So here we are, March 2021. He who shall not be named(2020, not Voldermoort) is behind us, and after the strangest year of our lives, we now find ourselves with some hope of moving forward towards some form of normality. One of the forms of normality that I long for, is to be at a live game again. Be it my seat at Selhurst, or on the terrace of Hayes Lane. To just be part of that matchday experience, to support the team, to just let it all out and cheer like crazy, I miss it so much. I am also aware that I have not written an article or interview for at least three months, namely due to having Covid and the knock-on effects it had, that took me out of work for three months. However, I am back, and keen to get things going again. I have a new connection that I will be looking to build on in the coming months, but of course, I will always be CPFCW, and that is where my focus lies in this article.
The women’s game has certainly had some tough moments this year. While the FA Cup is now set to continue, those in the current round that is set to be played, had to endure the disrespectful and plain outrageous talk of possibly ‘flipping a coin’ to decide who advances. Plus, it was recently announced that tiers 3-6 would have their season made void for a second year running, leaving so many players still desperate to play. However, despite these setbacks, I have also seen some huge positives. The biggest of these, was yesterday’s announcement that Sky & the BBC had picked up the Women’s Super League for the next three years, in a £7million deal that would see some money filter down into the Championship to help the advancement of those teams. This is a huge step in the right direction, and hopefully it won’t be long before they pick up the Championship too, with the aim of filtering money even further down the pyramid. Another positive, is the actions being taken by Kent Football United. With no season to finish, they have been arranging friendlies instead, an act that not only gives their players some much needed game time, but also the opportunity for other teams to get back on the pitch. I really hope that other teams in tier 3 downwards are able to follow suit, so that all the players who have had to sit it out for months, are able to get some time playing the game they love, before the close season is upon us.
So, with that said, let’s keep the positivity going. I have always said that one of the big parts of following a team is having that connection with the players. We all love our club, but we need that connection with key elements of it, namely the manager and the players. We like to feel as if we know the players, that we carry a small piece of them with us. When they step out onto the pitch, the fact they are wearing the famous red and blue already has us backing them, but when we feel we connect with a player, it just means so much more. Just look at platforms such as twitter, and how much we all reminisce about players that have meant so much to us over the years. We have these connections because of what they have done on the pitch, and because the matchday programme, the website etc opens up opportunities for us to get to know them. This is what I have been trying to do with the women’s team. I want to spread the word, to provide some access for fans to the players, so that CPFC supporters can see just how awesome our players are, and to help build that bond. The mad thing is, since I started my coverage of CPFCW, our players have been so helpful, supportive and are always more than happy to interact with people, which is something you would never really get with the men’s game. This is why I really enjoy doing these interviews, and it is why I am so pleased to be sitting here, writing out my first interview of 2021. I am starting the year with a real wizard of the wing too, so please read on and enjoy getting to know Shiv(Siobhan) Wilson a whole lot better!
Now, as always, I find the best way to start an interview is at the beginning! So, to get the ball rolling, I asked Shiv what first got her interested in football, and the key question, which team she supported(if any)?
“My dad played a big influence in my love for football. With my dad being an ex-professional footballer, I was constantly surrounded by all things football. It wasn’t something that he ever forced me to do, I naturally grew a love and passion for it. He always used to say to me that he knew I would be a footballer because I never used to toe punt the ball. According to him I had a proper technique by the age of 3. Whether he just says that to make me feel better about myself I don’t know haha! I support arsenal (unfortunately). I was lucky enough to see us at our best during the invincible era. Not quite sure what’s going on over there at the minute though. It’s like I’m in a toxic relationship.”
Now, aside from the relief that Shiv doesn’t support Brighton, Watford or West Ham to name a few, her route into football resonated with me. As a father myself, I feel that responsibility. I support Palace because my dad did(for some reason he didn’t want his son to enjoy glory in his lifetime!), and from day one, I feel it is my duty to encourage my daughter to not only play the game, but be an Eagle. Seeing her as a mascot for CPFCW was an incredibly proud day for me! But I digress! So, we know how Shiv’s interest in the game started, the next natural question was to ask her the path her career has taken on route to Hayes Lane?
“I started playing football for Enfield Town when I was around 7 or 8. I then moved to Tottenham when I was 14 and broke into the first team when I was 18. After college, I went over to the USA on scholarship to study as well as play university football. After graduating, I moved straight to Spain for a year playing for Malaga, where I got my first professional contract and then went over to Italy for 6 months where I played for Sassuolo. I got to the point where I was just over the whole travel situation and wanted to become settled back at home, so when I moved back, I signed for Charlton for a few months and then moved from there to Palace!”
Going into this interview, I was aware that Shiv had played for Malaga. With that in mind, I asked her what the experience was like playing in another country?
