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Published 27 October 2023 6 min read
England Women's Senior Team

My journey: Grace Clinton on her rise from grassroots football to England

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Grace Clinton

‘Wow, I think I need a sit-down and a cup of tea. Thank you’

My football started with me and my dad in the garden, doing left-foot keepie-ups, right-foot keepie-ups. I would come in and say ‘I can do ten’ and he would say ‘come back in when you could do 20’. I would be out there for hours. I just loved playing football.

I have two brothers, a sister and I am the youngest. My oldest brother is 12 years older, my sister is 11 years older and then I have a brother who is four years older, so my dad would always be taking them to the football and I would just be on the side of the pitch, so it was destined for me to love the game.

I live two minutes from Melwood in Liverpool so that was the closest big football pitch near to me. We would also play in Mossley Hill as my dad set up football teams for me and my brother so we would be playing all across Liverpool on Saturdays and Sundays – I even played for a team in Warrington for a while!

My first team was called Old Xavs. My dad helped set it up and we would do summer camps and things like that from when I was about seven.

Both me and my brother who is four years older played for different age groups at Old Xavs. He played a massive role in my development because I always wanted to be better than him. It was that underdog mindset of you might be bigger and you might be stronger but I am going to find a way.

I was a sore loser and I would never let him go in unless I had won so he always says how I used to annoy him with that. I just wouldn’t let him leave the garden until I won!

25 Oct 2023 6:22

Grace Clinton & Kiara Keating | First Impressions

New arrivals Grace Clinton & Kiara Keating discuss their first couple of days in camp

I ended up getting into Everton through a school tournament for St. Paul’s when Andy Spence was there. As well as being the first team manager, he ran the whole academy and he gave me player of the tournament and asked me to go for a trial.

I was about ten at the time but my dad didn’t want me to go initially as he wanted me to carry on playing in the boys’ team in grassroots football because they were stronger than me.

I carried on playing football at my secondary school but it only lasted another year because then we didn’t have a girls’ team because they didn’t have a coach, which was sad to be honest as you would like to have a girls’ team in every school ideally. So I did the next best thing, like netball, basketball and things like that.

That is why the work the Lionesses have done over the last year around accessibility in schools is so impactful. It is so nice to see so many girls involved with football at school now because I think there was only me and one or two other girls who carried on playing football. Now I think you would get a much higher number.

I stayed with the boys' team for another couple of years and then when I was 12 we decided to go to the trials for Everton. Typical of my dad, we missed all of the trials because we didn’t know they were happening and then we found out there would be one last trial.

Because Andy Spence knew me, he said ‘come along’ and I got through! I stayed at Everton all the way through until I left for Manchester United in 2022.

So Andy Spence has been massive for me. I didn’t have him much as a coach at Everton but he was the one who got me in there and then I had him as one of my England age group coaches with the Under-19s. He is just a lovely man.

Martin Ho was another important coach for me, who I joined at Manchester United as well. He is an unbelievable coach and I really respect him too.

I also benefitted from training with players like Chloe Kelly at a crucial age. When I was transitioning into the first team at Everton in my mid-teens, Chloe was there and when you trained with her, you could see how good she was and how she was levels above everyone else. It is good to see that when you are young and see the level you have to get to.

I am always striving to be better. You can always get better. Even just in the short amount of time as a professional, I have seen how much I have progressed both physically and technically so I am proud of how far I have come but I am always looking to get better and there is a lot of work I can still do.

Maya Le Tissier is just one of several players Grace Clinton already knows well in the senior England squad
Maya Le Tissier is just one of several players Grace Clinton already knows well in the senior England squad

Growing up, I actually started off in defensive midfield and I slowly worked my way further up the pitch. I went into the number eight role, then became a number 10 and in the U19 EUROs last year I even played as a number nine. Now at Tottenham, I am on the left, so I have moved around a lot but I think it is good to be flexible.

I think my best position is as a number ten, occupying the pockets of space, but I am really enjoying playing on the left for Spurs and then coming into those same number ten areas. I like to have that freedom high up the pitch and get in the pockets.

My first England call-up has come earlier than I expected but the girls have been so nice. At first, it can be a bit daunting, coming into camp with all the big names, but the girls have been so welcoming.

It has helped that I know a lot of the players here. I am really close with Maya Le Tissier because we are around the same age and both made the move to Manchester United at the same time. I also get on really well with all the United girls, like Katie Zelem, Ella Toone and Alessia Russo, who is now at Arsenal. It is a nice little group and they all seem happy to see me.

I also get on well with the likes of Hempo and Esme, who are really lovely girls, so I can’t complain at all.

Grace with her grandmother after an England WU19s EURO qualifier in April 2022
Grace with her grandmother after an England WU19s EURO qualifier in April 2022

I had not spoken to Sarina before she rang me about the call-up – I had obviously seen her from afar and she always seemed like a cool woman.

When she rang me, I actually missed the first two calls because the signal at my house is not great. Then when she rang back, it was through WhatsApp because of having wifi and I could see her profile picture!

When I answered, I was expecting her to tell me I had been playing well and she was keeping an eye on me for the future so when she told me the news I had been called up, I was speechless.

I was like ‘wow, I think I need a sit down and a cup of tea. Thank you’. She started laughing and said ‘yes, have a cup of tea’.

I rang my mum and dad straight away and it was really nice because when I rang my mum, she was in hospital with my grandad so we could tell my nan and grandad at the same time.

My mum is an emotional person anyway and when she said ‘I think I’m going to cry’, it really made me realise what a really big achievement it is.

My dad is my biggest fan and my harshest critic at the same time so he never gives away too much but when I called him, he is very Scouse and he said ‘well in girl’ like that and said ‘I’m really, really proud of you’.

My dad can talk a lot as well so when my dad is stuck for words, then I know I have done well!

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