‘We’re Here To Build A Legacy’: Fran Kirby And Leah Williamson Tell Us Why The 2019 World Cup Is About More Than Just Trophies

The two superstar England footballers explain on why this year's upcoming Summer Of Sport is putting shine theory in action...

Fran Kirby Leah Williamson

by Georgia Aspinall |
Updated on

When England’s national football team begins their journey towards World Cup victory on the 1st of June, they’re not just going after a trophy, they’re creating a legacy. Intent on changing the way women’s football is perceived and inspiring generations of women, the female footballers that span our 11 professional full-time teams in England. Two women from those teams hoping to make the official England line-up for the 2019 World Cup – which is yet to be announced – are Fran Kirby and Leah Williamson.

Both of them played in the 2015 World Cup in Canada, and both of them share a passion for empowering other women. As ambassadors for Swarovski’s new #FollowTheLight campaign, they join TV presenter Nadiya Hussain and author Giovanna Fletcher on their journey with the jewellery company famous for their sparkling crystals.

‘I'm excited to work with other women who are doing exactly what I admire, and smashing it in their fields,’ says Leah, ‘We can all say the right things about what we should be doing to help each other but actually getting the opportunity to work with these women to have an impact is something I’m quite excited about.’


Leah Williamson for Swarovski

Leah Williamson for Swarovski1 of 1

Leah Williamson for Swarovski

Of course, as professional female footballers, both Leah and Fran are already doing more to empower women than just saying the right thing online. Setting a precedent and paving the way for women in a sporting field that is so dogged by sexism, they stand with hundreds of women whom have revolutionised a game that was once banned for women to play professionally.

A ban that was caused by the popularity of women’s football growing beyond men’s (yes, really), women’s football has suffered ever since, only to be reignited in 1966 and popularised in 1993 when the FA finally brought all women’s football under it’s direct control. Yet even with that necessary step, women weren’t playing professionally full-time until last year.

‘All of the girls who have played and some now retired had to work 9 to 5 and then train in the evening,’ says Fran, ‘that’s something I only had to do for two years so I was quite lucky, a lot of girls had to do it for all of their career.’

Aged only 25, it says a lot that many of our young players were still expected to have a regular full-time job alongside a competitive football career in their lifetime. But it’s with the sacrifices of her and the many women before her that has allowed young girls to go straight into their professional football career.

‘A lot of us have been fighting for a long time for us to go professional,’ she says, ‘now we've been able to do that hopefully it's paved the way for the younger girls coming through that they don't have to do what a lot of the girls had to do.’

And with the opportunity to train professionally at a younger age – as so many male footballers have done for decades – the quality of the women’s game will no doubt improve. That’s a real bone of contention in women’s football: quality. Mostly, it comes from sexist old men (who couldn’t score a penalty in a 20ft-wide goal) complaining on Twitter, but there’s no doubt that ignorance has spread into the mainstream conscious and resulted in lower attendance rates, and viewing figures, for women’s games.

‘I think that’s always been the biggest struggle in people not believing in the quality of women’s football,’ Fran continues, ‘but even in the last three years I’ve been at Chelsea it’s improved so much, it’s a credit to the club giving support to the women’s team.’


Fran Kirby for Swarovski

Fran Kirby1 of 1
CREDIT: Swarovski

Fran Kirby

Because that’s the thing, the talent has always been there. The nurturing of that talent, the opening of doors and the want for women’s football to be as popular as mens hasn’t. But one of the most heart-warming surprises about this is that, contrary to popular belief, not having much room at the top has never fostered an atmosphere of competition and bitchiness – as so many sexist commentators would have us believe is typical of women in groups.

‘Don't get me wrong every woman will have differences with another,’ says Leah, ‘but the idea that that is solely because we're women is ridiculous. Especially in my team, in a team you rely on each other so for me to have done well I need for my friend to be playing at her best as well. So, with that we eradicate any of the competition in house because ultimately, you cannot do it on your own.’

And it’s with that banishing of ego that the women’s teams playing in this Summer of sporting events are so likely to smash records and take home trophies. Although, for the women playing, that’s not actually their main goal.

‘When I first came into the England squad, we had a big meeting about where we wanted to go as a team, because it’s really important to establish that to know what you’re working towards,’ Leah says, ‘We were talking about trophies and winning, the meeting was over-running and that’s when we started to get into the real powerful stuff.

‘Everybody decided that actually, we're here to build a legacy,’ she continued, ‘and already that’s so much more powerful than just winning trophies.

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