Exclusive Leah Williamson: England captain welcomes opportunity to use her platform as a force for good | Soccer News
Football fans may flock to Wembley hoping to see their heroes, but rarely do they encounter them on the street as they pass the National Stadium.
But that chance was offered to a lucky few when they came across Leah Williamson on a rainy day in November, the England women’s captain back at the scene of her greatest triumph with her teammates.
It is often said that the Women’s Euro, held in England this summer, was the defining moment for women’s football in this country thanks to the host country lifting the trophy for the first time.
The fact that Arsenal, Williamson’s club, have twice sold more than 40,000 tickets for Women’s Super League matches in the Emirates this season shows just how much attention women’s football has captured in the country.
But another perfect example was the number of people who took the time to queue for a photo with Williamson outside Wembley, many of them after doing a double take in passing and clearly wondering: “Is really the English captain? standing there?’
Williamson is happy to pose for as many photos as possible beforehand, in a bid to avoid a sudden downpour which disperses the crowds, moving to a nearby pub for an exclusive chat with sky sports.
The setting – a few hundred yards from the stadium where she became the first English football captain to lift a major trophy in 56 years – is fitting.
“I think that’s the only other way I would have liked to have done this game – in a pub, watching it with my mates!” jokes Williamson. “It’s always good to come back. I think I will always associate it now with that night.”
England win against Germany in extra time maybe four months ago, but clearly still a huge source of pride for Williamson.
“Honestly, to be alongside these girls…when the tournaments come around, the reason you want to be involved is because you know how awesome the tournament is going to be,” she said.
“Obviously it’s a great moment as a professional footballer in terms of performance, but the time you have, the memories you create and hopefully the change you can bring, is incredible.
“Obviously by winning we had the biggest impact possible. I’m so proud to have been a part of that.”
The Euro final not only secured Williamson’s place in the country’s footballing history, but also ensured she was in high demand, appearing on the cover of QG and creating playlists on Radio 1 among his recent activities off the pitch.
Williamson agrees life has gotten busier since the summer, but insists: “I’ve also turned down a lot – I’m a footballer! I’m glad it’s still the thing I love doing the most.
“I like football because it introduced me to people, different opinions, different cultures, different lifestyles and different industries that really interest me.
“Every time I step onto a platform I represent women’s football, that’s what we want to happen.”
The current platform – the one that brought her back to Wembley – sees her unveil a mural of Helen Hardy, the founder of Manchester Laces, Manchester’s first inclusive non-binary women’s football club.
The piece was created by artist Charlotte Archer, in collaboration with the National Lottery, to celebrate those who support women in sport and encourage others to get involved.
The cause is ‘high on our agenda’, says Williamson, adding: ‘I have benefited from the National Lottery and I stand on the premier platform for women’s football in this country, but this funding goes to causes where, if I hadn’t gotten to where I am, I hope it would be a place where I would enjoy football.
“That’s what this campaign celebrates, which is really important to me.”
Williamson’s support and empowerment of women in sport, as well as her use of her platform to speak out on issues that matter to her, has been enhanced since she was named the team captain for good. England by manager Sarina Wiegman in April, but she says it’s something she would do whether or not she was in possession of the armband.
“If you’re a footballer you know you have that responsibility, that’s for sure,” she said. “It’s almost like it was passed on to you by the person before you, so we’re all pretty well aware of it and it’s something that really matters to us. Hopefully that continues.
“The world is obviously changing now but when we were younger we didn’t have what the young girls have now and we hope the young girls of the future will have more.
“Obviously as captain I will be on certain platforms and I will have the chance to speak – and it is important that I use my voice – but everyone carries the same weight on their shoulders. But we love it – it’s part of the job.”
One of the issues Williamson has tackled in recent weeks is the Men’s World Cup in Qatar, a country that has faced many questions over its treatment of the LGBTQ+ community, as well as migrant workers.
While expressing her support for the England men’s team, the 25-year-old admitted that the choice of host country made following the tournament as a supporter less of a pleasant experience.
Williamson says she has been following the tournament – “I love football and I want to watch football” – but adds: “I just wish we were heading towards a World Cup where we can enjoy it for what She is.
“Unfortunately the shadow that hangs over the tournament makes it a bit more difficult,” added Williamson. “It doesn’t look like a normal World Cup to me.
“But I love football and I want the boys to win the World Cup. I want to be there to celebrate with them – I just wish we only talked about football because that’s what we normally do.”
In addition to events on the pitch in Qatar, the U-turn made by the Football Association – along with several other European federations – on plans for captain Harry Kane to wear the OneLove armband has grabbed headlines.
The armband – designed to show support for the LGBTQ+ community – was meant to be worn by Kane and his fellow captains during the World Cup, but those plans were scrapped under threat of sanction by FIFA.
As the FA were criticized for backing down, others – including former England international Alex Scott and Nancy Faeser, a senior German politician – flaunted the OneLove armband in Qatar.
“I’m proud that people wore it,” Williamson says. “I am proud with my friend Alex to have carried it on national television.
“I’m glad people are wearing it and continuing to get those messages out because we’ve always used football as a vehicle to promote those positive messages.”
One positive message Williamson and her England teammates received ahead of the Euros came from the men’s team, who shared their experiences of reaching the final of the men’s competition – where they were beaten by Italy on penalties at Wembley – the previous year.
But after doing better than their male counterparts this summer, Williamson says the women’s team didn’t have a chance to switch roles before Gareth Southgate’s side traveled to Qatar.
“I only had one-on-one discussions with the boys because of their schedules and going straight out of the club season,” Williamson explained.
“Before the Euros it was perfect for us because they were around the camp and we could really fit in. Maybe that would have been beneficial.
“But I’m definitely not going to stand in front of anybody and tell them how to do it, even if I’ve done it once. It doesn’t make me any different from before.”
Whether Kane can join Williamson in leading England to international glory this winter remains to be seen.
As for Williamson, she reveals that Wiegman’s side focused on their own World Cup – which will take place in Australia and New Zealand next summer – a long time ago.
“As soon as we won the Euros, we were like, ‘What’s next?'” reveals Williamson. “You’re looking almost that high again.”
So can we expect to see her hoist another trophy into the air, becoming the first English football captain to lead his team to two major international titles?
“It was the same before entering the Euros,” says Williamson. “Who knows?”