Ahead of the 2017 UEFA Women’s Championships, Kick It Out attended the England media afternoon to interview two of their ‘Next 20’ Ambassadors; Jordan Nobbs and Toni Duggan.
First up, we spoke to Jordan. Next, Toni discussed Manchester City Women’s trophy-laden year, international success, promoting women’s football and her role working with Kick It Out.
Whilst Toni Duggan may not have picked up as many individual awards as her fellow ‘Next 20’ Ambassador Jordan Nobbs, she’s rightly thrilled with what has been a magnificent season for her club.
“Obviously winning the Women’s Super League (WSL) was a massive achievement, it’s one that we’ve always wanted and then to win the FA Cup, was another big one,” she said. “It’s been a great year for the club on the whole with getting to the Champions League semi-final too, beating Lyon in their own backyard.”
In recent months, City also fell just short of securing the Spring Series title – losing out to Chelsea on goal difference – but Toni remains extremely proud of their record in the past year and is optimistic about the club’s chances of European success next season.
She said: “People are actually speaking about the Champions League like we’ve always been in it, but it’s actually only our first time so to get to semi-finals was obviously a massive achievement for us. We’re still not far off at all.
“We should be proud of ourselves – I think you need that first year to experience it to measure it up and see how far off you are, then you go away and work on it and I’m sure next year we’ll be in a lot better position.”
For now, it is the international stage that will provide Toni with another chance at European glory as the England team head out to Holland with high hopes.
“There’s no reason why we can’t win the tournament,” she asserted. “At the World Cup, we were the most successful in Europe so going into it the pressure is on us, but as players we welcome that. We have the ability in our team to go out and make the country proud.
“There’s competition for places right throughout the squad and any 11 girls can play and that’s the beauty of this team now. We’re going there as a top nation, which is new for this England team, but I think we’ll thrive under the pressure.”
She’s pleased at the recognition the squad has received in the last few years and feels their experience puts them in a strong position to succeed this summer.
“It’s been like a snowball effect off the back of the Olympics, then the World Cup and now the Euros, but we need to keep building and keep performing,” Toni remarked. “Look right across the team and you’ve got hundreds of caps – people that have played Champions League finals, semi-finals and FA Cup finals at Wembley in front of 40,000 people.
“We don’t lack people who have played in big games under pressure so that can only benefit us as a team.”
The appreciation marks a significant shift away from negative public attitudes towards women’s football, something which Toni struggled with growing up.
“There is a lot more attention on women’s football nowadays,” she emphasised. “When I was younger, it wasn’t a cool thing to do, I was in the minority – there weren’t many local teams around.
“Fast forward to now and it’s the coolest thing you can do. Any girl wants to play football and there’s so many clubs, so many young girls out there aspiring to be like us and the women’s game has really taken off because of the impact the national team has had.”
She added: “I’m glad I stuck with it, sometimes in life you go through difficult times but look at the pathways that have been created now, as there were by women before us.”
Toni reflected on the importance of have a close relationship with supporters to encourage young girls and women to remain passionate about the game.
“Let’s engage with our fans as much as we can, let’s use our social media platforms, let’s get to know them, let’s get the little girls to aspire to be like you by speaking with them,” she said. “Get your picture taken with them, go to events, put yourself out there, do questions and answer sessions, put your experiences on the line so that these little girls can follow your lead in the game.”
It’s that enthusiasm to inspire the next generation of women which motivates Toni’s work as a ‘Next 20’ Ambassador.
“It’s great to be a part of Kick It Out – as soon as I was asked, I was willing to do it,” she revealed. “I think from a young age I wanted to change the perception of the women’s game anyway because it wasn’t right.
“When I joined Manchester City their plan was obviously to be successful, but they also wanted to change the perception of the women’s game, so it all came in line with what I wanted to achieve. I think on the whole we’re starting to achieve our target – there’s a long way to go, but over the past 5-10 years we’ve come a long way.”
Toni is a firm believer in Kick It Out’s work and implored the organisation to keep tackling sexism and promoting equality for women in football.
“For there to be an organisation specifically targeting those areas of the game is important and I think the strides that Kick It Out have made over the last few years have been unbelievable, so to be part of it, to be representing it and to be helping it grow, is a massive honour for myself.
“You’ve committed to making things happen, moving things forward in the game and I think it’s there for everyone to see. So keep doing what you’re doing, keep voicing it, keep putting people out there to be role models to little girls so that it is popular, it is cool, it is the right thing to do and it is okay to be a girl and play football.”