This summer could prove to be one of the biggest of Bethany England’s career. After winning another domestic double with Chelsea Women, she will be part of the England Women squad for a home European Championships, marking her first major international tournament for the Lionesses.
It might come as a slight surprise given England has been involved with youth teams since the U15s, also featuring at U19 and U23 levels, before receiving her first senior call-up in 2019.
The forward has been a pretty consistent feature in the Lionesses senior side since, having been selected by all three managers since her debut – Phil Neville, Hege Riise and current coach Sarina Wiegman.
Although the forward admits herself that she was a “late bloomer” in terms of the international set-up, she does not regret the way her career has unfolded.
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In an exclusive pre-Euros interview with Sky Sports’ Charlotte Marsh, England reflected: “I did my first England camp actually when I was with the U15s under Kay [Cossington] who is now a director of football along with Sue [Campbell]. I’ll never forget it, I was with Beth Mead and a player called Ellie Christon.
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“I remember it fondly, thinking ‘this is a strange environment’ and it was quite strict – you had to do urine tests, you had to carry your drinks bottle everywhere, we have to be in the correct kit all the time. I missed the U17s and then went into the U19s and that’s when things started to get a bit more real.
“We did a few trips to La Manga, in the Netherlands with Mo Marley, I did the European qualifiers out in Turkey with them so I kind of got a taste of it then.
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“I did the U19 Euros qualifiers, but I never actually went or to the U20s World Cup. I remember being absolutely heartbroken. I had a fallout with the manager at the time and so stop me from playing which meant I didn’t get selected.
“I’ll never forget, and it was so stupid because you’re a kid, but I was crying to my mum that I didn’t get picked and I was like ‘I’m quitting football’. But I think I quit for all of four days or something. She said ‘you know you love it too much not to quit’ so she kind of talked me round – not that it would have taken much after I got over the emotion of it. That was tough but then you bounce back and get on with it.
“It’s really strange now looking back at how many people I played with that I thought would have made it didn’t. But then I’m also now playing with people that you wouldn’t have thought would have made it and did.
“I think I pretty much would have fit into that category of I was in and around the environment but wasn’t one of the star ones so I think I was a bit of a late bloomer into my England international career compared to most, they start younger but I wouldn’t change it for anything.”
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Her surname also caused quite the kerfuffle as a football-mad kid growing up in Barnsley. Imagine this – England wearing an England shirt with England on the back.
“I never thought there was going to be a day where I was actually going to put on the England shirt and obviously it’s very fitting about my surname, which makes it all the more fun,” she said.
“I remember when I was a kid, I had an England shirt with ‘England’ on the back. Everyone was just like ‘it’s not very original, why on earth would you get that?’ and I said ‘no that is actually my name’, but I just loved it.
“The fact that I’ve got numerous shirts myself now that mean a lot to me, especially my debut shirt, my first goal shirt, they’re framed already. I’m very lucky that I’ve had the privilege to wear the shirt.”
England’s bittersweet early games
It has been just under three years since Neville handed England her senior debut in August 2019. The Lionesses were a few weeks on from reaching the World Cup semi-finals, but a period of player transition saw a rocky spell of results heading into the Covid-19 pandemic.
While England represented the new wave of players being selected for the senior side, her early caps were bittersweet. They marked dream personal milestones, but in an England side that were not performing at their best.
Reflecting on her first call-up, the 28-year-old said: “We were actually away on pre-season tour [with Chelsea] in Israel when the email came through. It was quite a fitting moment because I’ve not seen it yet and Fran Kirby, she did like little speech and got the girls to do a round of applause for me. She kind of broke the news to me that I was going to go so that was a nice touching moment to share with her and the team.
Beth England scored her first goal for England against Brazil at the Stadium of Light
“Then I came on against Belgium, which we drew. It was quite sad because at the start of my journey with England, we were going through a bad patch where there was a transition of new players to old players. We had a few runs of games where we didn’t do very well.
“We drew to Belgium then we lost to Norway and then we were in Sunderland where we lost 2-1 to Brazil, but that was my first goal so it’s kind of bittersweet memories.
“I think this is so far, it is my favourite moment [her first England goal] only because for my debut, it was in Belgium and then Norway and my family weren’t able to be there.
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“Over the last few years, I’ve definitely grown more into the position that I am. I think I’ve solidified that I’m a No 9, I know I like leading the forward line.
“Having the players around me, that has helped me become the player that I have. In the latter end of the season after Christmas, with more minutes, I started to show more quality again and being able to be more clinical in front of goal.
“I was finding really good form again and I hope that I can continue that form and continue to improve.”
“But for the Brazil game, it was a first England senior game my mum, dad and partner were at. Someone that used to coach me before at Doncaster, for whatever reason, was filming at the time and caught my mum’s reaction for me scoring and it honestly brought tears to my eyes because you just see how proud she was.
