‘SHE’S ONE OF OUR OWN…SHE’S ONE OF OUR OWWWWWWWNNNNN…SHAUNA GUYATT…SHE’S ONE OF OUR OWN!’
It was a warm late summers evening at Hayes Lane. The date was Saturday 27th August 2022, it was game week two of the new Barclays Women’s Championship and Coventry United had come to town as Crystal Palace played our first home match of the season. Fresh off the back of an impressive opening day 1-0 win away to London City Lionesses, the new look Eagles were aiming to build upon that success with a home win. These were two teams that had experienced very different summers. For Palace, having finished fourth a a part time team last season, we had turned full time in the summer and invested in the squad, looking to push further up the table. For Coventry, their 97th minute last day winner had seen them overturn a 10 point deduction to survive and relegate Watford. Not only had they survived what had looked a nailed-on relegation, but also the scare of liquidation. Yet the summer had seen their owner turn them part time, as almost all the heroes of that survival departed, including star striker Katie Wilkinson and manager Jay Bradford who had bene part of the furniture at the club. A late recruitment scramble had seen them put together a team of players from lower leagues, as well as fringe players from WSL/Championship clubs. For both teams, match preparation had seen them playing catch up as the season started with so many additions, but it certainly felt like two clubs heading in opposite directions.
The game itself saw Palace dominate but find life tough to break down a stubborn defensive unit, although in the end we would run out deserved 3-0 winners. But there was a moment in that game that in some ways transcended everything, and truly sparked a new era for Palace. That moment took place in the 68th minute. With Palace having gone 2-0 up minutes beforehand after Annabel Blanchard scored her first for the club, star midfielder Coral Haines made her way off the pitch in a substitution that saw seventeen-year-old Shauna Guyatt come onto the pitch for her Palace, and senior debut. It was in that moment, the song that started this article erupted on the Loyal Terrace, as we welcomed ‘One Of Our Own’ not only onto the pitch, but into the Palace family.
Why is she one of our own? Normally such a label is assigned to those who have come through our academy. Currently, with the Palace Women set up still fairly new and growing, we have youth teams but haven’t really seen the steps of progress into the first team, and Shauna has not been a product of our youth team. What Shauna is, however, is a Palace fan through and through. Just like all of us, she bleeds the red and blue, and that is why she is one of our own, and why it was such a special moment to be there and witness her make her debut. Now, we will come back to this moment, but first, to kick start this interview, let’s go back somewhat further. How much further? All the way back to where it all began, as I started by asking Shauna what first started her interest I the beautiful game?
“I got invited to a birthday party at goals and got stuck in straight away. I loved it from then and my dad began to bring me to games every now and then, which probably is when I literally couldn’t go a day without it.”
It’s amazing how one moment can change the direction of our lives! So, exactly what age was it that Shauna started kicking a ball, and when did she realise that playing the game was something she wanted to pursue?
“Around seven years old. I always played because I loved it and didn’t even think about it being something I wanted to pursue. I think I just never saw myself stopping. It’s only in recent years that I think I’ve understood that I play because I enjoy it but also because I want this to be my career.”
So, we know that the very first time took place at a Goals birthday party, but with so few playing options for girls compared to young boys, what was the first team that she played for?
“Ilford Colts was my first team, also known as “football for fun”. It was run by Ray Lee who was a baller in his day for Arsenal playing a couple of seasons with the Arsenal Squad as a young man. I remember I played CB there which I now think would be one of my weakest positions if I played there.”
Back in the summer, fifteen new players walked through the doors to create the largest and most talented squad that Palace have had so far. Shauna was one of those fifteen, making the move from the well renowned Chelsea Academy, a system that has produced many top players, including Emily Orman who was on loan with us last season. To fill in some blanks, I asked Shauna what path her early career took, from Ilford Colts leading to joining Chelsea Academy?
“With a bit of help I managed to get a trial for Arsenal academy under 9s. All the players could do hundreds of kick ups and I could only do 2 or 3. I was quick and aggressive; I was used to slide tackling from the days where Ilford colts were always under pressure. I got offered a contract and had Sarah, Michelle and Rupen Shah as my coaches. Rupen is probably still up there in my favourite coaches and did a lot of technical work where I developed to becoming an attacking midfielder.”
So, having found herself in the Arsenal Academy, how did a move across London to the Chelsea Academy come about?
“One of my friends Katie got released from Arsenal, so I agreed to trial with her for support and ended up signing a contract they offered. I think I only left because I liked the way Chelsea played football and knew I needed to add different aspects of my game which different coaches could teach me.”
With Chelsea’s reputation in the women’s game at an all-time high, what were Shauna’s thoughts of the academy?
