Book Review: You Have the Power: Find Your Strength and Believe You Can by Leah Williamson & Suzanne Wrack

If ever there was an inspirational role model for the current generation of children, Euros winning captain and Arsenal stalwart Leah Williamson fits the bill and then some. So the publication of her first book, You Have The Power, written with the recent Sports Book Award-winning Suzanne Wrack – an inspiration in her own field – is both fitting and vital.

On the pitch, Williamson has made a name for herself for being an exceptional footballer, a positive teammate and a calm leader, while off it, she is an articulate, thoughtful and empowering role model, and the defender brings all of this to a book which serves as a positive guide for children. Drawing on her own experiences, skills and learnings, Williamson offers valuable guidance, advice and inspiration to a generation – especially a generation of girls – that arguably has both greater opportunities but also greater, albeit different, challenges than generations before.

Williamson opens up on some of her own difficulties and issues, including her struggles being able to walk properly when younger, and her debilitating nerves that left her hating every second of the FA Cup Final she played against Chelsea in 2018. Indeed, the extent of her anxiety around the game is really (excuse the pun!) eye-opening, as she admits that it got so bad that it affected her vision. While Williamson has worked to overcome the issue, it is a powerful acknowledgement of the effect and challenge of anxiety in professional sport and the pressures at the top of the game, but also in life and sport in general, that will resonate with everyone who’s ever taken part in any kind of competition, be it a school sports day, a grassroots match, a swimming gala or a cup final. Crucially, Williamson helps to normalise the experience and demonstrate a way forward that many will find reassuring.

Her experience as a girl playing in a boys’ football team is also a powerful narrative, both a sad reminder of the state of play for many girls in the recent past and even the present for whom girls’ teams aren’t readily available and an inspiration for those girls. It’s just a shame that previous generations didn’t have this book to validate their own experiences in the same way. Similarly emotive are Williamson’s pertinent reflections on girls’ often uneasy relationship to physical education at school, as well as body confidence and puberty – topics that are often ignored but are hugely relevant and important in helping make sport an appealing and safe space for young women. And I love Williamson’s passion for the importance of exercise, encouraging readers to engage with sport of any kind. It’s a sad truth that a lot of girls still miss out, or give up, on sport because of physical, mental, social barriers and the like, so to have someone like Williamson encourage, advocate and demonstrate the benefits of an active life is really inspiring.

There is a similarity in style and tone to the advice books by Marcus Rashford (You Are A Champion/You Can Do It) but having Leah Williamson on the front of this book will certainly help reach a different audience, although both authors have ensured their books are utterly inclusive. As with Rashford’s books, there are key maxims and life lessons emphasised throughout, and I loved the fact that rather than just empty sayings Williamson expands on these messages so that when she talks, for instance, about not comparing yourself to others, she helpfully explains about individuals’ different developmental timelines, which gives the messaging greater clout. It is brilliant that this generation can learn from this wisdom – how I only wish I’d had access to such a book when I was younger, and many others will do too. Again, it serves to show just how important the Lionesses and their success last summer has been, and can continue to be, not just on a sporting platform, but a social and cultural platform, which is an even greater success.

One of the unfortunate happenstances of this book is that Williamson reflects on the ACL injuries of fellow players, only to have gone on since publication to suffer that season-changing injury herself, which will sadly rule her out of this summer’s World Cup. Having suffered a number of previous ankle injuries, as she explains in the book, here’s to Williamson, a genuine role model for this generation’s youngsters, once more coming back even stronger.

Jade Craddock

 (Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books; Main Market edition. March 2023. Paperback: 144 pages)


Buy the book here: You Have the Power

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Book Review: Lionesses: Gamechangers by Abdullah Abdullah

The Lionesses’ monumental crowning as European champions last summer has done much to change the whole landscape of football, not only on the pitch, but off it too. And one of the success stories emerging from their victory looks to be in the world of publishing. Historically, there has been something of a dearth of books about women’s football, despite there being a wealth of narratives out there. But, already, since last summer, there have been, amongst others, excellent autobiographies published by Alex Scott and Millie Farrow, children’s non-fiction from Leah Williamson and Beth Mead, and forthcoming non-fiction from Jane Purdon and Carrie Dunn. Amongst this groundswell of publishing passion, Abdullah Abdullah has offered a fitting contribution: Lionesses: Gamechangers.

With a background in football analysis and two books that focus on the tactical side of the women’s game (Olympique Lyonnais Feminin: Queens of Europe and Europe’s Next Powerhouse: The Evolution of Chelsea Under Emma Hayes), this time Abdullah sets his sights, as the title suggests, on the tactical details that have underpinned the Lionesses’ recent rise to European glory, beginning with a brief look at Phil Neville’s philosophy before a more in-depth assessment of Sarina Wiegman’s team.

