It was August 2021, the season opener for Crystal Palace Women was edging closer as Bristol City, freshly relegated from the WSL, were coming to Hayes Lane to kick off the new season. Dean Davenport had been shuffling his pack, improving his coaching team while seeing an overhaul of the squad. The core remained, but there had been several departures, as well as new arrivals designed to improve the quality of the squad. However, with the departure of Emma Gibbon, we were looking very thin in the goalkeeping department, with Chloe Morgan our only recognised senior goalkeeper. Chloe had been No.1 for all of the 2020/21 season, with Emma playing in the Conti Cup, so her departure had not created an urgent need of replacement, but one would still be required. On the 20th August, the news broke that 18 year old Emily Orman had signed on a season loan from WSL Champions Chelsea. We had our second ‘keeper for the squad.
When the signing was announced, given her age, it was widely believed among the fanbase that Emily’s arrival would be as a role of back up; an easy assumption to make based on the very little information we had about our newest addition. Yet as I sit here now and type this, I look back and see just how wrong we were. No one could have predicted how the season would unfold, not just for the team as a whole, but for Emily herself. With the season coming to an end, meaning Emily’s loan would end and she would return to her parent club, I wanted to be able to speak with her, not just about the fantastic season she has had, but her career to date and going forward. With a big future ahead of her, it felt only right that us Palace fans got to know a little more about the young sensation who had impressed between the sticks during our record-breaking season!
As always when I do these interviews, I believe the very best place to start is at the beginning, the natural order of things! For the majority of us who are football fans, or play the beautiful game, our passion for the sport came from a relative who ‘guided’ us into it. This has definitely been the case for those I have interviewed previously, yet with Emily, it isn’t the scenario at all. Neither of her parents were football fans, so just how did her interest in the game begin?
“I enjoyed playing football on the field in the summer and the boys said I should join the school team, and it started from there. Although neither of my parents are football fans, they’ve always supported me and encouraged my passion.”
While playing football had been a source of enjoyment for sport loving Emily, it wasn’t originally where she saw her sporting future lie. While many of us as kids dreamed of playing at Wembley(or Selhurst Park for us special ones), Emily was dreaming of playing at Wimbledon. Now I know what you are thinking, but I don’t mean the Crazy Gang kind, I mean the strawberries and cream kind. Less Vinny Jones and more Martina Hingis! So, just how did her passion for tennis start, and how did it end up losing out to football as her career choice?
“My mum took me to tennis super young to introduce me to sport, exercise and for social reasons (that’s what she told me when I asked!). I loved playing tennis, and still do, but found it to be too much pressure at a young age, especially when you compete on your own. When I started playing football, I loved being part of a team and once I got into Brighton RTC when I was 12, I put all my energy into football and now just play tennis for fun in the off season.”
I can certainly understand Emily’s love of tennis. When I was a kid, it was my second sport that we played every summer, and I used to attend middle Saturday of Wimbledon. So, of all the stars who have graced the tennis circuit, were there any favourites that inspired Emily?
“My favourite athlete is Serena Williams; she always has been. She’s a powerful woman and an incredible athlete, both things I aspire to be. She’s overcome so many barriers to be where she is, and I love watching her play.”
Coming back to football, there have certainly been very limited options for young girls to start playing for teams(although this is improving), so where did Emily first start playing?
“At my primary school boys’ team, Heron Way FC.”
For many of us, our passion lies with supporting a team as well as playing the game. I know for me, I inherited my love of Palace from my dad, but with Emily’s parents not into the game to be able to influence such a choice, does Emily have a team that she supports?
“As no one in my family follows football I don’t have a club that I’m die hard for, but I will always have a soft spot for all the teams I’ve played for.”
So, in my eyes, that means there is still an opportunity to make Emily a lifelong Eagle yet!! Now, in the men’s game there is very little playing connection between Palace and Brighton these days, other than that of Glenn Murray. But in the women’s game, it is a different story. Lucy Gillett and Kirsty Barton have both made the move from the seaside to Hayes Lane, initially on loan and then as a permanent move, and Emily is another who has been a part of the Brighton set up. Her first major step in football was when she joined the youth system at Brighton, but how did that move come about?
