Last updated: 5 December 2023
4 min read

In Partnership with Rebel Girls

Leah Williamson

Leah grew her mental strength by being the only girl on an all-boys team for a whole season. Find out how, years later, she went on to captain her team and take one of the weirdest penalties ever.

Leah Williamson. Defender, English. Born: 29 March, 1997.

Leah Williamson. Defender, English. Born: 29 March, 1997.

When Leah Williamson was younger, her signed picture of footballer Kelly Smith was one of her most prized possessions. ‘Dream Big!!!’, Kelly had written. Leah did have a big dream. She dreamed of playing professionally and wearing a captain’s armband, just like Kelly.

On her first team, Leah was the only girl. Her blonde ponytail swung behind her as she bounded up and down the field. She quickly became the team’s star striker. Still, playing with the boys wasn’t easy.

‘I used to get abuse from the sidelines every week’, Leah said. But she credits that season for making her stronger.

“I’m somebody who likes to watch and listen quite a lot. I try to use other people’s strengths to see how I can contribute.”

Football Stories: Leah Williamson

When Leah was 18, she shot a mighty penalty kick into the net that secured England’s place in the European U-19 Championship. Leah and her teammates were ecstatic. But the celebration came to a halt when the referee discounted the goal! It turned out to be a mistake and to correct the oversight, Leah would have to take the penalty kick again—five days after the match. The pressure was on.

Football Stories: Leah Williamson

On the evening of the kick, Leah took to the pitch. Players on both teams formed a line behindher. The goalie crouched down, waiting to block the shot. The referee placed the ball, and Leah took her spot. She got a running start and THWACK! She launched the ball into the air. The goalie jumped for it, but Leah’s kick was too powerful. The ball skimmed the goalie’s fingers and landed in the net. GOAL! Leah let out a triumphant scream as her teammates piled into a group hug.

A few years later, Leah crushed another goal: She became a captain, just like her idol Kelly Smith.

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Illustration by Lynn Bremner

Originally published: 28 September 2023