Throwing away prized players.
Suzanne Beishon talks to Manchester United junior goalkeeper EMILY RAMSEY about having to move from her home club.
FOOTBALL clubs are extremely proud when their local homegrown academy products make it to the top. And who can blame them? These increasingly rare players often become the beating heart of their teams. They understand the club ethos and badge they play for in a way that no import from abroad or another academy can. They aren’t just players, they are supporters. Nurtured from childhood to adulthood not just as players but as people too.
And when a player does make that rare breakthrough they are idolised by fans that have seen one of their own grow up in front of their eyes.
Few clubs have as rich a history of successfully transitioning players from the academy to the first team than Manchester United. The “class of ’92” golden generation is the highlight of a rich vein of Mancunian talent that has come through the club. The ability for players to make the grade has undoubtedly got harder as clubs rely on big-money signings in order to maintain their league standing. Any dip that may come from a period of development cannot be afforded in the modern football era.
Yet occasionally a talented player, usually with a heavy helping of luck thrown in, makes the grade. Marcus Rashford is just the latest to make the breakthrough. Rashford began playing football for a local boys’ team aged five, before joining the academy system at Manchester United aged seven. The 18-year-old’s meteoric rise to the Manchester United and England first teams has been a breath of fresh air — and this from an Arsenal fan who had to endure the teen’s league debut.
Except it’s not the same story for all of Manchester United’s talented academy prospects. Not everyone has the chance to live the fairy tale. If you’re a girl carefully guided through the youth set-up at United it’s a very different story. Because Manchester United don’t have a women’s team. In fact United and Southampton are the only Premier League sides not to have women’s teams.
And for one 15-year-old, the lack of a senior side means that she will have to ply her trade in different colours.
Emily Ramsey has trodden a similar path to Rashford. Playing for the local boys’ side aged six — with boys a year older than her — before joining Manchester United aged eight and working her way up through their girls’ system. Except rather than knocking on the door of the senior side at her childhood club, ahead of turning 16 she is faced with the prospect of having to upheave her development and find a team elsewhere to continue playing.
Before flying to Lithuania to join the England under-17 side following her call-up for their European Championship qualifiers, Emily told of the excellent start she has been given at United, explained the position she finds herself in at club level and expressed hope of a change further down the line.
The young goalkeeper was surrounded by football from an early age and benefited from the change in attitudes that has taken place over the years towards girls playing.
“I was always used to playing with boys, I never used to play with girls that much when I was younger so from my point of view I was used to it. And they were a year older but you never really thought of it like that and a lot of teams when they first came to play us would think: ‘Aw, there’s a girl in there, we’re going to win this easily.’ But obviously then we’d start and they soon realised that I could actually play football. Then they weren’t thinking about that!”
Emily didn’t always see playing football professionally as an option available, let alone in England. In fact she thought her future would lie in the US if she was good enough to pursue it. But, like many, she saw the progress made by Team GB at the Olympics and England at the Women’s World Cup in Canada as a turning point for women’s football.
“When I was around 12 we went to watch the women’s football at the London Olympics, we saw GB and the players there played really well, like Steph Houghton.
“I realised then that, actually, there were a lot of people watching that game and I could actually make something out of it. Ever since then football in England has been growing and becoming more popular and it’s definitely become something I want to do.
“I’m hoping, after this season at United, I’ll be moving on to probably a development squad for a Women’s Super League team and then hopefully progress through to the first team in time.”
Except rather than being able to continue her rise, like Rashford, alongside talented players and dedicated coaches who have helped shape her development, she will be playing for England and embark on her last season at United knowing she’ll have to find a new home, and it is not because she’s not good enough.
“It’s definitely not the best thing. I always loved playing for United and watching United and stuff like that but having to move on due to the fact that there’s nowhere else to go within the club, it’s tough, but they have also given me loads of support. They’ve moved my career on massively and they’ve helped me play for England.”
Emily is full of praise for the coaches and players in the MU Foundation that work with the girls day-to-day and invest so much to then see their fledgling players fly the nest with their best years ahead of them.
“If it weren’t for United I wouldn’t be playing for England. The quality of coaching and support I’ve had has been fantastic. If I move onto a new club and make a career out of football, United will have been a crucial part of my past and of who I am as a person and a player.”
The sad thing is that not only do Manchester United lose the best years of their talented young women, they also risk tarnishing the reputation of the club in the eyes of these passionate lifelong supporters.
But there is hope. Local rivals Manchester City have poured resources (relatively) into their women’s side and have built one of the most professional and serious set-ups in the game. This focus had started to reap rewards with their first Super League title coming this year.
And while Emily will have missed out, she’s hopeful that the quick success of City will help heap the pressure on United to catch up.
“City are United’s biggest rivals. They’re doing better than the men in the league at the moment — for now! — and they are fields ahead when it comes to a women’s team. City are winning everything. Hopefully the long-standing rivalry will help encourage United to establish a women’s team to compete with them in every area.
“I remember when City started putting a lot of work into their team in 2012. They had a couple of seasons where they didn’t win much and now they are one of the best teams in the country and challenging in Europe. That shows how quickly it could be done if United did set up a team.”
And the promising goalkeeper is pleased her story is a part of the conversation. “It’s important to get your story out there, your point of view, because the club does care. They care about their image, their players and the community. More and more brilliant players coming out of the Girls’ Regional Talent Club who head over to rival teams highlights how good a senior women’s team could be.
“It can be disappointing for girls that are growing up with United, United fans, living in the area, having to leave and go somewhere else but we are also very lucky to have had the start the MU Foundation has given us.
“I think we just need to continue to get more awareness of women’s football as a whole and help the club to see the benefits that expanding their women’s football would bring to the club.”
Emily’s England call-up and ongoing success as a player is certainly helping to draw attention to the question of a United women’s team. “When the foundation posted that I got the call-up to England and it got retweeted by David De Gea and Jacqui Oatley I was really pleased. I’ve got to the end of a memorable seventh year for United and played the last couple of years for England, and now I’m unfortunately going to move to one of their rivals.
“It must make the club think, and hopefully young women in future will have the opportunity to play for United. Who knows, maybe I’ll be able to come back.”
Thanks to the Morning Star's Suzanne Beishon for letting us use this for our blog.