Lotte Wubben-Moy's grassroots story
England defender Lotte Wubben-Moy explains how she went from setting up her own team at primary school and playing in an East London concrete cage to becoming a Lioness
My earliest football memory would be playing footy with all the boys on the local concrete cage pitch in London. I’d play till I grazed my knees, come home to find little bundles of gravel still in them, and then return the next day to repeat it all again.
There weren’t many opportunities to play football at my primary school, Olga, so I had to force my way into the games that the boys would play at lunch time. They were sceptical at first, but I slowly started to gain respect. I was known as ‘the girl that played football’. At the time, I didn’t know that in years to come this phrase would become more and more uncommon for the hundreds of thousands of girls that play football, who today are just known as young football players.
My immediate family were not into football that much. My parents didn’t really know much about the game, but on reflection that was a really nice thing because they never pressurised me into anything. They let me create from football what I wanted. It was one of the nicest bits of freedom and independence that a young girl, finding out who she was and what she liked, could’ve asked for.
I think my love for football came in two parts. As a supporter, and then as a player. My Auntie is a big Arsenal supporter and lived in Islington. I would always go to her house when there was an Arsenal game on and feel part of the sea of red and white that would walk down Upper Street to the stadium. She was a season-ticket holder too, so I’d get the chance to go to the Emirates Stadium and watch. This was where my love for Arsenal really grew.
But in terms of my love for playing the game, that originated from kicking ball on the streets in London. As I’ve touched on, it was a place of freedom, of just doing what you love and connecting with others on that common ground. In that moment, on the concrete, not another thing in the world could matter.
I’d go from playing football all day at school, to playing football all evening in the cage. I loved it! But this wasn’t enough. I wanted to play for a proper team. Which was when I started a girls’ team at my primary school. With the help of Paul, an influential teacher in my life, we managed to find a few other girls who wanted to play too and it was from there that the Olga girls’ five-a-side team was created. Looking back, if it had not been for that team, I probably wouldn’t have been scouted by West Ham Ladies (who were a grassroots team at the time). After a pretty nervy but successful trial, West Ham ended up being my first proper team.
I started playing for West Ham when I was nine and then joined Millwall when I was 11, before Arsenal picked me up at 13. I was a striker growing up - top scorer for West Ham, believe it or not! Through the years, I slowly started moving backwards, to midfield and then defence. When I was 13 and signed for Arsenal, that was as a centre back. I honestly just wanted to play football, where on the pitch that was, didn’t matter!
After finishing my GCSEs and A levels, I had the opportunity to sign a professional contract at Arsenal, my childhood club. Who’d had thought it, I had gone from the concrete cage pitch in East London to being wanted by the biggest women’s team in the country. It was a dream come true! But I decided instead to pursue further education and took up the opportunity of a scholarship at the University of North Carolina (UNC) in the United States of America. It was one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make in my life so far. But it was the beginning of some of the most amazing years of my life.
All of my footballing experiences have been so different and it has made me a more well-rounded footballer and person in general.
Lotte Wubben-Moy | First Impressions
Lotte Wubben-Moy sits down and gives us her first impressions of being a Lioness
At UNC, the football was very physical and competitive – different to anything I had ever experienced before - having already developed the technical foundations of my game at the Arsenal academy. It was also cool to be part of a rich legacy like that at UNC – home to Mia Hamm, Heather O’Reilly, Tobin Heath and Michael Jordan, among many more. Aside from football, I made a lot of new friendships and connections, learned a lot about myself, and got a major degree in sports and exercise science and minor in art history.
One of the people at the UNC with me was Alessia Russo. I have known Alessia since the age of ten or 11 from when she used to play for Chelsea and I was at Millwall and then Arsenal. She went from a rival, to a team-mate in the England youth age groups, to becoming like a sister to me. That is thanks to the adventures we experienced together at university. It is so cool to now be a Lioness with her.
Coming up through the ranks of the England youth age groups, I played with Georgia Stanway, Ella Toone, Ellie Roebuck, Alessia Russo, Niamh Charles and Anna Patten. We were all in the same age group. We won bronze at the Euros and then went to the Under-17 World Cup together in 2016. We were a tight-knit group, and very talented if you ask me. Today, that is showing in our games and the connection we all have on the professional stage.
When I look at the Three Lions on the shirt, that is what I see. I see all my mates, people like Alessia who I have been playing with for years and years. Having shared these experiences together gives you an extra gear to go into when you are dying on the pitch, because you want to do all those people and experiences justice. It is such a special feeling
When I look at my own development, there are quite a few people who have played a big role. My Auntie in particular who nurtured my love for Arsenal and football in general. Paul, the teacher who gave me the confidence and backing to start my first girls’ team. Anson Dorrance, who was my coach at UNC, someone who helped me become a more well-rounded person and footballer in general. And of course, I have a lot to thank my parents for, but in the context football: allowing me to make of it what I wanted and be independent and free with it. That is one of the most underrated things.
Football is a freedom for kids, but also for me today, living my dream as a professional footballer for Arsenal Women and the Lionesses. I still return to the cage today, for the odd kick about. You’re never too old for that.