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Annabel Johnson - That's Captain Annabel!

Last month we witnessed the departure of Freya Holdaway. In her departure, we didn’t just lose a stalwart of six years, but also our Captain for the past five years. This meant, that not only did we need a replacement in the back four, but a new Captain would have to be chosen.

For me, such a decision is not an easy one. I know that various fans have different views on the role of club Captain and it’s effectiveness, but for me, the Captain is incredibly important. Some of my favourite players in my thirty years of supporting Palace, have worn the Captain’s armband, and they have done so with pride, passion and honour. A Captain needs to set an example, to lead from the front and be representative of the club and its fans. You only have to watch the video package from last nights awards ceremony and listen to Mile’s words on it, to get just why he was such a great Captain. Hell, anyone who ever watched him play will know what a warrior he was, but also a leader. When players need picking up, when they need that extra push, or guidance, or someone to talk to, the Captain should be there. For those who may be fed up of me constantly mentioning Jedinak, let us step away from Palace for a moment to further make my point. At Chelsea(yes I know), when they had John Terry(yes I know) as Captain, he carried the role both on and off the pitch, prior to his other misbehaviours. When a new player arrived at the club, it was regularly reported that Terry took it upon himself to explain the club, the fans and what is expected, as well as offer himself to be there for any issues they had. Now, no matter what anyone thinks about the man, those kind of actions are the leadership qualities that should be found in a Captain. Coming back to Palace, we know that Julian Speroni used to do this, despite not officially wearing the armband. He said himself that he connected with the club so well, that he wanted new signings to understand what the club meant. It is having that pride and passion for the club and your teammates. My mate and I used to joke that when anyone new signed, or if a player stepped out of line, they would be ushered into a quiet room where Jedinak and Damian Delaney were waiting to lay down the rules!!

Anyway, I am drifting off topic a little now! So, for me, the Captain is vital to the team and a strong leader stands out. We had one in Freya, now we needed to find another to take up the role. I had planned to write an article on it, looking at the possible candidates as to who could take the role on. Then, last week the club announced the signing of Georgia Clifford. As I was reading the article, my Eagle Eye(see what I did there) noticed a specific line, stating that Annabel Johnson had been named as the new Captain! Reading this, I realised two things. Firstly, my article on who could be Captain would be totally pointless!! Secondly, not only was I thrilled for Annabel for getting the honour, but I just knew I had to ask her for an exclusive interview!!

Annabel has been at the club for one season, but very quickly made herself at home. From day one she has impressed with her performances, making the right back spot her own and providing the level of quality there that was very much needed. Not only did she work hard defensively, but always looked confident pushing forward, which in modern day football is a huge positive. As seen in my previous article, Annabel had been one of the contenders for the Eagle Eye View Player of the Season award, and as seen last night, she was voted the Utilita Player of the Season. These alone, highlight just how well Annabel has performed in her first season with the club. On top of that, if you look at the reactions to it from her teammates, you can clearly see just how well thought of she is.

So, having seen Annabel play, I wanted to get to know more about her as a person, and particularly, discuss the Captain’s role with her. When I approached Annabel about an interview and she said she was happy to do one, I was delighted. For me, by getting to learn more myself, I can then help share that knowledge with others, and continue to provide the coverage that our ladies richly deserve.

Now, before I get into the core subjects of an interview, I like to get an idea of the journey our players have taken in their careers, something that I find fascinating, but most of us would never otherwise know. So, to start things off, I asked Annabel if she could give us a background into her career before she joined Palace?

“At 16, I started my women’s football career at Leicester City Women for a few years, before spending 4 years at Coventry City (United). I then moved up North to play for more than 2 years at Durham whilst completing my masters at Durham University. Following the completion of my masters I moved to London for work, where I then spent a year at London Bees and then moved to Palace last season.”

Quite a footballing education for Annabel, all with clubs that these days compete in the Championship with us, which only serves to explain why Annabel has looked so natural at this high level. As she mentioned, she joined Palace in the summer of 2019, and I asked her how the move came about, and why she felt Palace was the right choice for her?

“I made the decision at the end of the previous season that I would be leaving London Bees. I had conversations with a few clubs. When you’re having those initial discussions, I think you can tell early on whether the club feels the right fit for you. The girls were genuinely welcoming and made me feel very comfortable from the start, it was an easy decision to make when it came to it. “

Annabel was one of several new faces to join last summer, as the club looked to start the building process that had been denied them the summer before. Palace, following their last minute promotion to the newly formed Championship, had just finished 10th in our first season at that level. It had been a season blighted by injuries and defensive struggles. I asked Annabel if she was set any targets upon her arrival?

“The beginning of last season feels a very long time ago now! As well as the standard targets of where clubs would like to finish in the league, it was clear and obvious to me that work ethic & commitment was expected from the girls.”

That is definitely something that has stood our on the terraces too. Even if results don’t go our way, you can never question the work ethic and commitment shown by the ladies out on the pitch. Our second season in the Championship has proven to be equally as tough, made more so by the fact that the clubs are at a mixture of professional levels. The results show how the team as a whole, found the season, but I asked Annabel how she personally found her first season with the club?

