Leah Williamson: 19 years and counting

Leah Williamson: 19 years and counting

Our vice-captain talks us through her long association with the club and the legacy the women's team will leave behind

One WSL title, four League Cups and two FA Cups. 232 appearances, 15 goals.

Leah Williamson never imagined those statistics to be possible for her when she grew up supporting Arsenal, but her love for the club was clear as day the first time she got to pull on the red and white jersey.

“I’ll never forget the first time coming home from picking up my kit. It was number six, they were randomly allocated numbers, in a black bin bag, and I took it home. 

“My whole family came round and watched me put on every single item. I remember coming to a couple of presentation evenings here, growing up through the Academy and my uncle stealing the coat hangers because they had Arsenal branding on them! 

“It’s a confession I’m not sure I should have told you… I still have them now, just little things over the years that mean the most to me, the little bits like that. 

“My first-ever trial, I played at Highbury and that means a lot to me that I had that experience as well, and trained at the JVC Centre before I was even an Arsenal player.”

Then, Leah’s 19-year association with Arsenal began, and that journey was extended this week with the signing of a new contract.

A Gunner through and through, Leah didn’t have to think twice about staying in north London.

“Obviously everyone knows what Arsenal means to me, but I think every time I sign a new contract, I feel that love ignite all over again. I’m very happy to be staying and looking forward to the next couple of years.

“The most important thing for me is to be competitive as a footballer, obviously it’s my job, I want to make sure that I’m in a place where I can give my team what they deserve. And this, I think this is the place where I can still continue to grow, to develop, to be challenged.

"I believe playing in this league in England, one of the most competitive leagues in the world, obviously there’s going to be no question if I’m going to be here for who I’m playing for.

“I definitely had the dream, but no, even to imagine, especially playing at Emirates Stadium, as a young girl, it just wasn’t something that I could ever imagine being me and not in my lifetime. I definitely had the dream, but I don’t think I truly ever believed it until it happened.”

Now that it has happened, Leah is full of gratitude for her family, who have enabled her to pursue that dream.

“In my family, it doesn’t matter what you do or what your hobbies are, what your job is, everything is celebrated equally, and I’ve always loved that,” she said. “So, me playing for Arsenal is just an extension of us, giving back to the club as fans, and to have them here, all I know of Arsenal is family and that’s also the main reason why I choose to stay. The club means a lot to us, it’s done a lot for us, it’s given us a lot and I suppose this is the way we can give back as well.”

Speaking on Arsenal’s family values, Leah added: “The community, the way the club is represented by the people that support it. They’ve just done things differently my whole life, it’s quite important to me when I’m in discussions at the club and I know it is to the girls as well, we’re all in those discussions to try and maintain that. 

“Football’s changing and there are so many different factors involved nowadays compared to what it was, it feels a lot more complicated than it used to be, but we always want to keep what Arsenal has always been, that element of class and just doing things in a way that is competitive but done right. I’m very passionate about trying to maintain that as much as we can whilst also navigating this new trajectory that football is on.”

“mikel said it the other day - we've all turned into believers again”

The rollercoaster of a football career has included highs and lows for Leah as well, who won the Euros with England in 2022 before suffering a long-term ACL injury.

“I’ve been on the sidelines for too long over the last couple of seasons and I think I’ve aged considerably because of it,” she said. “But there’s been moments like the Wolfsburg game, I’ve never felt pride like that of being in a team and just a group of girls and how together we were – you don’t get it often and you feel it when it clicks. Watching games like that, I’ve never been prouder, I’ve never missed the pitch more in the same moment. 

“It’s not been easy to be watching but also to have seen it from a different lens. I’ve now experienced playing in a sold-out stadium, which I’ve waited a long time for, but to watch that happen, be part of the crowd, heading to the Tollington on a matchday before the Wolfsburg game, just things I would never get the opportunity to do, it’s been special, it’s given me special moments as well.”

Leah has been watching our men’s first team as well, which has been a joy this season.

“Again, there are times in football where things are really good and I think Mikel said it the other day that we’ve all turned into believers again, really feeling like we deserve a place at the top,” she said. “That goes across the whole club – it’s a good place to come to work. At the end of the day, this is my job, I like to go in and I like people to be in a good mood, I like people to be feeling like they’re chasing and within reach of what they’re trying to achieve. 

“Obviously, with the addition of Declan at Arsenal, the English boys especially, I know them and it’s lovely to see them on a similar journey to us and know that we’re all being competitive and we’re all up there. It didn’t go our way for both teams in the end, but I feel like there’s a real belief across the club, that’s what you want to be part of.”

Coming back after her ACL injury, Leah shared her return with Kim Little’s 300th appearance for Arsenal. She went on to feature in a sold out Emirates Stadium for the north London derby.

“The first time I cried since I did my ACL was when I missed out on the Manchester United game,” she said. “It broke my heart because I was so excited and I’m a fairly logical person, boring maybe is the word, but I stay pretty level-headed and that was something I let myself get excited for.

"When that north London derby rolled around, I don’t think I was 100% fit, but there was absolutely no chance I was going to miss the opportunity to play on that stage with the sold-out crowd again. 

“That noise, I think Kim said to me that she doesn’t really notice much like that when she’s on the pitch, but that noise was incredible, a bit overwhelming to be honest, but also nice.

"I feel like I give my heart and soul to them, so for me to feel appreciated in that moment, it felt very special and I want to thank for the fans for that because there aren’t many moments in sport when you get that love shown. It was really, really nice.

“I remember coming to the first game at Emirates Stadium, Dennis Bergkamp’s testimonial, sat in the heavens practising jumping up because it was so high, and I had never been in a stadium that big before. What we’ve done here and within the team, we’re so aware of the people across the club that have made that happen and I feel like we’re all in it together, which I think is really special. 

“To be able to set the tone almost, the fans coming to the games and selling the tickets that we have to for every game, I think what we’ve started here and the sustainability of it, what we’re proving is possible for women’s sports, I think that’s a fairly good legacy to leave behind as a team. 

“There have been moments in my life of being proud of the generation that I’m in and very thankful for this time, this is another one. To move here and for it to be our main home, and that doesn’t seem weird to me, it’s totally normal to me, I think means we’re changing the tide and potentially the trajectory of women’s football in general, not just here at Arsenal.

“I feel like this Arsenal team has been through so much and consistently comes out the other side. We haven’t been as successful as we’d have liked to be in the past couple of seasons, something that we’re very focused on changing going forward. When people do it, sitting on the sidelines like I have been the last year and a half or so, I see this team as trailblazers, they’re changing the game, the way they connect with the fans, the way they’re authentic, and show who they are as human beings, whilst also being incredible athletes, that’s what I want people to remember. 

“I want people to remember us as winners which is why it’s important we start bringing some trophies back to this club, because this is what this club has always been. I know when people sign here, it’s the expectation regardless of recent history, that is the expectation. The smile says it all, I’m excited to get going.”

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