Liverpool and Sheffield United players linked arms before the Women's Championship clash at the weekend
Credit: GETTY IMAGES
Liverpool goalkeeper Rylee Foster said she had ‘goosebumps’ when her team-mates linked arms with Sheffield United opponents in the centre circle to show their support for NWSL players, in the wake of the abuse scandal in the United States.
The two sides were the first English clubs to publicly express their solidarity with the NWSL players on the pitch ahead of Saturday’s Championship match at Bramall Lane. The vast majority of the Women’s Super League teams followed suit 24 hours later before their games on Sunday.
Canada youth international shot-stopper Foster, who previously spent four years playing at West Virginia University and has good friends in the NWSL, says the powerful moment of unity gave her ‘chills’. “To be able to stand with everyone was a moment of strength for female sports and I think it’s long overdue, to step up for what’s right," she told Telegraph Sport.
“Anytime we have the opportunity to use the platform that we have, to stand with others, is so important. That minute of silence and just being connected with Sheffield United and the referees and everything, it was just chilling, I had goosebumps the whole time.”
Three days before Sheffield United and Liverpool’s gesture, players in the NWSL paused play in the sixth minute of their matches to link arms in the middle of the pitch, while fans in the stands held banners reading “protect out players”.
Those moving scenes followed a dark week, after English coach Paul Riley was sacked by North Carolina Courage over allegations of sexual coercion and verbal abuse, which he denies, made by two of his former players.
That saw an entire weekend of NWSL fixtures postponed and led to the departure of NWSL commissioner Lisa Baird, amid criticism of the NWSL’s handling of the situation. Days earlier, the Washington Post had revealed that another English coach, Richie Burke, had been sacked by Washington Spirit because of bullying allegations. Further separate abuse allegations in women’s football have also been made within Venezuela.
Foster, 23, added: “[We wanted to] say ‘we’re standing with you’ in solidarity. Personally, knowing people in the NWSL, to support team-mates that I’ve grown up with and played against, but also players all over, to be able to stand with everyone was so important. And I thank [Liverpool captain] Niamh Fahey for bringing us all together.
"The message got across the locker [before the game] and everyone just bought in to it and agreed. It wasn’t a question, it wasn’t a debate, everyone was just like ‘let’s do it’. Sheffield United were already onboard, and it was just seamless.”
Liverpool host top-flight side Aston Villa in the first set of group-stage fixtures in this season’s Women’s Continental Tyres League Cup tonight, and Foster is relishing the challenge, adding: “Our goal is to get to the WSL so, to see where we’re at and what we need to work on, these [cup games] are great opportunities.
“It’s also great to get the habits and the practice of having three games [in a week], to work on the recovery strategies. Aston Villa have got a good core group of players, and it’ll be a good match-up.”
Wednesday sees eight League Cup games, while Chelsea are also in action in the Women’s Champions League away at Italian giants Juventus.
After the midweek fixtures, there will be a pause in domestic action for an international break. On Tuesday, England head coach Sarina Wiegman named her 24-player squad for upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Northern Ireland (Oct 23) and Latvia (Oct 26).
Villa goalkeeper Hannah Hampton, fit-again Manchester City midfielder Keira Walsh and Manchester United striker Alessia Russo have all been brought into the Lionesses squad, while high-profile injured stars including Steph Houghton and Lucy Bronze remain sidelined.
Arsenal’s Jordan Nobbs misses out, despite having recently returned to her Arsenal team following an ankle injury, but Wiegman said Nobbs had been close to inclusion, explaining: “We’re keeping a close eye on her, she’s in our system. She’s pretty close, she just needs to get more minutes.”
England squad in full:
Goalkeepers: Mary Earps (Manchester United), Hannah Hampton (Aston Villa), Sandy MacIver (Everton)
Defenders: Millie Bright (Chelsea), Jessica Carter (Chelsea), Niamh Charles (Chelsea), Rachel Daly (Houston Dash), Alex Greenwood (Manchester City), Demi Stokes (Manchester City), Lotte Wubben-Moy (Arsenal)
Midfielders: Jill Scott (Manchester City), Lucy Staniforth (Manchester United), Georgia Stanway (Manchester City), Keira Walsh (Manchester City), Leah Williamson (Arsenal), Katie Zelem (Manchester United)
Forwards: Bethany England (Chelsea), Lauren Hemp (Manchester City), Fran Kirby (Chelsea), Beth Mead (Arsenal), Nikita Parris (Arsenal), Alessia Russo (Manchester United), Ella Toone (Manchester United), Ellen White (Manchester City)