“Despite personally being in the championship for a while now, there was plenty to learn from the past season. We had some disappointing results that we must use to help us in the upcoming campaign. It’s important in this league to be organised and disciplined. With an increasing number of professional teams in the league, the quality and demands of the games increase vastly each year. We’re already working hard to go above and beyond.”

One of the elements that Annabel brought to the club was consistency. Playing in 13 out of 14 leagues games, she provided a regular presence and continuity at right back that just hadn’t been possible the previous season. I asked her how she managed her footballing career and her other job(as well as what that job is), while also maintaining her fitness and staying injury free in the process?

“I work in digital marketing full time, so with our training schedule as many of other players know, it’s a non-stop lifestyle. I make sure that my down time is down time, as silly as that sounds. It’s spent not really doing much other than recovery. Footballers will always have niggles and injuries, we’re lucky to have fantastic physio and s&c coach (Laila & Chico) who are always on hand to give advice for any injuries we may have. It’s important that you spend your time away from the training ground working on recovery and strength, to give yourselves the best possible chance to be as close to 100% fitness on Sunday as possible.”

As mentioned, it wasn’t just her defensive displays we saw last season. Annabel pushed forward often, and even grabbed a goal at Leicester with a lovely finish. I asked if she had scored many goals in her career, and if we could expect to see more?

“I’ve not got a fantastic goal scoring record! But keep your eyes peeled, there will be some more this season.”

I know for a fact that we would all love to see a few more shots rippling the back of the net. Moving forwards, it was time to start focusing on the heart of the interview, the Captain’s armband. Firstly, I wanted to congratulate Annabel on being given the Captain’s armband. Secondly, I wanted to briefly speak about her predecessor. With Freya being Captain for five years, and a firm fan favourite, I asked Annabel what it was like to have Freya as her Captain?

“Thank you! As you said Freya was a fan favourite and was a massive part of Palace for many years, so credit to her for her continuous hard work which helped Palace get to and compete in the championship. Freya welcomed me to the club from the start and helped me settle at the club straight away.”

Having played for a few different clubs prior to Palace, I asked Annabel, who had been her favourite Captain to play under, and why?

“Tough Question. Sarah Wilson (Wills) the current Durham captain. Wills was always an approachable friend who set high standards at the club. My old captain at Coventry, Natasha Lynch was also a very supportive player who you know would back every player on the pitch.”

So, having played under a few Captain’s, now Annabel gets to perform the role herself. I asked her how she found out about getting the armband, and what was her reaction?

“I found out whilst in lockdown at some point. I was over the moon! It’s an honour to be the Captain of Crystal Palace Women and it is one my biggest achievements.”

I then asked if the armband had come with a ‘pep talk’ from the gaffer regarding what he expects from her in the role?

“I know what Dean(Davenport) expects from me as a captain. He was very complimentary, and I couldn’t have been happier to accept the role.”

Having reiterated to Annabel my beliefs of how important the Captain’s role is, I asked her what the role meant to her?

“The role of Captain to me, is someone who is approachable, honest and enthusiastic. It’s important that the Captain sets examples of high standards on and off the pitch in order to help the team achieve its optimum performance. Effective communication with players, staff and fans is key, whilst helping individuals achieve their personal goals is also important.”

Freya may be gone, but Annabel certainly isn’t alone in the club when it comes to knowledge of the Captaincy. In players like Ashlee Hincks, she has people around her with the experience of being Captain. I asked Annabel if she would be speaking to them for advice?

“Absolutely! It’s important that every player’s voice is heard in a team, and it’s an added bonus having those experienced players in club who will offer different opinions and ideas.”

So, with all this asked, there was only one question left for me to put forward in relation to this subject. As I reflected back on the likes of Jedinak, Derry, Popovic and others who had defined the role in their own ways, I knew what kind of Captain’s they had been. Now, looking forward, I asked Annabel what kind of Captain she was going to be?

“As everyone who has played with me knows, I’m a passionate player on the pitch and will always continue to be. I like playing in tenacious teams who work relentlessly and that other clubs do not looking forward to playing at the weekend. I’ll be looking to help further imbed that into the club this season. Off the pitch, it’s my job to build trust with the girls and to create a positive environment where players are enjoying their football, as that is an aspect that helps players perform their best.”

When you hear the answer, you can understand why the trust of the role has been put in her hands. With the reshaping of the squad that is currently taking shape, I certainly look forward to seeing how the team, under their new Captain, will perform in our third Championship season. I will also be keeping an Eagle Eye on Annabel, as I look forward to seeing her become another Captain to be proud of.

Before this ends though, there was one more question to ask, regarding the small matter of an award ceremony! How does it feel to have been announced the Utilita Player of the Season at the official club awards night?

“I’m really pleased to receive the award in my first season at the club. There are many players that constantly performed to a high standard throughout the season and I can’t wait to see what the new season brings!”

So, there we are. With the interview at an end, all that is left is for me to say thank you to Annabel for the interview, congratulations for becoming Captain and winning the POTS award, and good luck for the season ahead!

All Match Photos Credited to Tara Hook Photography

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