“I don’t remember much about the goal other than Steph [Houghton] just hit up a really great long ball, competing in the air and it just went in. I was caught between celebrating some like ‘my God, I’ve just called my first England goal’ and actually, we’re still losing 2-1 so you need to get the ball run back to the halfway line and go and get another one. It was again a very bittersweet moment.”
‘Sarina has taken England to new levels’
After a period of upheaval for England – Riise replacing Neville as interim coach in January 2021 after he was hired at Inter Miami – the arrival of Wiegman has bought calm to the national team, as well as a cutting edge that was sometimes lacking in previous years.
The Lionesses are currently preparing themselves for the upcoming Women’s Euros – being held at home in England – as Wiegman looks to win the trophy for the second successive tournament after her victory with the Netherlands in 2017.
For those playing for England and Chelsea – just as England does, alongside the likes of Jess Carter, Millie Bright, Niamh Charles and Fran Kirby – they have an incredible double-header of successful female coaches to guide their careers, with Wiegman alongside Blues boss Emma Hayes.
But how do the two compare? “I think they’re different,” England mused.
“I really like Sarina. I think what she brings to the team, she’s very direct. There’s no grey areas with her, I’ve learned that, she’s very full forthcoming. But you can tell she cares, everyone wants to win but she’s also got that little switch of brutalness that you need.
“Her and her staff that she’s brought in has been a very good change for England. Everything England have done before her has been amazing, they’ve gotten really far in tournaments and I can’t be anymore thankful to Phil for giving me my first call-up and my chance with England.
“But Sarina has taken England to a new level in all aspects – on the field and off the field. I’m just I’m really excited to be working with her and hopefully get the chance to do it this summer with her.
“I think everyone knows what you get from Emma. Again, she hasn’t got where she’s got without being brutal herself and in a way, I’d say they were similar in those aspects. They know what they want and they are going to do what they believe is right to get it and what works for them.
“They’re both successful in every way in their own rights and rightly so. They both have their own ways and they know how to win. It’s refreshing to have two different types of managers but equally, they’re both great at what they do.”
England also faces fierce competition for places at both club and country level. She is part of teams that have supremely talented attacking players – herself included – but the battle for a starting spot does not faze the forward.
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She said: “I think competition is healthy. If you’re the number one and you’ve not got any competition, I think you can get complacent.
“For me, when I first broke into England, I had Ellen White and Jodie Taylor, two phenomenal forwards that have scored great goals for the country so I think it was knowing that while I’m a baby here, I can learn from them. If anything, competition is not always a bad thing because for me, Ellen has been very good with me at England.
“She’s been very supportive and I’ve learned a lot from her and the way in which she conducts herself as well. She’s the utmost professional so I’m very privileged that I’ve been in a position where I was still young enough to be able to fight and still fight amongst them as well as learn from them.
“Obviously at Chelsea, our forward line is a joke so there’s always competition. No matter what happens, you just have to be ready if you’re called upon. You take your chance and I’d like to think since Christmas and getting more game time, I’ve been able to do that for club.”
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As one of the pre-tournament favourites, England begin their Euros campaign on July 6 as they take on Austria at Old Trafford, with all of the Lionesses’ group games already sold out.
It follows on from the men’s European Championships being partially held in England last summer, with the 2022 Euros final also set to be held at Wembley on July 31.
With women’s football continuing to grow at a rapid pace in the UK, England hopes the upcoming tournament will only serve to further increase the visibility of the game.
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“I think one of the things I’ve enjoyed is watching other players make movements in and around the box, working on timing and when you always got to know where the defender is.
“Also making sure you’re putting yourself in the best possible position. I used to drift a lot into areas when I know my job is between the sticks, not to be the lazy position, but you know that you’ve got to go off the defender’s back shoulder.
“The best thing I can say is firstly, your touch to set yourself if you’re going take a touch before you strike and your timing. If your timing’s on point from the moment the ball is crossed, getting in front of defenders, back shoulder runs, it can really improve your game.
“But I’m not the best yet either, I’ve still got a lot of learning to do!”
She said: “I think the atmosphere is going to be electric. Women’s football is going to see another level this summer.
“I think it will make it even more worthwhile being in England because everyone’s families are going to be able to travel, be there and support us because I can only imagine those environments are tough when you’re away weeks on end with the same group of people and you need that little bit of a break.
“But I’m so excited for what it’s going do for women’s football, for young girls and boys and aspiring even down to referees – they’re going to see teams going to big stadiums and watch us play in front of packed-out stadiums is the dream.”
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But the big question is – can England go all the way?
“We take it as it comes,” England concludes. “I’m not going to be the one to say ‘it’s coming home’ or anything like that. I think we need to be very level-headed and appreciate it’s going to be a tough pathway to the final.
“There’s not really any easy teams in that and in tournament football, you never know what can happen. Big teams can get knocked out early on, look at men’s [Euros], some of the favourites got knocked out early on.
“I just know that the group of players that she takes are going to be ones that she believes can win it. I can’t think of a better manager in place to try and make that happen.”
Bethany England wears adidas Predator Edge, available at https://adidas.co.uk/football-shoes
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