In 2009 England managed to reach the final of the European Championships for the first time since 1984 – and for the first time in the modern women’s game – with midfielder Katie Chapman as arguably the team’s best performer and most valuable player.
But it took its toll for the only player in the elite game in England who was also a mother. When the dust had settled – and after a short stint in the American professional league – she felt the need to take a short break from international football to have more time for her family and young children, before returning to the frame a little later on, most probably in time for the next big international tournament.
But it was not to be. Instead, England’s manager Hope Powell and the Football Association responded to the request by canceling Chapman’s central contract with the FA; effectively forcing Chapman to retire from international football.
But after Hope Powell got the sack in 2013, and was replaced by Mark Sampson, Chapman has at last been eased back into the national team again.
Chapman made her long-awaited comeback – winning her 83rd cap – in a 3-0 win against Australia in the Cyprus Cup this spring, and in the words of Sampson, ”she fitted back in as if she hadn’t been away”.
What Chapman showed, is what she has showed all year as she has captained Chelsea to first place in the FA WSL – that she still has the complete package as a central midfielder, 32 years of age: composure on the ball, a good passing game, a first-rate attitude and work-rate, and a fine understanding of the game – showing itself in her decision-making in the centre of the field, and in how she times her runs to be a threat in the opponent’s box. Not to mention her leadership qualities – the way she always sacrifices for the team, and makes her teammates raise their games.
And this is where we are now, when we catch up with Katie Chapman to ask her about her remarkable story the last couple of years, how she still manages to play at the very top of the game as a mother-of-three (something almost unique in the women’s game), and her thoughts on England’s chances and her own form in the World Cup that is underway in Canada as we speak.
Back in 2009 you announced a short break from the international game to spend more time with your young family, having recently led England to the final of the Euros. The ”short break” amounted to four years before your return this spring, Why?
It was my decision to leave the team, I wanted to focus some time on bringing up my children alongside my club football.
The door wasn’t really open for me to return, though, until Mark took over the team, and I’m so pleased to be back in the side and a part of this World Cup squad.
You have for a long time been the only mother in the elite game in England (and one of only a few in the world, as well), and you have talked before about the lack of support you were given. How is the situation today?
I think there is probably always more that can be done for working mothers in sport and in any industry really. What has improved since my return is that I feel emotionally supported, particularly by Mark (Sampson, England head coach) and Marieanne Spacey (England assistant coach). They understand the importance of balance and that it is hard leaving your kids and family to travel and that’s really important.
Has being a mother affected your actual game, either physically and mentally?
I’m definitely a better player now. After I had my second child, Riley, I felt at my best. I’ve been lucky with fitness and injuries and my kids definitely help keep me young!
I also think it gives you perspective. It’s easier to separate football and home life – the minute I’m back in the door from playing or training, I’m Mum and I am just spending time with my kids.
Moving on to the World Cup: you are finally back in the England team again, as a veteran in a much younger side than the one you left. How has your role in the team changed since your last international tournament?
It’s a bit of both for me at the moment. I do spend time working with and helping younger players. I’ve got a fair bit of major tournament experience and I want to use that to help people where I can on and off the pitch.
That said, I still do what I’ve always done, focus on training, working hard and being in the best possible place on match day.
How would you rate England’s chances – as well as your own form – compared to previous tournaments?
I feel I’ve been playing some of the best football of my career so far in 2015, I’m in a good place fitness and performance wise and have been doing well at Chelsea.
With regards to the team, I think what’s great is that Mark has brought in a lot of young, talented players and given them a chance. There’s a fresh feel to the squad and hopefully that will help bring us success at the World Cup.
But for every fresh, exciting face, you need a player who has been there before, and who you always can rely on to perform when the going gets tough.
In-form Katie Chapman is a prime example of that kind of player, and is one of the key players in England’s quest for a first ever appearance in the final four of a World Cup.