Team GB, In Their Own Words

Getty Images/Team GB

Team GB are preparing for their first Olympic Games in the women’s football tournament since a quarter-final showing at London 2012. Over half of the squad have spoken with EnglandFootball.org to give their thoughts ahead of the biggest summer of their lives. This is Team GB, in their own words.

Getting Picked

“I think today it kind of hit me a little bit,” admits Keira Walsh on the day she is named in the squad. “I joined up with the squad and we were given the Team GB kit, it’s such an exciting opportunity. Growing up, I obviously wouldn’t have thought I [would be] sat here.”

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Her teammate Nikita Parris echoes those sentiments. “I’m really happy. It’s a fantastic achievement for me and all the rest of the girls that have been selected in the squad. We’ve worked very hard to get to this point as individuals and also as a team. It’s the first step on the journey to actually get to Tokyo.”

“I’m absolutely made up,” says Georgia Stanway. “I was driving in and I was just [thinking] it’s really hard to put into words — I’m over the moon about it all. It’s a very surreal feeling, and something that I’ve worked so hard for this season and it’s here now. I can’t wait to get going.

“To go to a World Cup, to now be going to an Olympics, to have achieved so many caps at Manchester City, and to only be 22 years old, it’s crazy! To be honest, I can’t put it into words because everything has flown for me.”

“It’s incredible. It’s quite think it’s sunk in just yet.” Millie Bright is beaming from ear to ear. “It’s the biggest stage in sport. To be involved and to be a part of such a fantastic squad, it’s an absolute dream, it’s an honour. It’s still fresh in the mind and I think it’s going take a while to settle in really.”

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Walsh and Stanway share a dressing room at Manchester City with Demi Stokes. For her too, being selected is one of the proudest achievements in her life. “When I was getting ready, I was almost laughing to myself just because you watch the Olympics growing up and you watch all the sports. But to think that you’re going to be an Olympian and represent your country on a massive stage is an unbelievable honour. I feel really proud.”

The youngest player in the squad is 20-year-old Lauren Hemp. But that’s not something that bothers her one bit. “I’m proud. I like being one of the young ones. I’m just going to go and absorb everything. If you’d told me about ten years ago that in ten years’ time I’d be competing at an Olympics at age 20, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. So it is surreal. I just can’t wait to get going. I’m ready to prove why I should be there and I’m alongside some talented players. Hopefully we’ll go on and achieve big things.”

The Manager

Team GB will be managed by Hege Riise, who won gold with Norway at Sydney 2000. Her wealth of experience seems to have captured the imagination of her players and allowed them to dream of repeating her feat.

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“We had a Zoom call with the team to introduce everyone,” says Sophie Ingle, who is the only Welsh representative in the squad. “She started the Zoom by explaining how she had won gold before. It was just amazing to hear that story. I obviously knew she’d won gold, but she went through the games of how she actually got the final, and what happened in the final. That was really inspiring for me to hear that now that’s going to be my manager leading into the summer. She’s already experienced such amazing things and has a gold medal. That’s all we can dream of really.”

Riise has been England’s interim manager since February, but will won’t be returning after the Olympics. Sarina Wiegman, who will coach the Netherlands at these Games, will then take over as England permanent manager. Will the Olympics provide one last celebration under Riise’s management for the English players in the squad?

“I’ve not really thought about it like that. I think all the girls that have experienced her coaching when she was with England, she’s such a calming influence. She’s got such experience and she’s won a gold medal. I kind of feel that’s going to rub off on us. The girls really do enjoy playing for her.”

Competing in Tokyo

“I haven’t been to Japan before. I’m actually a bit worried about the heat and the humidity! Hopefully it’s not too bad,” says Ingle. She’s not the only one visiting Tokyo for the first time. Hemp is also yet to experience football in Japan.

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“I’ve never been before,” says Hemp. “I know it’s quite a long journey, but I know that the cities are amazing. I can’t wait to explore a new culture.”

Rachel Daly, who plays for Houston Dash in the United States, isn’t as concerned about the temperature in Japan as Ingle. “In the heat, I’m used to that in Houston, so I guess a little bit of an advantage for me personally.”

Speaking to EnglandFootball.org after arriving in Tokyo, Arsenal’s Lotte Wubben-Moy believes Team GB are settling into their new home well. “The facilities we have access to are obviously high-grade. Even more so, the facilities that the Japanese Olympic Committee have offered up to use have been amazing. The Todoroki Stadium has sort of become our home and we made it indefinitely our home when we beat New Zealand [in a behind-closed-doors friendly on Wednesday 14 July]. Put us on any grass pitch anywhere in Japan and we’ll make it our own.”

Looking Ahead to the Games

The Tokyo Games signal a landmark moment in women’s sport in Britain. It is the first time that the Team GB delegation has included more female athletes than male. Stokes believes this shows sport is moving in the right direction.

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“I think that’s massive,” she says. “It just shows where sport is going, where football is going, and where we are going as a nation. That’s what we want. We want to propel things forward; we want momentum to keep growing and growing. Being a part of the history is important, and I think we have a big role to play, a big responsibility to go and perform and do well and put the shirt and GB in a better place going forward.”

“I think obviously it’s obviously come at a good time for me,” says Fran Kirby, who won the FWA Player of the Year award this season. “I was disappointed that the Games weren’t able to go ahead last year, because the girls had worked so hard to get themselves ready. For me personally, I feel like I’m in great place going into the Games. Hopefully I can take my league form and my Chelsea form into Team GB and hopefully play well.”

“Yeah. I think our experiences in previous tournaments can really help push us forward.” Nikita Parris is referring to three successive semi-final exits, at the World Cups of 2015 and 2019 and at Euro 2017. “This is a new team with new faces, so we have to gel together really quickly. The players coming into the squad and the players already selected [before] have got a lot of experience. That’s the most important thing. So when those crucial moments come, I hope our experience does take over to push us on.”

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Team GB’s opening match against Chile will be the fourth event of the entire Games across all sports. It will kick off the football tournament and takes place at the Sapporo Dome at 8:30am BST on Wednesday 21 July.

“It’s going to be a great spectacle to kick off the tournament. Everyone’s excited for that game, and preparations started as soon as the groups came out. Everyone was talking about who’s in the group and what games will be played. Chile is the first game and that’s where the preparations begin. We have to focus.”

Following England’s men’s run to the final of Euro 2020, Leah Williamson is after a similarly memorable summer with Team GB. “I remember being at home in England the summer of the [2018] World Cup, and it was probably one of the best summers of my life. So I’m very jealous that you all got to live that experience in the country whilst we’ve been preparing over here in Japan. Bitterly disappointed in the end, but that’s why we love sport isn’t it? It gives us our highest highs and our lowest lows. From an English, British perspective, we’ve been very successful. It’s time to take it to the next level. You saw that they wanted to do that so badly, and so do we.”

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Fellow centre-back Millie Bright is equally confident that Team GB are medal contenders. “We’re a team that wants to win. We’ve got players in the squad that have got a strong winning mentality. That’s ultimately the aim as Team GB: it’s to win.”

Caroline Weir keeps it simple. “It’s going to be a really cool experience.”

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