“One of the dads at my first boys’ team had connections at Brighton and got me a trial. It went from there.”
Brighton would prove to be just the first step, and before long an even bigger opportunity arose, as Emily signed for the Chelsea Academy, joining a club that under the guidance of Emma Hayes, has begun to dominate English football. So, how did Emily end up on Chelsea’s books?
“Once I finished secondary school I wanted a new challenge in my football journey and after expressing this to my dad, he started speaking to other parents he knew with daughters at clubs near where we lived. It got us in touch with Chelsea who invited me in and offered me a contract for the Chelsea academy.”
Getting to be a part of the Chelsea Academy, which has been strong on both the men’s and women’s game, must have been a huge positive for Emily. As mentioned, the blues have started to dominate the English landscape, with FA Cups, Conti Cup’s and as recently as last week, their third WSL trophy, all in the cabinet. They even reached the Champions League Final last season and have a plethora of talented stars on their books. So, how did Emily find her learning experience in the Academy?
“Chelsea gave me opportunities to train with the first team early on which I’m super grateful for. Carly Telford and Ann-Katrin Burger (and later Zećira) took me under their wings and have been invaluable in my development, alongside my coach Stuart Searle. Of course, all the girls are incredibly professional and just being around them helps me in my development as a person and player.”
With all the talent that would have surrounded her at Chelsea, was there anyone in particular who stood out in helping with her growth as a player?
“Similar to last question but all the goalkeepers (Ann, Carly, Z) and also Magda(Eriksson) is an amazing captain, I’ve learned loads from her leadership.”
It isn’t just the talent on the pitch where Chelsea are currently a real standout, but also the dugout in the form of manager Emma Hayes. Emma is proving to be a leading light for the women’s game in this country, not only with her success as manager of Chelsea, but with her impressive knowledge of the game in her growing role as a pundit. I wanted to know if Emily has had any engagement with her, and if so, what kind of impression was made?
“It’s an honour to work under Emma, every talk with her helps me a lot. She creates a great culture and always expects 100%.”
In July of 2021, Emily signed her first senior contract with Chelsea, when did she first become aware of the offer, and how did it feel to ink that first contract?
“I found out near the end of the season and was so happy. It was everything I had wanted since I was 8. A pinch yourself moment for sure.”
The ‘pinch yourself’ moments would not end there, as less than a month after signing that contract, Emily would make the move just slightly south of the River Thames to join Palace in the Championship on a season long loan. But when did Emily first hear about Palace’s approach?
“I knew James Marrs prior to being at Palace and he called my dad prior to me signing pro at Chelsea. When loan offers arose, Chelsea and I felt Palace had the best set up for me. It definitely helped with the familiarity of James being there and Gracie Pearce who I played with at England youth teams.”
While Palace were the lucky team to bring Emily in, had there been other offers? If so, what made her choose Palace?
“Out of the options Palace was a no brainer and offered me what I felt I needed this season.”
With the move sealed, what were Emily’s first impressions of the Eagles?
“The facilities were amazing, and the girls were super inviting. I was nervous about being in a new team, but the girls put me at ease straight away.”
As I mentioned in the opening of this interview, at the age of 18, and with Chloe Morgan staying at the club having been No.1 the previous season, it was easy from an outside perspective to see Emily coming as a back up choice, but did Emily think the same? When she made the move, did she think she would be coming in to be first choice, or was it a case of hoping for some first team experience as and when the opportunities arose?
“When I came, I trained with the intention to get selected for the team. I really wanted as many minutes as possible so worked hard to get them.”
Emily would make her debut for Palace(and senior debut) in just our second game of the season, away to London City Lionesses, in a match that would end in a 2-1 defeat. It was a tightly contested affair against one of the leagues top teams, and an incredible feat for Emily at just 18(and possibly a league record). What was it like for Emily to make her debut?
“Obviously a few nerves to start, but I knew my role and just focused on the game plan. It was great to get my senior debut.”
The following week, our home game was switched from Hayes Lane to Selhurst Park, for the visit of Sunderland. Having just made her debut, what was it like getting to play at a Premier League ground in just her second appearance?
