Tuesday, June 25, 2024

‘There are some things you have to do on your own’ Arseblog exclusive with Leah Williamson

On 61 minutes of Arsenal’s 6-0 victory over Reading, Leah Williamson came on for Jen Beattie. It was her first appearance since rupturing her ACL last April at Manchester United. On that evening, she beat the turf in pain and frustration, aware immediately of what she had done.

This evening, she came on to a reception more akin to a pop star taking the stage. Jen Beattie, who she replaced, bowed to her on her way off. Captain for the night, Katie McCabe ran to the sideline and gave her the captain’s armband. Leah Williamson was back.

Speaking to Arseblog News after the game, Williamson says this game was earmarked for her return for a few weeks and could not deny that the excitement increased as the days passed, no matter how logically she approached it.

‘I’m a logical person so I said I wanted to plan early and there is so much where you have to see how you feel. But from the start of my rehab I have been quite lucky in terms of feeling ready for every step, almost too ready but never pushing the time.

‘As the game got closer I have been like a little kid all week trying to not be annoying. I have been acting like Beth on a daily basis and that is out of character for me. I’ve been louder than usual and I am glad it is out of the way now because there were some nerves on the bench, I’ll tell you that.’

As England captain, Williamson is in the limelight on and off the pitch and has become a very familiar face for the nation. I put it to Leah however that, in terms of her actual rehabilitation, she has been quiet and shared little. She says, emphatically, that this was deliberate.

‘It has been. I have always worked hard in silence almost. I love that we get to come out on the pitch and put on a show. That is what I love about football and what is a lovely moment every weekend when you come out with the fans and you get to bond that way. But there are some things you have to do on your own and are your business.

‘It is a hot topic at the moment and there are lots of opinions around it (ACL injuries) and I felt like I had my plan that could help me through it and that was all I needed. I have been quiet on purpose, getting my work done and keep my head down and then you get to celebrate moments like this.’

Williamson’s cameo gave Arsenal fans a glimpse of what they have been missing in her nine month absence. She picks the ball up in her own half, glances up, sees Beth Mead making a run on the shoulder of the Reading left-back and plays a flighted pass which Mead half volleys into the net from range.

‘Genuinely she said to me this week, ‘if we come on at the same time, kick it over the top and I’ll volley it in.’, Leah laughs. ‘She genuinely said that and i didn’t know she was going to do it! I don’t know if people heard me but i was screaming running down the pitch to her and that was why. Beth is one of the people here I have played with for a long time and it feels like coming back in with old friends.’

I remind Leah of a time when we spoke in the aftermath of winning the league at Brighton in 2019. During that game, she was substituted for what she described as ‘a shocker’ of a performance. Leah admitted after the game that the emotion of winning the league affected her game. I ask her whether she used that experience to her benefit this evening.

‘100% yes. Even the Euros final towards the end of the game, that began to feel very emotional and I am an emotional person and I will never apologise for it. It is one of my great strengths. But in a moment like this, it was about being level headed and keeping that in check.

‘I am so happy my family were away from the bench, I didn’t turn around and look at anyone. At the end of the day, I am a footballer and, yes, this is a lovely moment. But i came on to help my team win and put in a performance I can hopefully build on for the next game. I hate to be boring but that is literally what it is.

‘I tried to take the emotion out of it today and I was told I had to go and run afterwards so I had to swallow the tears again!’ While Williamson has kept the limelight away from her gruelling gym sessions and rehab, she has taken the opportunity for extra curricular projects that she might not have otherwise had the time for.

She learned to play the piano and gave a keynotes speech for the UN, as well as visiting a refugee camp in Jordan with Arsenal In The Community. ‘I was never going to waste that opportunity I was given to do those things, especially going to Jordan to the refugee camp with Arsenal.

‘Things like that have been on my radar for a long time but we don’t have any time when we are playing. When it came around, I sat down with the team and we planned ahead. You need to get through something like this and we planned out different points where i would be able to do things like that. And doing things with the UN, I was never going to waste that opportunity.

‘But this is where i want to be. I want my Wednesday nights to be taken up by football, even though I will miss going for dinner with my mates whenever I want!’ Leah says she doesn’t yet know whether she will be in the squad for Sunday’s WSL game at Liverpool and that she wouldn’t want it any other way.

‘We have plans and scenarios and tonight went to plan. But i want to be treated like a footballer and I know I am in rehab and we have conversations with the performance staff. But when it comes to Jonas, he is the manager, I am a player and I want him to treat me like a player. To get back into the swing of it as soon as possible.

‘We haven’t had any conversations about Sunday but that will probably happen tomorrow.’ Before speaking to Arseblog News, Williamson runs over to see her family, which we try not to take personally. Leah’s every touch during the game was greeted with screams from Arsenal fans but Leah says she wanted to reserve her post-match conversations with her family (we assume she includes Arseblog News as part of her family).

‘It was lovely, I wish I could go and say hi to them all and speak to them all but tonight was about my family. I love the fans but today was a big one for me so I will give them some love back for the rest of the season.’

One thing is for sure, the love is very much mutual and very apparent in Reading this evening.

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Tony avis

It’s fantastic to see Leah, Beth & Viv back. They are the heartbeat of the team & epitomise everything that’s good about the team & club. We shouldn’t dwell on what might have been (if they’d not been injured) but should look forward to what will be now they’re back and linking up with the other great players we have, both established players and the new recruits. ONWARDS AND UPWARDS. UTA

Maul Person

Welcome back, Leah! A true Gunner!


Amazing to have her back. Good interview Tim!

Robert Ritchie

Was so happy to see Leah return and that assist for Beth, was just like they have never been away.

Gunner H

Leah’s return was nothing short of Magnificent!

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