“It was a great experience to play football in a different country and experience another culture, not just in terms of football but in terms of how they live. At the beginning, the language barrier was a bit difficult and had to have some of my teammates translate pretty much everything to me in English, but after a few months I picked up the language quite quickly. Living and playing professionally in another country is a great experience and not only will it make you grow as a player, it will help you grow as a person too.”
So how does the women’s game in Spain differ from here in England?
“In terms of tactics and the way the game is played, it is very different to the game here. Tactics are focused on a lot more in detail, in terms of where to pass and when to pass. I found that that particular type of play takes away your creativity and your freedom which doesn’t quite suit me as a player personally.”
So, having had to adapt to such a style, how did Shiv find it when she came back to England?
“I didn’t find it too difficult if I’m being honest. Playing in America is very physical and the game in Spain and Italy is very technical. England’s game has both of those so adjusting and adapting wasn’t a problem.”
As Shiv mentioned earlier, upon her return to England, she found herself in the wrong side of South London, at Charlton. However, in January 2020, we would see her sign on at Hayes Lane and become a new member of the Palace family. I asked Shiv how that move came about?
“Because I signed quite late for Charlton, I was struggling to get a regular starting place within the squad and wasn’t getting consecutive game time. When Charlton played Palace I had a pretty decent game and I think that’s where I may have caught Dean’s eye. In the January transfer window Charlton told me that Palace had made an approach. I went down to the training ground, had a chat with Dean and made up my mind there and then to be honest.”
Now, every Palace fan in the world would tell you that switching the clowns for the Eagles was an upgrade, but we do tend to have a bias in such things! I asked Shiv why Palace was the right move for her?
“I’m the type of person that feeds off of energy and the environment. When I first turned up at the training ground to have my conversation with Dean, I just got a really good impression, not only from the staff but from the players as well. Palace are an ambitious club and I felt like signing was a no brainer.”
If the first impression was a good one, I asked Shiv how she found her first few days at the club?
“The girls were all very welcoming and I felt like I settled in very quickly. I have known Bianca Baptiste since I was about 13/14, so it’s always nice moving to a club where there is someone you know. However, like I said, all the members of staff and the girls made me feel part of the team straight away.”
Having signed in January, Shiv had the whole second half of the season ahead of her in the red and blue, only, two factors prevented her from the game time she would have desired. The low and odd number of teams in the Championship tend to create gameless spells, especially in the second half of the season. On top of that, Covid struck, causing the league to grind to a halt, before it was eventually ended prematurely. These factors combined meant that Shiv was only able to make two appearances for Palace that season. I asked what it was like having that happen when she was still settling in?
“Of course it was gutting to not be able to finish out my first full season with Palace, but I like to think I settled in relatively quickly.”
Covid certainly changed life for everyone in different ways. With the season at a standstill, to then be ended early, I asked Shiv how the break affected her, and how she maintained her fitness during that time?
“Thankfully I was still working so other than not having football, my life felt pretty ‘normal’. However, I did struggle with not having football as my outlet. Of course, I missed playing but I missed the banter with the girls and the social aspect of it. I am a very sociable person so having that and football taken away from me I found quite difficult to deal with. In terms of fitness, our strength and conditioning coach set up sessions for us to do every day. Obviously nowhere near the same as training with the team but it helped maintain our fitness massively (big up Chico).”
Thankfully, after months of uncertainty, the decision was made for the women’s game to return in the summer of 2021, but under strict covid protocols. I asked Shiv what it was like to return under those new protocols?
“It was very weird and something that did take some getting used to. At the start of pre season we could only train in small groups of 6 so that was something we all found strange to deal with. From having to be tested twice a week to not even being able to change together in a changing room were things that just didn’t seem natural. Although with that being said, all the staff have done a great job in making sure we all stay safe and carry out the protocols correctly.”
Now, as I write this, today marks exactly one year since the first Lockdown began. While the third lockdown unfortunately brought football in Tier 3 downwards to an end, both the Championship and Women’s Super League have been able to keep playing, and we have just four league matches left. That has meant plenty of opportunities for Shiv to play and showcase her talents in red and blue. She has managed 10 starts and 5 subs appearances in the league, scoring one goal. Meanwhile in the Conti Cup, she had 3 starts and one subs appearance, again scoring one goal. With so much more game time under her belt, I asked Shiv what it is was like playing in our famous colours?
“I have loved every second of it. I think now because I am playing in a more advanced position it gives me a lot more freedom on the ball which you don’t quite get when you’re playing as a full back. I played as a winger a lot when I was younger so it’s been great to be able to be in more of an attacking role.”
