Today marks the first match of the #WEURO2022 at Old Trafford as England take on Austria, kicking off what hopes to be a successful Euro campaign.
During this #RoadtoWEuros22, London FA spotlighting those individuals involved in shaping and growing the female game in London.
These include coaches and referees, club officials, elite players, school partnership leads, and male allies to the game in London.
This showcase focuses on defender Grace Fisk. Grace began her career at Millwall Lionesses, becoming the youngest player to debut for the senior team aged 16. After playing college football in the US, Grace returned to England to play for WSL side West Ham in 2019. Grace has also represented England at youth level and had her first senior call up as part of the 2020 SheBelieves Cup squad.
How did your football career begin?
I got into football during primary school, playing with the boys. I joined the school team and I was just playing with the local boys' team when I was 10/11. I played for a boys' team called Keston Youth FC. We had a school football tournament at Charlton FC, and I was the only girl on the boys' team, but there was a girls tournament going on at the same time. I don’t remember any of the games but there was a Millwall scout there. They came up to my dad and I at the end of the tournament and just said they would love to have me down to the Millwall trials as it was a centre of excellence back then. Couple months later I went to the Millwall trials for the Under 12. I got in and stayed with Millwall from 12 until I was 18.
I didn’t go out of my way to find scouts, so I was really lucky that they were there at that time. It makes me laugh that there was a whole girls’ tournament, but the scouts were not associated with that at all, they were focused on the boys the whole time.
What has your journey been since that point?
I went through the youth age groups at Millwall, signed at U12s, U14s and U16s, then I made the transition to the first team when I was around the age of 16, and I was playing first team for WSL 2 until I was 18. At 18, I decided to go to college in America as I was very big on school and wanted to get a degree. At the time, it was hard to do full-time football and full-time university at the same time, it felt like you had to sacrifice one or the other. A lot of players in my age group made the same decision to go to the US to pursue both. I went to South Carolina and was out there for three and a half years. I received a degree in Criminal Justice and then played football the whole time.
It was amazing, the best experience of my life. I find Americans so friendly and open. I made some amazing friends and had some amazing experiences. We got to fly to away games, college sports in America is a whole different ball game compared to university sports in England. College football is a big deal out there and you get pampered, treated like royalty. I certainly soaked that up!
So how did the move to West Ham come about?
I was coming towards the end of my time in the States and started needing to think about my next steps once I graduated. I got in contact with Matt Beard, who was the coach at West Ham at the time, and he invited me to come down for a day or two and check it all out.
I went for a couple of days in the summer and really liked it. We spoke a lot throughout the next few months, I really liked the girls and the environment over there. I thought it would be nice to be in London again after being away for nearly four years and to be close to my family again. So, I made the decision to join West Ham after I graduated in January 2020 and have now been at West Ham for two years.
It has been a good season this year, especially after joining in January 2020 and then COVID hit. I had only played for two months, maybe about five or six games, and then everything was shut down. Last year was obviously a bit of a struggle as we were in a bit of a relegation battle, but I have never not loved it at West Ham, even when we were struggling. Everyone says how friendly and welcoming it is at West Ham - the environment and people are the best parts. Everyone here is one big family which is so important when you’re trying to succeed.
How has football changed your life and those around you?
My dad has always been a big football and West Ham fan, so I think it was very nice for him that I joined West Ham. My brother and sister are not really into sport, but they come and watch my games, so does my mum. I wouldn’t really say that football has changed my life as it has never not been in my life as I started playing so young.
I did go through a phase when I was 15 or 16 when I was unsure if I wanted to play football as a career because I was enjoying school. I saw it more as a hobby, but I think the more I played the more I realised ‘Oh I am actually half-decent at it!’ I started to think I could stick around and do this. When you begin to care more about it, you make wiser choices around the things you do in life. It becomes ‘How is this going to affect my football?’
Are you looking forward to the Women’s Euros?
I am really looking forward to it! We just had the Men’s Euros in the summer which was brilliant. I think everyone was loving it and I just hope the Women’s Euros gets the same kind of buzz and attention as the men did. Obviously, being hosted in England adds that extra spark to it! With the Seniors getting a new manager and a whole new coaching setup is so refreshing for the team so I think it will be really exciting. I am looking forward to it and so are all the girls!
There is a lot more hype around the tournament and I think kids and younger girls these days are more aware of this kind of stuff through social media. It has a lot more buzz around it which can only help the game. I think they are really trying to push the Euros marketing wise, to sell out the grounds and get people to watch on TV, which is great! The young girls know the names of these players now as they become role models. Even in the WSL games, you get little kids come up who know your name, so if they’re doing that at West Ham then they certainly will at the Euros.
I have been very fortunate that I have been involved a fair bit with the England youth teams and, as a defender, you don’t get to score many goals. I only scored my first goal for West Ham a couple of months ago and it makes you think ‘Oh I may have messed up my decision there on where I play’ because of the buzz of scoring! It was great to be part of the England youth teams growing up. Going to the U20s World Cup and winning a bronze medal was an amazing experience with amazing people. It is a great feeling, and I can’t wait to see where it goes in the future.
What is coming up next for you?
I still have another year on my West Ham contract so will be sticking around in London for another year at least. I love it here and it has obviously helped having a better season. Now we have a really good team and coaching staff - the people who we have brought in this year have made a really big impact. So for me, it's staying at West Ham trying to be the best player I can be. As a team, we are trying to push to be in the top half of the table. Personal goals are to keep my head down, keep working hard and enjoy it, while also enjoying life at the same time.
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