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England star Leah Williamson: Female footballers need another qualification in their locker

Lionesses star Leah Williamson has spoken about how most women footballers still need to have backup careers  (David Parry/PA)
Lionesses star Leah Williamson has spoken about how most women footballers still need to have backup careers (David Parry/PA)

England footballer Leah Williamson has spoken about the importance of sportswomen having another qualification in their “locker”, as she said the sport needs more women in positions of power.

It comes as the Lionesses and Arsenal defender has been ruled out of the women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand after suffering a knee injury and undergoing surgery.

Williamson, who has been training to be an accountant alongside her football career, told the PA news agency that pursuing a different qualification started off as an “insurance policy” for herself.

She told PA: “Originally, when I started it, women’s football wasn’t as secure as it is now.

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“I started it as a bit of an insurance policy for me to take the pressure off football, so if it didn’t work out I have something else.”

“Most women’s footballers my age will have a qualification of some description just because we have to, in case anything goes wrong”, she said.

The 26-year-old defender’s ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) injury last month came as a blow to the club, with England’s first World Cup match against Haiti taking place on July 22.

She said in a statement: “Ultimately, I think it’s just my time (to suffer an injury).

“I haven’t had a day since last October when I’ve walked on to the pitch without a physical or mental question mark over me, and that’s professional sports.

“So now I have to listen to my body, give it what it needs, and if everything happens for a reason, then we’ll see what road this turn sends me down.”

Meanwhile, Williamson revealed she had invested in Toca Football last week in her first foray into the business world.

The collaboration with Toca, which runs football-themed social entertainment venues, called Toca Social, and operates indoor soccer centres in North America – will help drive women’s participation in the sport, she said.

The venture, along with her accounting qualification, represents the importance of sports people having a back-up career, Williamson told PA.

“For me, I enjoyed maths at school, so it seemed like a secure thing to tick off and that I always have in my locker.

“I don’t want to wish away my career but it is a short-lived time for all of us.”

Williamson also talked about the need for more women in management positions across the sport.

“Within football, there are so many rooms that need women in positions of power… and there are places that I would like to see women influence a lot more than we already do”, she told PA.

She said she could be in a decision-making position within a business in the future, and takes inspiration from retired players who make a “smooth transition” into their next role.

“It is a really fine balance. The nature of what we do requires absolute dedication, and the performance side of it consumes you.

“But it is so important, and the way I look at it, is that I would like to know before the end where I would like to head.”

The captain was among the Lionesses recognised in the New Year Honour List, where she became an OBE.

She also signed a three-book deal with Macmillan Children’s Books earlier in the year.