Shiv’s mention of her position brings me nicely onto the next question, and the possibility to clear up a small confusion. The cpfc.co.uk website has Shiv listed as a defender, yet this season she has played out wide in the front three! So just what is her actual position?
“Hahaha yes, technically I am a full back. Had some good conversations with the gaffa and we’ve both agreed that winger is probably my best position, so looks like I’m officially a winger now! I would definitely say that playing as winger is more enjoyable for me as you have a bit more freedom.”
As a fan, that enjoyment is clearly visible when she plays, and it has been exciting to see her flourish in red and blue. But now that we know how Shiv got into the game, and how she came to be at Palace, I wanted to know who has been her influences both inside and outside of the game?
“My Dad has been a big influence, not just in terms of football, but in life too as he was a professional footballer himself. He never forced me to play football, it was just something I naturally found a love for. I’m lucky enough to play the same positions he did so that helped me develop over the years and still does. He’s always been there to support me no matter where I have played and he’s dying to get back into Bromley to watch us play.”
The strong father/daughter bond is very evident in this interview, which is a great thing to read. As a parent, being able to share in our passions with our children is a true blessing. But while both father and daughter have been players, that bond could not be shared on the field of play in a game. So, given the various teams and countries in which Shiv has played, I asked her if there had been a standout player she had enjoyed playing with the most?
“I would probably say Paula Fernandez. She currently plays in La Liga in Spain and plays for Spain u20s if I’m correct. Her technique, intelligence and skill on the ball is second to none. Definitely one of the best players I’ve played with for sure and I can definitely see a bright future for her.”
Perhaps a good word could be put in by Shiv to Paula, to get her over to Hayes Lane in the future!! So, having looked back, I wanted to look forward. For me, a key part of the continuing growth of the women’s game will be to see more women take up the roles as coaches and managers. A key source of these coaches, would be players once they retire. So, I asked Shiv if she would consider moving into coaching, or another role, when the time comes to hang up her boots?
“Yes, definitely. Coaching is something I would love to get into when I finish playing. Ideally I would love to become a head coach for a team in the Championship or WSL.”
To see Shiv, and many others, take such a step would be fantastic for the game, and one I greatly endorse. But retirement is some time off yet thankfully, and so I asked Shiv what her ambitions in the game were for the next few years?
“Playing in the WSL and playing full time football is something I would love to do. I have played at the top level in all the countries I’ve played in, so doing it in my home country would be unreal.”
It certainly would be fantastic to see Shiv play in the WSL, even more so if it was for Palace. That is the dream we all have, to see us in the top flight. Another dream is to see the women’s game gain the recognition and respect it deserves, as well as the equality long overdue. With that in mind, I asked Shiv, if she could change one thing in the structure of the women’s game right now, what would it be?
“Probably that all the teams are full time. That would help the game be a lot more competitive, especially in our league. It’s difficult to compete with full time teams who train day in, day out, where as we have to work as well as only training three times a week. Once all teams go full time that will bridge the gap massively.”
A sentiment I could not agree with more. While the Championship was restructured not long ago, it lacks balance and a level playing field. The teams that are full time, or near enough to it, are the ones who always end up at the top. This season has been no different, given that Leicester City went full time last summer, and are now just four games away from promotion to the WSL. Clubs will always be different in stature, that is inevitable. But when that gap is made bigger due to professional status, it leaves half the league facing an uphill battle before the season has even begun. Not only that, but being full time would hopefully provide the medical care that the players deserve, and would hopefully cut down on so many players being left to face extensive time out of the game, having to wait for NHS surgeries.
So, while on the subject of change in the game, to end the interview, I asked Shiv what steps she thinks are needed to help move the women’s game forward long term?
“Going back to what I said before in regards to all teams being full time, this will help the women’s game in all aspects. It will make the league more competitive and the cup ties more competitive. Of course, money plays a big part in all of this, but I think the women’s game is heading in the right direction and a lot quicker than people realise.”
That last line is certainly key, and one that I hope continues to be the case. The women’s game is full of passion, pride, dedication and hard work, and I find that so inspirational, which is why I do what I can to play my part in trying to help. Seeing players like Shiv out there on the pitch, giving their all, showcasing their talent, entertaining us fans, recognition of it is an absolute must!
So, there we are, the first interview of 2021 is at an end. I want to thank Shiv for taking the time for this interview, and I hope that it has helped all of you reading, to get to know her a little better, and build that fan-player connection just a little bit more! With four games left to go, we could still get our best ever finish in the Championship, and I have no doubt that Shiv will be giving it her all to help make that happen! Hopefully next season, she will still be at Palace, and will at last get to experience why our support is so highly thought of!
I hope you have enjoyed the read, so until next time…Come On You Palace!!
*All Photos Courtesy Of Tara Hook Photography*