“It was amazing. I loved playing at Selhurst, the pitch was like a carpet! I love playing on grass.”
Emily very quickly established herself as Palace’s No.1, and in a run of games that saw us climb up the table to 3rd, Emily pulled of a string of fine saves, and even got into the Championship Team Of The Week after the Durham away game. What was it like for Emily, being part of that run?
“It felt great to be a part of it. The girls and staff worked hard to get there, it was a full team effort.”
The end of January would see us hit a bad patch, with three heavy defeats in four games, against Liverpool, Bristol City and London City. As a goalkeeper, I asked Emily what it is like to go through those runs, and what she does mentally to come out of the other side of it?
“Obviously it’s tough when you come down from a high. I spoke a lot to other goalkeepers to get their advice. Ann told me to focus back on the process and the basics, so I took her advice and it helped me get back into it.”
Chloe Morgan returned to the starting line up away to Sunderland, but in the next game at home to Coventry, she picked up a season ending injury that would force her off at half time. This would see Emily make a swift return to the team for the rest of the season, making a total of 20 appearances(19 starts) in the Championship. Had she ever expected to have such a run, at such a young age, in the second tier of English football?
“You have to believe it to achieve it. I didn’t necessarily expect it, but I knew I could do it and I’m very grateful to have had so much opportunity this season. Also, I wish Chloe a speedy recovery, she’s become a great friend this season.”
As it stands, with the season now over, Emily will make her return to Chelsea. So, what would Emily say she has learned from her time at Palace this season, and what key elements, if any, would she take with her as she looks to further her career?
“I’ve learned lots in the build-up and it’s also increased my confidence. I also learnt a lot about myself as a person and have become a lot better at communicating with coaches, whilst having lots more people to talk to, being a part of 2 clubs!”
Emily has certainly been kept busy at times this season, pulling off some fantastic saves, but is there one particular save that has stood out as her favourite?
“The last minute one against Charlton was a good feeling to secure the win and keep a clean sheet.”
As fans(as well as pundits), we always celebrate goals and assists for outfield players, but always seem to overlook clean sheets for ‘keepers. Emily has two this season, against Sheffield United and Charlton, but how precious are they to her as a goalie?
“They’re great but never a focus of mine going into a game. I need to focus on my performance and impact for the team.”
With so many top scoring striker in the league this season, such as Abi Harrison(Bristol City), Katie Wilkinson(Coventry United) and Leanne Kiernan(Liverpool), who has been the toughest Emily has come up against?
“I think Lucy Watson has been great this season for Sheffield.”
With her first senior season now under her belt, what are Emily’s ambitions for the next five years?
“I would love to push into the Chelsea squad and get appearances. Also, would love to push back into the England U-23s. By 5 years hopefully have opportunities with the Lionesses seniors.”
With the progress that Emily has shown in her first season, I would not put it past her to achieve all of those ambitions. Keeping it a bit more current though, I had to ask the cheeky question, could we see her back in Palace colours nest year?
“I’m still not sure what next season looks like for me, but it isn’t a no!”
And if she would happen to be free on a evening when we are recording the Crystal Palace Women Show podcast, could we possibly have the pleasure of Emily joining us for a chat?
That would certainly be a great show for sure! To wrap things up, with women’s football taking more and more steps froward in its growth, I asked Emily, if there was one thing she could change in the women’s game right now to improve it, what would it be?
“Facilities/opportunities. You can’t expect it to grow if it doesn’t have the same starting point as the boys, particularly for young girls.”
It is a point that I wholeheartedly agree with, and I know many others who think the same. With that answer, our interview had found its end. It has been an incredible debut senior season for Emily, establishing herself as first choice for Palace in the Championship, earning recognition from many, including being voted winner of the Fan’s CPFCW Player Of The Season, a poll run by myself on Twitter. She has certainly left her mark on the club, and would be a welcome addition to the squad if she was to return next season. If she doesn’t, then I would like to take this moment to not only wish Emily the best of luck for her career, but to also say a heartfelt thank you for the part she has played in this memorable, record breaking season for the Eagles! Wherever Emily’s future path takes her, that club will no doubt be in safe hands!
*All Photos Courtesy Of Stephen Flynn Photography*