“The training facilities were amazing and the way they coached was very team based and not individual.”
A great set up is key in the progression of a club, but without the right people in place, you can’t always maximise the potential. This is another reason why Chelsea have been so successful, because in Emma Hayes, they have the right person in place. A manager with incredible pedigree and knowledge of the game, possibly only surpassed in England currently by national boss(and hero) Sarina Wiegman. I asked Shauna if she ever had contact with Emma Hayes, and if so, what was she like?
“Yeah, I was lucky enough to. In preseason they took me to Scotland with them and the day we were flying I remember eating lunch and asking Emma Thompson to get me a knife and fork. Emma Hayes thought I was talking to her and made a joke out of it. I went so red, but she is really down to earth and such a good manager.”
With Chelsea the current dominant force in English football, I asked Shauna what it was like to be part of that set up, and if there were any particular players that she learned from while she was there?
“It was obviously a great opportunity, and I was privileged to be surrounded by Ballon Dor players. Beth England, Lauren James and Ji were the players I’d say I particularly learned off as they gave little tips which really helped me.”
As I mentioned earlier, Shauna is not the first from the Chelsea Academy to wear the red and blue. Goalkeeper Emily Orman made 20 appearances for us last season whilst on loan from the blues. I asked Shaun if, prior to coming here, she had any conversations with Emily about her time at Palace?
“I didn’t actually get the chance to as I only saw her when I played up an age group and couldn’t really bring it up whilst training. But Hope(Smith) came to the Chelsea academy on a dual signing, and I asked her a lot of questions about Palace and checked the results each week.”
Despite being part of such an incredible set up, at the age of seventeen, Shauna made the decision to move across London again and become part of the revolution here at Palace. Speaking with her father Chris, he told me that the question they get most commonly asked is why that decision was made. I wanted to give Shauna this opportunity to set the record straight and explain how the move came about, and why the decision was made to make it?
“I always knew Chelsea had international high-end players and if I did get offered my first contract there (which wasn’t even guaranteed), I would most likely be put on loan like the likes of Aggie Beever-Jones. So instead of waiting another year in academy football I wanted to test myself to improve whilst gaining first team experience. When I decided that, there was no other club in my head other than Palace. I mean to play for the club you support is literally a dream. I met Phil(Eagle Eye View pod co-host) at the Palace versus Chelsea FA cup semi-final pre match drinks in London through a mutual friend, and he told me what a great bunch of girls were here and what a great family club this was. I said I was interested in a move and within two months I had an offer from Chris Phillips.”
Having made the switch to her beloved Eagles, I asked Shauna what her firsts impressions were of the club?
“All the girls were so welcoming, and the club had aspirations and a clear set goal which is really encouraging. It was literally perfect to be honest.”
With fourteen other new players joining at the same time, I asked Shauna if that it helped not being the only newbie?
“Maybe a little, but most people knew each other from past clubs anyways. I think we all clicked really quickly, and the atmosphere has always been really good with each other.”
As I stated earlier, as fans we love it when an academy player progresses into the first team, but we also love it when we hear that academy players are also Palace fans, as it brings us that little bit closer to them. As far as we know, Shauna is the first in the women’s game to support Palace and get to live the dream of playing for the first team. I asked Shauna how big a moment, in that regard, was it for her to sign for the Eagles?
“When you word it like that, I can’t stop smiling to be honest. It was probably one of the biggest moments of my life. I just can’t believe it to this day and constantly want to do well for the club before anything else. It feels like a dream.”
In my view, Shauna is the epitome of the club slogan ‘South London & Proud’ and is an inspiration to all young girls who attend Hayes Lane. Her success this season shows them that they too could live the dream and play for the team they support, something I hope we see more regularly as the game continues to grow. I asked Shauna how it feels to be able to inspire like that?
“I don’t think I have fully understood how I can affect other girls looking up to me. It feels weird and actually makes me proud to think I can influence even one little girls’ life to play football.”
Bringing things back to August 27th and Shauna running out onto that pitch in the 68th minute, replacing one of the clubs’ top players, I asked Shauna what it was like to not only make her debut, but do so at home?
“I was so nervous, and to come on for a player as good as Coral was surreal. I couldn’t stop smiling to be honest even when I was playing. I still wonder if I got on the end of that ball and scored what I would’ve done because I was beyond happy just to make my debut.”
We were all in that moment with her, as the ball came into the box for her and it looked like a goal was going to happen, but it didn’t quite fall right. We were stood with her father at the time, and it was a joy to see the pride on his face, and it also felt like in that moment we were a group of fathers sharing that pride! Two games later, Shauna would make her full debut in the 3-1 win away to Blackburn. I asked her when she first knew she would be starting, and what that game was like?
