A senior England call up was always going to be a when and not if situation for Arsenal’s Leah Williamson, but having had multiple injury setbacks over the last year to 18 months, the call at times, probably felt like a long way off.
But along with close friend Keira Walsh of Manchester City, Williamson received that first long-awaited call from Mo Marley ahead of two upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Bosnia & Herzegovina and Kazakhstan this week.
Head coach Marley will know the Arsenal midfielder well having worked with her at youth level, and Williamson confirmed it was a personal phone call from the interim coach that notified her of her inclusion in the squad, before an official email arrived confirming her place.
“I got a call from Mo and then an email to confirm everything, before it was made public,” said Williamson.
“Mo said its a good time for me to be involved, and an opportunity for me to learn from the experience from within the squad,
“It feels like I’m back at home because I’ve been involved with England for so long. I know how Mo likes to play football having worked with her before, so Its familiar ground for me.”
The call will have come as no surprise to fans of the Gunners, with the young midfielder establishing herself as a firm fans’ favourite since she made her debut the same week of her 17th birthday.
But injuries have seen a few setbacks, with Williamson missing a large chunk of 2017, just two years after winning the PFA Young Player of the Year.
Regardless, she always remained positive.
“I thought the first couple of injuries were going to be little speed bumps, but they turned out to he mountains, so its good to come past that.
“But I came to appreciate it (possible England call up) and realised you just have to not think about it too much. I threw myself into my club and just hoped I’d get noticed, so it was a nice surprise when I got the call up.”
The former Young player of the Year has been deployed in both midfield and defence during her short career in the first team at Arsenal, but it’s likely that if called upon by Marley, she will be competing with Man City’s Walsh for a place as a holding midfielder. England have plenty of options at centre back, and with Jade Moore missing through injury for the two matches, there could be a spot up for grabs.
Final push to finish the season & U23 Nordic Champions we are!!⚽️💪🏼❤️ pic.twitter.com/4ot2dIPfQQ
— Leah Williamson (@leahcwilliamson) June 13, 2017
But despite that potential rivalry with Walsh for a place in the team, Williamson admitted having her close friend in the squad has helped the settling in process.
“Its lovely as we have been friends since we were 12 through England. But we’ve made sure we’re not living in each other’s pockets because we need to integrate ourselves into the team.
“Its nice when you turn around and see your best mate standing there, especially as we’re in the same boat. You understand what each other is going through.”
Williamson is now playing in a professional setup at Arsenal with internationals from six different nations, so training, she says, is always at “a high level,” which has made the transition into the England setup “much easier.”
And it is that competitiveness that she believes has actually helped develop her own game, sighting the friendly “rivalries” that exist within the Arsenal squad, for example between the England internationals and their Dutch teammates.
“There are friendly rivalries in the Arsenal team in terms of different nationalities that brings competitiveness to the training ground, which has been useful. The standards they set has helped the transition into the England team.
“We have quite a few changes year on year in the FA WSL with players moving clubs and I don’t think it’s a bad thing we attract players from other countries. As long as the league improves, young players will have to fight for our right to play, and that can only be a good lesson.”
Williamson will have familiar faces around her with teammates past and present in the squad to guide her through this current camp, but it is always the support of her family that is most welcome.
She recalls telling them about her call up once she was able to make the news public, with family reactions ranging from panic, to concern for who was going to look after Bella – her dog.
“My Mum was panicking because she lives in Germany now and was wondering about booking flights. I’m still young so it was only a couple of years ago she came to every training session and match. She’s been on this journey with me and I hope she knows how much I appreciate that.
“My nan’s first question was ‘who is going to look after the dog?’ So that was something that brought me back down to earth a bit.
“But once the news was public, you forget how many people have been on this journey with you, so it was really nice to see all the reaction.”
England play Bosnia & Herzegovina this Friday at Walsall’s Bescot Stadium (7.05pm kick-off) before travelling to Colchester to play Kazakhstan on Tuesday at the Colchester Community Stadium (7.05pm kick-off).