and why the Blues can earn top marks this season.

Green was reunited with Carla Ward in the summer after the now Blues manager had taken her on loan at Sheffield United last season (Photo credit: Pete Lopeman/BCFC)

April 20th, 2019 was a bittersweet day for Savio Salesian College in Bootle, Merseyside. Former pupils Mollie Green and Alex Greenwood had just topped the Championship and played starring roles in earning their team promotion to the Women’s Super League.

While the secondary school’s headteachers were proud of their achievement, they were less impressed that this title-winning side was Manchester United – a club not traditionally held in the fondest regard on Merseyside. 

“They weren’t happy,” Green joked. “But they still invited us back for the awards evening, so it wasn’t too bad.”

Three school years separated Green and Greenwood, but as the college’s sole female football representatives they knew one another well. 

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They would go on to team up briefly at Liverpool in 2016, when Green was on the fringes of the first team, before sharing United’s promotion-winning campaign together. The pair now return to their old school every year for the annual sports presentation evening. 

“The teachers used to say, ‘Al, look out for Mol’ because we had that football connection,” Green said. “Two girls playing football was quite rare – I think we were the only two in the whole school so we got on quite well. Then to see her at United and to have that year with her was boss.”

Green is a self-proclaimed “massive” Liverpool fan and grew up idolising Steven Gerrard and Michael Owen. 

She mirrored her childhood heroes by progressing through the Reds’ youth system and making her senior debut as a teenager, coming off the bench to compete against Greenwood in the Continental Cup semi-final defeat by Notts County in October 2015 aged 18. 

“It was a dream come true really,” the midfielder said. “When Matt Beard was in charge he grabbed me and said: ‘You’re training with the first team’. Then that week I was in the squad and I was like: ‘Wow, it’s all happening so fast’.”

But 18 months later, when faced with a lack of first-team opportunities, Green opted to cross the Liverpool-Everton divide and sign for her childhood club’s arch rivals.

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This is a path that’s well-trodden in the women’s game, with Greenwood, Lucy Bronze, Fara Williams, and Natasha Dowie among a number of players who have swapped one Merseyside club for the other over the years.

However, as a lifelong Liverpool supporter, it was not a decision Green took lightly.

“It tore me up a lot,” she admitted. “Because I am a big Liverpool fan it was hard. And I was saying before I left: ‘I’m wearing my Liverpool shirt underneath!’

“It was just something at that time in my career that was right for me and I knew I would get more minutes at Everton. I eventually ended up playing WSL football as a 19, 20-year-old, which was something that I’m glad that I did.”

A love for Liverpool runs in the family, and having already turned out for rivals Everton and Manchester United, Green’s move to Birmingham in the summer of 2020 was finally one her relatives couldn’t give her any grief about.

“I’ve had it all from family,” the 23-year-old said smiling. “Birmingham was quite good for me – I haven’t had a lot of stick to be fair.”

An absence of gentle teasing from relatives was one of the few positives Birmingham had going for them when the approach came towards the end of the transfer window.

The club had avoided relegation by the skin of their teeth the previous season and when Carla Ward was appointed manager three weeks before the start of the new WSL campaign, she had only eight senior players at her disposal.

But Green had briefly played under Ward at Sheffield United in a loan spell cut short by COVID-19, and it was her former boss and her vision for the club that helped to persuade her to join.

“How did she persuade me? That’s a good question,” Green considered. “I think having worked with her, I knew what she was about. She gave me an opportunity to go and play football [at Sheffield United] and I’ll always owe her one for that.

“She mentioned a few of the players that she was getting involved and it just felt fresh for me. I think it was fresh for the club that someone new was coming in. She had to revamp the whole side and that was just something that I wanted to get involved in. I think I needed a fresh start and that’s what Carla was offering me.”

Having hit 16 goals in 29 appearances during Manchester United’s promotion-winning campaign, before being restricted to two Continental Cup appearances the following season, the offer of a proper shot at the WSL was also alluring for Green.

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“I had ups and downs in the second year at United but I think deep down I knew I was eager to play WSL football,” the Birmingham midfielder admitted. “I had a taste of it at Everton and then dropped down to the Championship.

“It’s a big reason why I’ve come to Birmingham because I wanted the opportunity to play at this level. Last year I thought I was ready and I felt ready so to get this chance and get a fair run of games is what I’ve wanted. 

“I think the more [games] I get under my belt the more I can shine at Birmingham. I’ve settled in and now it’s just time to kick on and prove my worth.”

Green and her fellow summer arrivals have bedded in quickly at Birmingham and the club have undergone a rapid transformation in Ward’s short four months in charge.

The Blues reached the FA Cup semi-finals with a penalty shootout victory over Brighton, before earning three wins over Reading, Bristol City and Aston Villa in five WSL games.

The three points against Villa were particularly special, with Birmingham securing a 1-0 win in the WSL’s maiden Second City derby despite having a matchday squad of just 13 (compared to Villa’s full 20).

“Just pure grit and determination and hard work paying off once again,” Green replied when asked how on earth they managed to win that match in those circumstances. “We’ve got a group of girls who are willing to just run through brick walls for each other, work hard for each other.

“We know when we step on to that pitch we’re going to leave everything out there for each other.

“Sometimes the performances aren’t as pretty as we want them to be and we’re not as good on the ball as we want to be but we somehow grind out results and I think that is down to the togetherness we’ve created in such a short period.”

Birmingham’s recent run of form has seen the team’s ambitions shift. They have the chance to leapfrog Reading into sixth place when Green is reunited with a familiar foe in Greenwood against Manchester City on Sunday. A season that had originally been branded ‘project survival’ now promises to offer much more. 

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“At the beginning of the season we would have taken where we are – 100 per cent would have snatched your arm off you,” Green added.

“But now that we know we’ve got a lot more potential and a lot more to give, there’s no reason why we can’t finish on 16, 17, 18 points and be top of that mini-league in the league. We just need to keep getting wins under our belt, keep getting good performances and see where we end up.”

Having been considered firm relegation candidates at the start of the season, a top-half finish with Birmingham would definitely be something to shout about at the next Savio Salesian College sports awards evening.

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