As something of a relative novice when it comes to the world of tactical analysis, this wasn’t perhaps a natural read for me and, although there’s nothing overly taxing in the analysis, it does perhaps appeal to those with more of an analytic eye than ignorant old me. But whether your knowledge of the intricacies and minutiae of gameplay are limited, like me, to little more than the concept of ‘4-4-2’, it’s hard not to admire Abdullah’s research, focus and attention to detail. Given the emotion that surrounded the Lionesses’ success, what I found particularly fascinating was to see the team and the matches viewed through such a different lens, one that is purely pragmatic and technical, and it allows for a completely different perspective on their journey, bringing it back down to its footballing essence.

As well as breaking down individual games, the second half of the book takes a more thematic and individual approach, looking at specific players and positions within the England set-up, and personally I enjoyed this focus a lot. Analyses of Toone v Kirby and explorations of the full-back role felt really pertinent and I would have loved to have seen even more of this analysis, especially with the squad and emerging players who may be challenging for places to Australia and New Zealand this summer and beyond. While the book does point towards the imminent future, one of the obvious challenges of tackling such a time-sensitive issue is the risk of injuries and absences, which have been borne out with players like Williamson side-lined for the forthcoming World Cup and Mead and Bronze battling for fitness. The focus on Maya Le Tissier did begin to point towards the wider squad make-up, but it would have been nice for the examination to go even further and, whilst it’s impossible to predict injuries, looking beyond the main nucleus of players may have helped to ensure the book’s relevancy going forward. The graphics, too, do somewhat let the book down and, as a minimum, I felt colours may have helped enhance these, especially the heat maps.

But minor gripes aside, this is a book that must be praised for giving deserving focus to a deserving team. And this brings us back to the positive changes that we will hopefully continue to see across different sectors and communities as a result of the Lionesses’ success. Indeed, the idea of a book about the tactics of England’s women’s football team would most likely have been the stuff of fantasy even just twelve months ago, so to have such a work published and for the author to have chosen the subject as his focus is a sign of evolving times and the legacy that this inspirational team is making. It is exciting to see the range and scope of new books and writers that hopefully will now be given a platform as it’s clear that books like Abdullah Abdullah’s Lionesses: Gamechangers offer a unique contribution to the genre.

Jade Craddock

(Publisher: Pitch Publishing Ltd. April 2023. Paperback: 256 pages)


Buy the book here: Lionesses: Gamechangers

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Euro Ramblings (Group A) – England v Norway

Has there ever been a more comfortable, dominant or impressive display at a major international tournament than England’s demolition of Norway? The record books would suggest not; with the Lionesses claiming a number of records in Monday night’s rout that back up that claim, being both the first team to score six goals in the first half of a European Championship and the first team to score eight goals in a Euros match. And this not against one of the lesser-ranked sides in the tournament but former World Cup winners and twice Euros winners, Norway, who boast a Ballon d’Or winner in their ranks and who many feared would prove England’s toughest test in the group stages. So is it time to get out those flags and declare football is finally coming home or should we celebrate the performance but temper expectations on the basis that Monday night must surely be a one-off? Oh, dash it, let’s enjoy it while we can.

Goals galore – There’s surely only one place to start when looking back on the game and that’s the record-breaking goal haul. In truth, there had been little in the much cagier first-round match against Austria to suggest an eight-goal drubbing was on the cards. The Lionesses had been efficient if not eye-catching in that 1-0 opener and talk had been of being more clinical, more ruthless, taking the chances when they came. And, boy, did England deliver. Penalties, tap-ins, mazy runs, headers, we were treated to a goalscoring extravaganza, which lacked only an acrobatic overhead kick to place the cherry on the proverbial cake. Despite England’s clinical display, in all honesty there were chances to hit double figures, which would have done very little for Norway’s morale but would have sent a home nation already basking in the heat into meltdown. But let’s not get greedy, eight goals will do nicely, for starters. Let’s save the 10-0 victory for the Final.

Near-perfection – It’s something we all strive for, the achievement of perfection in whatever context we apply it, but in reality it happens very rarely, if ever. Monday night’s, however, must be as close as it comes to a perfect Lionesses performance, a perfect football performance. The eight goals, of course, tell their own story, but in terms of a complete team performance, there was very little more that Sarina Wigeman could have asked for or the players delivered. Offensively, it was about as good as it gets, with wave after wave of searching attacks, led most notably by both wide players, as well as England’s advanced full-backs. And whilst a clean sheet may be the least of Monday night’s headlines, how much more satisfying does 8-0 sound than 8-1 or 8-2? Critics will be quick to argue that the defence had an easy night of it, with very little in the way of a threat from Norway, but one lapse in concentration, one missed header on a corner or one moment of indecision at the back and a chance could have been capitalised on, but once again Millie Bright was at the heart of deflecting any Norwegian half-chances and securing a confidence-boosting second clean sheet of the campaign.

