Moore of the same please! Leah Williamson can emulate Bobby

KATHRYN BATTE: Moore of the same please! Leah Williamson is an ice-cold leader with nerves of steel… and now she can emulate the legendary Bobby by lifting a trophy for England at Wembley

  • Leah Williamson has helped lead England’s charge to the final of the Euros
  • Sarina Wiegman saw qualities in the Arsenal defender that others did not have 
  • She showed nerves of steel to score her penalty against Norway in 2015
  • Williamson will step up again as she looks to follow in Bobby Moore’s footsteps 

It was April 2015 when Leah Williamson showed why she would one day be England captain.

Aged 18, she had taken and scored a stoppage-time penalty against Norway in a qualifying match for the Under 19 European Championship. But in a bizarre turn of events, Williamson had to retake it five days later.

German referee Marija Kurtes had disallowed the goal for encroachment and awarded a free-kick to Norway, instead of ordering a retake.

The decision meant England lost 2-1 and missed out on a place in the tournament finals. But in an unprecedented move, UEFA agreed the rules had not been followed and decided the match should be replayed from the 96th minute — starting with Williamson’s penalty. The days that followed were anxious and Williamson was seen pacing the halls of England’s hotel until the day finally came.

Leah Williamson is aiming to lead England to glory against Germany on Sunday

She could follow in the footsteps of Bobby Moore by triumphing on home soil 

Williamson scored a crucial penalty against Norway in the U19 qualifier back in 2015

The story had attracted national attention. There was a large crowd and Sky Sports News went there live to broadcast the penalty. Even at that young age, Williamson had nerves of steel. She scored, emphatically.

It has always been a case of when, not if, Williamson would become captain of the senior side. But it perhaps came sooner than many expected.

Williamson is only 25 and had just 30 minutes of tournament football (at the 2019 World Cup) under her belt before this summer. If Steph Houghton had not missed the majority of last season through injury, it could have been her leading out the Lionesses in the Euros final at Wembley on Sunday. 

But after Houghton injured her achilles before Sarina Wiegman’s first game in charge in September, the England manager had a decision to make. There were more experienced names, but Wiegman saw qualities in the Arsenal defender that others did not have.

There is no one more calm, composed or humble than Williamson. She has never been sent off for Arsenal and has never had more than two yellow cards in a season. Though she rarely steals the headlines, she is fiercely competitive and passionate.

Remind you of anyone? Bobby Moore, the only England captain to lift a major trophy, had all the same characteristics. He too could go unnoticed despite all the work he did on the pitch. He was the quiet, unassuming leader who took his country to glory.

Now Williamson is 90 minutes away from doing the same.

There has been pressure on England throughout this European Championship but, as always, Williamson has taken it in her stride. ‘I think on paper it looks like a pressurised situation, but I don’t feel that at the minute. I’m still finding my way with it,’ she said ahead of the tournament. ‘I’m not pretending to know all the answers and maybe it’s because I’m not pretending to know the answers, or pretending to be the most ready I’ve ever been.

‘I’ve got processes I’ve been using for the last however long in my career for dealing with pressure. It’s not that I’ve been put on a pedestal; I’m just the same, it’s just I have this extra responsibility. And I take it more as a responsibility than pressure. I do feel like I would have given anything to get on the pitch, so I don’t intend to waste a second now not enjoying it.’

Williamson’s sporting story could have taken a completely different route. A strong runner, she considered swapping football boots for spikes after being inspired by the 2012 Olympic Games.

The Arsenal star relished the big stage and has processes to deal with pressure

But her love for the beautiful game, especially Arsenal, was too strong. Despite growing up in a house full of Tottenham fans, Williamson chose to support the Gunners and joined the club’s academy aged nine.

By the age of 21, she had reached 100 senior appearances and is already viewed as a club legend by fans. Williamson is viewed as the most serious and focused player in the England and Arsenal squads. She often had to keep her best friend and current international team-mate Keira Walsh in line when they played together at England youth level.

Walsh told The Times earlier this summer: ‘She got in trouble a lot for me, I think because she was the captain. They would call Leah into a meeting and she’d be getting, “Keira needs to be on time more”. When we were young she was the more serious one of the two of us. She’d remind me not to be late, the kit I needed. I would text her and be like, “What time do we need to go to breakfast? What kit are we supposed to be wearing?” A lot of times she was dragging me to places.’

The Lionesses will be looking to follow their captain’s lead in the huge game 

But Williamson also has a fun, relaxed side. She is the team DJ for Arsenal and England, a role she takes very seriously. The Lionesses celebrated with music and sing-alongs in their dressing room after the record-breaking win over Norway and knockout victories against Spain and Sweden.

‘Leah has some really good throwback songs and we love a sing-along,’ said team-mate Alessia Russo. ‘She’ll throw one on and everyone is like, “Ah, we haven’t heard this in years!”’

Williamson will hope to have the tunes on after Sunday’s final against Germany. But first she must lead her team to victory. It will be no easy task, against an organised, clinical team.

But one thing is certain — if penalties are needed, Williamson will be more than ready.

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