Mitch Waddon meets . . Casey Stoney (Part 1)
I was very fortunate that the newly appointed England Women's football captain, Casey Stoney, agreed to do an interview with me. In this first instalment Casey discusses the early stages of her career, attempting management, and nearly quitting the international scene.
You were signed up by Chelsea as a youngster, how did you feel when Chelsea got in touch with you?
“I was actually playing at a girl’s little league at the time. I was about 11 or 12 and the Chelsea manager had come over to look for some young players, and she came straight over and said to my mum at the time “Look, would you like to come and play for Chelsea.” I think I nearly bit his hand off at the time because obviously they’re a big club and something I’d always dreamed of.”
So a big moment for you then?
“Yeah a massive turning point. Before that I didn’t really know of any women’s teams and always played with the boys.”
How would you describe your first spell at Chelsea?
“It was a big learning curve really because I was thrown straight in to senior women’s football and I was just a child at the time. I was tall for my age but learning to deal with the physical side of the game. I’d always had the raw ability but it was learning the game and I’d never played 11-a-side before either. I enjoyed it, I loved the training, I loved being around the girls and playing at such a high level and playing against teams like Arsenal. It was a real challenge.”
You moved to Arsenal in 1999. What convinced you that going to Arsenal was the right move at that stage in your career?
“I’d just got into the Under-16s and Chelsea weren’t in the Premier League, they were two divisions below. Speaking to a lot of the girls at England they were all in and around clubs in the Premier League and speaking to all the coaches there they were all advising me that I needed to play at a higher level to develop my game and move. Arsenal were interested and were the biggest club at the time and were successful. I’d heard about them and went and had a meeting with the coaches who showed me around Highbury and it was like “All my dreams have come true at once”. I pretty much signed the first day I went and had a look.”
Did you enjoy your time at Arsenal?
“I had a great time at Arsenal and won quite a lot of trophies which is great. I just felt after three years it was time to move on and have a new challenge.”
You then went to Charlton where you had a fairly successful spell. How would you describe your time there?
“Yeah it was fairly successful. We had a great manager at the time, someone who could help me develop my game a lot in Keith Boanas. I owe a lot of credit to him because he worked with me and got me through times when I was questioning if I wanted to give up or not, especially on the international scene. I owe him a lot of thanks really. He developed my game and gave me the mental toughness that I needed throughout the years to try and get to the top.”
“Winning the FA Cup in 2005. We played Everton at West Ham’s ground and I’ve got to say that was probably the most satisfying because when I was at Arsenal we did win things but it was almost too easy at times, whereas at Charlton we had to fight for things.
"We didn’t individually have the best players but collectively we always played as a team.
"I would say that was the thing that stuck out in my mind because I was the captain and got to lift the cup.”
So having to fight for it made it mean more?
“Yeah definitely. We were the underdogs as well and weren’t expected to win.”
You’ve already touched on this but what problems were you having on the international scene that made you consider retirement at a young age?
“Well in 2005 I think I’d amassed about 35 or 40 caps then with the European Championships in this country I didn’t play a single minute. I was an unused substitute which was really, really tough for me to take at the time and I didn’t know whether I wanted to continue, because you have to make a lot of sacrifices. I was working a full-time job, I was working extra hours to get time off for when I was playing with England and I was sacrificing all these things and I wasn’t even playing. It was one of those moments where I thought “I either give up or I try even harder to succeed” Thankfully I went for the latter option.”
Looking back you must be proud you stuck with it then.
“Yeah definitely. I had good people around me and that’s always important. I had the support of my mum and the support of my manager at Charlton at the time so I had good people who advised me and said “You’ve worked so hard to get to where you’re at. Don’t give it up.” I worked hard and upped my game and it paid off for me."
It must’ve been tough when the Charlton Women’s side was disbanded following the men’s team being relegated to the Championship in 2007.
“Yeah of course, that was a real low point in my career. We just played in the FA Cup final in front of more than 24,000 people and then the following week we’re told we didn’t have a team anymore. It was tough and disappointing. To this day I’ve never had a thank you off the club. I’ve never had a letter or any sort of gratitude whatsoever. We never even had any information from the club about it. It all came straight through the manager. It was pretty disappointing. We appreciate that they had to make cutbacks and the women’s team was the first thing to go but they didn’t give us the option to play for nothing, which I think a lot of players would’ve done, me included. We were never given the option to stay together but I am a true believer that everything happens for a reason and it was the chance for a change for me. Fortunately Chelsea wanted me to go there so I was lucky.”
Using Charlton as an example, do you feel that women’s football is not looked on in the same way as the men’s competition?
“Of course it’s not. We don’t get the fans through the door that the men’s teams get, the money isn’t there. They’re talking about the men’s television contracts going for billions whereas we’re quite fortunate if we get a game on telly, which we did have last Sunday (v Netherlands) which was fantastic. At one point there was seven million people watching that game and that’s quite a big thing. The want is there and we’re growing every year. Are we ever going to compete with men’s football? No but I don’t think any other sport in the world can. It’s easily the biggest sport it terms of the money and revenue that goes into it. Hopefully we can get away from the comparisons and start talking about women’s football and the performances and results instead of the comparisons to the men’s game.”
“I was, yeah. It was difficult actually. I was asked to do it as a stand-in, I didn’t think it was going to be for the whole season. I took control because I felt like I had to in terms of looking after the players but I was a player, the captain and then the manager at the same time and a coach. We didn’t have any other coaches working with me which was difficult. It’s very difficult to play, pick the team and manage the team but I learnt a lot in the six months I was the manager of the team and I learnt it is very, very difficult to be a player-manager. It’s something I would never do again but it taught me a lot about playing, and how to manage players, especially people that are around your age, your peers. It was a great experience for me and something I’d love to do again but not until I’ve finished playing.”
So you would consider management once you’d retired from playing?
"Yeah, definitely. I currently work at the Lincoln ladies centre of excellence. I work with the under-17s team and that’s something I really enjoy. It’s not only a job for me, it’s a passion, so I can’t imagine retiring and completely going away from the game. I’d love to stay involved, I’d love to manage a team or coach a team in some way shape or form and I hope to do that at the highest level.”
Make sure to return to Squarefootball on Monday for the second part of this in-depth interview, where Casey talks about Lincoln City, being England captain and The European Championship finals.