Star player – It’s hard to look past hat-trick hero Beth Mead when picking the standout performer from Monday night and in truth all sixteen players who featured would feel hard done by to pick up less than an 8/10 in any ratings. Anyone who watched Tuesday morning’s Euros summary on Sky Sports News would have seen broadcaster Emily Dean dishing out ratings of 60, 70 and 74 – out of 10 – to England’s Lionesses and it’s hard to argue. But whilst Mead rightly deserves another raft of plaudits, Ellen White proved just why she has been England’s number 9 for over a decade. Indeed, it was one of the best number 9 performances I’ve seen in the game in a long while – a complete masterclass in the position. It was as if she was in an instructional video demonstrating how to play the role, with work rate, hold-up play and hassling of defenders all covered, whilst her first goal illustrated tenacity, strength and composure and her second goal movement, positioning and the predatory qualities of all great forwards. White hasn’t always got the recognition she deserves despite being England women’s record goalscorer, but for any doubters, Monday night was a demonstration of just what a complete striker the Man City player is.

Quarter-Finals – Although England have only played two games, Monday night they emphatically sealed their place in the Quarter-Finals – meaning England are, wait for it, just three games from victory. There is still one final group game remaining. The clash against Northern Ireland which rounds off the Lionesses’ group stage is one many from the home nations have been looking forward to since the draw took place, but for which England can now afford to rest players should they choose to do so, with the knock-out game five days later possibly featuring a match-up against Spain or Germany. Both sides looked impressive in their respective 4-1 and 4-0 wins in their first games, but the head-to-head on  Tuesday will most likely determine the final shape of Group B, with both Finland and Denmark in the reckoning. On the strength of Monday night’s performance, England shouldn’t fear anyone, but we all know how these things go.

Wright Man for the Job – Is there any better pundit for an England game than the unapologetically patriotic Ian Wright? There is absolutely never any question over how much he loves England and wants them to win. And his red and white passion was once more on full display on Monday night on the Beeb. What’s great about Ian Wright is that he’s a true football fan first and foremost, and be it England Under-6s or England Over-96s if there were such teams, men and women, he gives the game and its players his full backing. A lot is spoken about with regard to male allies in the women’s game, supporting and championing women’s football, and they don’t come any bigger or more passionate than Ian Wright. Who else would you want in your corner as Team England?

Jade Craddock




Euro Ramblings – Opening Night

(c) UEFA

After the Three Lions roared into last summer’s Euros Final, only to fall at the final hurdle to a seasoned Italy, this time it’s the turn of the Lionesses to take on the best the continent has to offer in their own backyard and to see if they can go one better and bring home a major trophy for the first time in over half a century. No pressure, ladies? The appointment of current Euros winning manager, Sarina Wiegman, poached from title holders the Netherlands less than a year ago, suggests England’s intent and after a long wait to begin their journey, last night saw the Lionesses make their Euro 2022 debut, which featured, amongst other talking points, no yellow or red cards, one goal-line-technology-given goal, and some 68,871 fans. Here’s a few thoughts on the opening night.

Theatre of Dreams – Was there a more fitting venue for the tournament which looks set to catapult the women’s game to new heights than Old Trafford? Whilst Liverpool and Man City fans may want to argue otherwise, the aptly nicknamed Theatre of Dreams symbolises not only all that the women’s game and its players are striving for but how far it has already come. Ask any female player fifty, twenty, even ten years ago about the possibility of playing in the biggest Premier League stadium in the country and it would have been just that – the stuff of dreams, a seemingly impossible and outlandish fantasy. Fast-forward to 6 July 2022 and the Lionesses and their Austrian counterparts made those dreams into reality. And not only that but they did so in front of a record crowd for the Women’s Euros of 68,871. For those generations of women’s players gone by, it was a moment of pride in the progress of how the women’s game is respected but also perhaps regret that it has taken this long. While for future generations watching on last night, it was a moment of inspiration and motivation. They have seen their heroines play at one of the biggest grounds in the world, so why not them in a few years? Whilst Manchester United fans may have had a fair few nightmares at their home ground in recent years, last night it once more lived up to its billing as the real Theatre of Dreams.

