In her first piece for The 52, Cassie Coombes spoke to up-and-coming footballing star Poppy Wilson about overcoming setbacks right at the start of her journey.
At first, football was simply a passion for Poppy Wilson. Years later, and having overcome her fair share of adversity, the 20-year-old is looking ahead to her future ambitions as a professional footballer with London City Lionesses.
In the same week her beloved Liverpool lifted the Premier League title for the first time, Wilson also undertook a significant moment in her own life as she moved to London. Indeed, her new home and move to the London City Lionesses last year have been synonymous with a fresh start – both personally and professionally.
Her decision to move away from Bristol City ahead of the 2019/20 season in search of game time certainly paid off. Joining the newly formed team, the midfielder made 13 appearances in their debut season in FA Women’s Championship.
Had she not made the change, Wilson may have packed in playing the game completely.
“Before I moved to London, I was very close to giving up and stopping football. I was very fortunate to get as many games as I did and I feel I’ve definitely got the love of the game back,” she remarked.
“It’s a great club to be at and, considering they’re only just one-year-old, they have such great aspirations and want to achieve.”
Wilson’s love of the game stems back to when she was just three, with her introduction to football following a similar pattern to many of her female counterparts – the influence of an older sibling.
After joining a girls’ team, she was soon scouted and asked to trial for Somerset Centre of Excellence, a series of events that she recognises as instrumental in initiating her footballing journey.
When asked at what moment she realised football could be a viable profession for her, she quickly confessed that she was not aware of the possibility until later in her career.
“At the time I didn’t really know that there was a pathway to become a professional footballer, I was just doing it because I loved it,” she recalled.
— London City Lionesses (@LC_Lionesses) June 17, 2020
This love of the game in its purest form has undoubtedly helped Wilson during moments of adversity.
Despite being right at the start of her career, the young midfielder talked with remarkable openness about the challenges she has already faced.
Having moved to Bristol in 2014, Wilson combined her passion for football with her studies and graduated from the Bristol City Development Squad to make her senior debut in 2016.
This success was soon followed by a two-year professional contract with Bristol City in 2018.
However her breakthrough into the senior side was not a simple one. Rather, she worked through a period of highs and lows to achieve professional status, the memories of which have noticeably ingrained in the youngster a steely determination to succeed.
“It was the end of 2018 and I was flying high from everything I had done at college and I decided to take a year out to focus on football,” she recalled.
“That year was football, football, football and I was trying to achieve as much as I could. I was probably playing at my best level, playing with so much confidence and I was involved in all the U18 and U19 England camps.
“We were preparing for the Euro 2019 qualifiers in Kazakhstan. A week before I tore my Medial Collateral Ligament against Tottenham and could not play in the tournament.
“I was out for around six months and that knocked my confidence quite a lot. I didn’t really get my confidence back probably until I came to London.”
— Wu’s Photography (@wusphoto) September 8, 2019
It was a cruel blow for a player whose career had really started to blossom – Wilson captained Bristol City to victory in the Development FA Cup, beating Arsenal 4-0 in a final she described as a ‘massive highlight’.
When first-team manager Willie Kirk left the club, she came to the eventual realisation that she ‘couldn’t stay there any longer’.
While trying to find a new club can be a challenge, London City Lionesses was the perfect fit for Wilson. After the team then known as Millwall Lionesses somewhat acrimoniously separated from the men’s set-up, this new club was formed determined to prove the doubters wrong and that a women’s club could survive without being affiliated with a men’s side.
After difficult times, both the club and Wilson were determined to forge new identities for themselves.
If playing for a team who are determined to showcase themselves as a pioneering force both on and off the pitch brings pressure, Wilson certainly does not show it.
“At the end of the day, I don’t feel that we have that pressure and we can go into every game almost as the underdogs. It’s exciting to be the only women’s team, alongside Durham Wildcats, in our league without men’s backing,” she said with a grin.
So, what next for Poppy? When questioned about her own ambitions she was reluctant to place too much expectation on herself.
Instead, she talked with refreshing honesty about how she wants to recapture the same freedom she played with at the beginning of her footballing journey.
“To be honest when people ask me, they expect: play for England and in the Women’s Super League, but for me I don’t want to put that pressure on myself,” she said.
“I just want to be the best I can be and play at the highest level I can, and that way I can enjoy it along the way. I have put too much pressure on myself over the years.
“Obviously, I want to play for England and in the Super League but at the moment my goal is to be the best I can be. I’m in a really good place and Lisa the new manager has just come in. It just looks really exciting.”