It is often called ‘turning back into a pumpkin’ – the Cinderella-inspired moment one’s fairy tale ends and reality starts to sink back in.
The feeling hit Lionesses captain Leah Williamson hard and fast following England’s storybook summer, as she found herself transforming from Euro 2022 champion to an Arsenal defender preparing for the long grind of another Women’s Super League season.
Knowing herself, and lacking a fairy godmother in the weeks that followed, Williamson turned to Gunners head coach Jonas Eidevall to ensure she had a way of coping when training began.
“I’m dreading the day I don’t think about [the win] at least once,” she said. “I’m a big softy. I like fairy-tale endings and it was very fitting for that tournament on home soil at Wembley so you couldn’t have really written it much better.
“I did have a conversation with Jonas and where I was at with returning. Going from the highest of highs and going back into normal life, regardless of football, is still hard. I was expecting that.
“I had plans in place to deal with my own emotions around it but he is aware of me as a person and we keep those lines of communication open. I’m very lucky that I play for a club that I love so it doesn’t feel like a day of work. I’m expecting a little bit of a rollercoaster of emotions at some points.”
Arsenal were due to open their 2022-23 campaign last weekend at a sold-out Manchester City, but the first matches of the WSL season, alongside the rest of football, were postponed out of respect following the death of the Queen.
That calendar change now sees Williamson’s side playing Brighton in what has become the de-facto WSL opener on Friday night, with last year’s runners-up Arsenal hoping for their own happier ending after the 2021-22 title came down to the final day and a single point.
While the initial curtain-raising weekend was set to feature a marquee match between Chelsea and West Ham at 40,341-seat Stamford Bridge, the Gunners will be starting off at their much smaller 4,500-capacity Meadow Park base, also home to National League side Boreham Wood.
And though demands on the Lionesses’ time have skyrocketed since the summer, there are elements of the women’s game forged in those smaller venues — in some cases now regularly hitting capacity — that Williamson wants to see preserved in its fabric no matter what.
“If anyone was prepared for [the attention], I’d like to think women’s footballers were,” she added. “Everything we have done in our whole careers we give ourselves as a professional but then we give whatever else we have to the game.
“You can play a game, be so tired and have given everything, but you still spend half an hour on the pitch with the fans. Obviously this is a much larger scale but in terms of what we’ve been giving to the game for a while I’d like to think we’ve been doing this dual role.
“There’s a lot of media and everything wants a piece of the girls because of what they did was incredible, but it’s about choosing the things which can have an impact and obviously that serves us as players and people.
“Naturally it’s a hard balance and with one eye on the season not many clubs had much time off so everyone needs to manage it well, while still being committed to the growth of women’s football.”
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