Pre-match shirt

Warm-up shirts – These days, football’s spectacle begins before the game has kicked off and, for young fans, getting the chance to see their idols warm up is all part of the matchday experience. It’s also a chance, say us older, more cynical fans, to flog another gimmick – the warm-up shirt, or as I’m reliably informed by the kit manufacturer – the ‘pre-match shirt’. A rose by any other name and all that. Warm-up shirt, pre-match shirt, money-spinner, whatever you want to call it, whatever happened to warming up in your match shirt, and a bib if you’re lucky. Old-school, I know, but think of the laundry savings. Alas, laundry savings clearly don’t factor in when manufacturers see pound signs, and warm-up, sorry pre-match shirts are now endemic in the game. What’s frustrating though is, as evidenced by last’s night’s jazzy number, they’re just so darn enticing. After all, if you’re going to get fans to part with another £50, after they’ve already shelled out on home, away and third strips, or even fourth strips if you’re Juventus, Barcelona et al, you’ve got to really catch the eye, and is it just me or do the manufacturers save their best, most striking designs for just this eventuality? Sales will no doubt soar in the next few weeks and whilst parents and fans will see yet another hit to their bank balances, kit manufacturers deep in their secret lairs (or just in their design studios and warehouses, although that doesn’t seem quite so dastardly) will be busy at work trying to come up with yet more ways to part football fans from their hard-earned cash – post-match shirt, anyone?

Goal-line technology – While VAR may be the bane of many football fans’ lives (we’ve all heard the chants telling VAR just what to do), goal-line technology may just be the saviour. Yet, though the women’s game has seen significant leaps towards professionalism and parity with the men’s game in recent years, one outstanding issue relates to the use – or, rather, lack of use – of technology in the domestic format. It is something that those working in the women’s game continue to push for, and last night only served to prove its necessity. While Beth Mead’s well-taken goal wasn’t as definitive at first glance as Frank Lampard’s 2010 ‘ghost goal’, goal-line technology left no doubt as to its validity with an instantaneous verdict (minus the unnecessary VAR check afterwards) that ultimately granted the Lionesses their rightful victory. How different it would have been, however, were this a WSL or cup game played away from one of the larger stadiums that have the technology installed. It is easy to dismiss and lament technology in football, but it is a prerequisite of the top-level professional game, and without it, the domestic women’s game risks being left behind once more and its players not getting the fair and professional dues they deserve.

First-game nerves? – A home Euros. Stepping out at Old Trafford. A record 68,871 spectators. What’s there to be nervous about? Oh, and I forgot to mention the millions viewing around the world. Yes, the Lionesses would be forgiven for getting a touch of stage fright, but whilst the score may have been a conservative 1-0, in truth it was a largely comfortable and efficient first outing for Sarina Wiegman’s charges. Beth Mead’s deft first touch and perfectly lobbed second for England’s goal will likely got the headlines and it was a fitting winner, but there were impressive performances all over the pitch. A largely untroubled Mary Earps pulled off a crucial brace of saves in the second half. Keira Walsh’s understated but vital role in the heart of midfield allowed England’s forward-thinking players the freedom to attack. Lauren Hemp was typically probing, whilst Lucy Bronze continues to prove why she was labelled Best FIFA Women’s Player in 2020. But the star of the show for me was Millie Bright. In a close and potentially sticky first-round encounter, the experienced centre-back missed very little, ridding the England defence of danger on numerous occasions and proving tricky to mark on attacking set pieces. If there was a header to be won, there was never any doubt over who would win it, and with such authority at the back that only serves to bolster those in front. On this display, the Lionesses tournament is looking Bright.

Nettie Honeyball was the founder of the British Ladies’ Football Club, the first known women’s association football club, and one of their players until spring 1895. The name Nettie Honeyball was a pseudonym, and her real name is unknown

Marketing/Branding – Whilst I may have bemoaned the money-spinner that is shirt manufacturing, there is a serious note to the extensive marketing, branding and sponsorship that has gone into this tournament and that’s visibility of the women’s game. Increased broadcasting around the Women’s FA Cup and the WSL in recent times has really helped progress, but the Euros offers an even greater platform and chance to engage fans, in particular the next generation of female footballers. The build-up and spectacle around the tournament is a world away from the experiences of previous generations, and not even decades ago, but a mere ten, fifteen years ago. Names like Karen Carney, Alex Scott and Kelly Smith were amongst the first to really break through into a national consciousness just over a decade ago, but earlier names like Sylvia Gore, Gillian Coultard, Mary Phillip and many, many more remain unknown by and large, despite playing a significant role in the story of women’s football. The visibility of the Lionesses, epitomised by Nike’s campaign in which they projected images of Leah Williamson, Georgia Stanway, Demi Stokes et al across landmark locations, is crucial in not only connecting with fans but also ensuring the legacy and narrative of the game, situating these players in history and validating their contributions. Yet, whilst it is great to see so many fans now aware of the current Lionesses, a real success story for this championships would be greater interest, awareness and recognition of those that paved the way. Let’s make Nettie Honeyball, Emma Clarke, Alice Kell and all those that came before household names alongside the likes of Beth Mead, Fran Kirby and Nikita Parris.


Jade Craddock