“I found out on the Friday and called my dad first thing to tell him. He actually travelled to Blackburn to watch. I started off quiet but as the game went on, I think I just got into the flow of it and really enjoyed the game to be fair. I thought the first half we played really well and second half they made it into a physical battle. To start and get the win was an amazing feeling to be honest.”
With the appearances have come the ‘One Of Our Own’ chants. I asked Shauna what it was like to hear those chants?
“Every time I hear it when I’m playing, I try not to smile but I fail each time. The first time I heard it I couldn’t really believe it. To have my own chant is unreal.”
It can’t be overlooked that considering the amount of new arrivals, among them Internationals, Shauna is getting a fair amount of game time at just seventeen. I asked her how she had found adapting to senior football, and playing in the first team in the second tier of the English game?
“I think the physical aspect of the game has been the biggest jump and it’s taken me a while to get up to a point where I can compete, and it still is what I need to constantly work on. The other big jump would probably be the emphasis on positioning and understanding your role. It’s been tough but that’s exactly what I wanted. If I’m training with players better than me all I can do is improve.”
Such has been the assuredness and confidence of her performances that many may not realise her age. On top of impressing for Palace, Shauna has also represented her country, playing for the U-17’s and most recently the U-19’s. So, what is it like getting to be a Lioness?
“It’s been an honour of course to represent my country and you meet so many people there.”
Shauna is already making great strides now, but where does she hope to see herself in five years’ time?
“Playing Champions League with Palace and going to the World Cup 2027 representing my country either as a player or worse ways (as a fan).”
Something that all of us Palace fans would love to see, no doubt! While Shauna is being an inspiration on the pitch, have there been any players who have inspired her as she has grown up?
“Jason Puncheon, Santi Cazorla and Jordan Nobbs when I was growing up were the 3 players I looked up to, and I watched a few of the arsenal ladies’ games after training. Leah Williamson was also at the Arsenal academy when I was there and was being talked about as a future star. As well as them I loved and still love watching Zaha, Bolasie, Taarabt and Jess Park who are real crowd entertainers, so I would like to do similar things in the future.”
Shauna has been playing in a midfield three for Palace so far this season, but what is her preferred role?
“My favourite role is 10 attacking midfielder as it allows you to be more creative.”
Playing in such a role means that a goal for Palace must be coming, and my prediction is that it will be against Charlton at Selhurst Park. When it does come, just how will she be celebrating?
“I think I will run over to my dad if he is there at the time. I honestly don’t know; I’ll be so happy that I will just do whatever is in my head at the time. Maybe thumbs behind the shoulders pointing to the shirt – who knows.”
The Charlton game will not be the first at Selhurst this season, that came against Southampton in a 2-1 loss. While Shauna didn’t play that game, she was part of the squad. I asked her, having seen many games there while growing up, what was it like to be part of a playing squad there?
“I have probably watched 50 games at Selhurst over the years as training and matches have clashed. My favourite recent game was the 3-0 victory over Arsenal an amazing night. When I went to Selhurst as part of the squad it was like a “made it” moment, as I got to warm up on the pitch and be in the changing room of the Palace greats. I can’t wait to play on it one day.”
My last question, one I always like to ask, is if there is one thing in the women’s game Shauna would change to improve it, what would it be?
“If there is one thing I would change, it would be the height of the goal for women’s games. Keepers get a lot of stick in the women’s game but on average our keepers are 6 inches shorter.
The women’s game as a whole will just keep improving as opportunities increase and more young girls get involved. Winning the Euros has created the platform and if we can win the World Cup in Australia next summer – Wow.”
To win the World Cup would be absolutely incredible, no doubt about it! So, there we have it, our interview is at an end, and I hope you have all enjoyed getting to know Shauna. Before I sign off, there is one thing I wish to add. In recent weeks, Phil and I have raffled off a CPFC ball signed by the entire women’s squad. For the winner they get the ball, while all the proceeds would go towards Eagle Eye View sponsoring Shauna for the rest of the season. Such has been the generosity of the Palace community; the raffle has been a huge success. Not only have we been able to sponsor Shauna this season, but can do so next season as well, and have had a flag made to mark this special occasion. To get to watch this inspirational story of ‘One Of Our Own’ unfold has been fantastic, to get to be able to do something extra to support Shauna has been a blessing.
So please, let this interview, let her performances on the pitch, let her story be the start of something special. For all the young girls out there, who dream of playing the game professionally, who dream of pulling on the shirt of the club they love so much, let Shauna be the proof and inspiration that your dream can come true!