Fern's Euro reflections
Saturday, 31 March, 2012
Former U19 captain looks back on England's breakthrough year of 2007.
UEFA European Women’s U19 Championship
Second Qualifying Round
31 March – 5 April 2012
Blundell Park, Sincil Bank, Glanford Park, Grange Lane
ENGLAND, Austria, Finland, Wales
Tickets are priced £3 for adults, £1 for concessions
The England Women’s U19 team will this week attempt to qualify for the Euro Finals which are being staged in Turkey this summer.
Mo Marley's charges take on Finland at Scunthorpe United’s Glanford Park on Saturday, before facing Wales at Lincoln City on Monday and Austria at Grimsby Town next Thursday.
England won a maiden European crown in Belarus in 2009 and they were runners-up in both 2007 and 2010. One player who helped get the Three Lions into their first-ever European Final in ’07 is Fern Whelan, now a regular member of Hope Powell’s senior squad.
Whelan wore the skipper’s armband during those Euros in Iceland and although perennial champions Germany would edge England after extra-time, the pacy, stylish centre-back believes that two-week period in Scandinavia helped her get to where she is today.
“Those Finals are still my strongest memory of playing for England,” beamed Whelan, who later received UEFA.com's Golden Player award for her performances throughout the tournament.
“We played really well throughout and it was brilliant being part of the first U19 squad to get that far in a tournament. It was a great experience and it definitely stood me in good stead.
"If England do qualify from their group this year I know this group of players would gain a lot from being at a major Finals as well.
“If you want to make it into the seniors I think you’ve got to have played through the different youth squads for the experience,” she continued. “That tournament sticks out as the one where I probably learnt the most about the international game. I learnt a lot about myself as well and being captain throughout the tournament really brought out my leadership skills. Everything about it just made me want to play more and more tournament football.”
It speaks volumes of the quality and determination in that particular squad that eight of the 18 that flew to Iceland have gone on to represent the senior team, earning almost 100 caps between them so far. As well as Whelan, the class of ’07 contained Ellen White, Jess Clarke, Sophie Bradley, Dani Buet, Claire Rafferty, Natasha Dowie and Jade Moore.
“The team spirit on that trip was tremendous,” recalled Whelan. “We had a really good squad atmosphere and we were all in it for each other. It was a great environment to play football in and everybody just wanted to go out there and show what they could do.
“I was talking to Ellen about this a little while ago; a lot of us who were at the Euros in 2007 and the U20 World Cup in Chile [in 2008] have now come into the seniors together. It shows that the youth system is really working.
“Players I am now playing with in the seniors I have played with for years throughout the youth teams and I think that bond between us has definitely helped.”
Tuesday 17 May 2011 is one date that Whelan will always recall fondly. This was the day she finally made her senior team bow, in the final World Cup warm-up match against Sweden at Oxford United’s Kassam Stadium. She came on for Casey Stoney in the 87th-minute and has now added two more caps to her name, evolving into an almost permanent fixture in subsequent squads.
“I’d been waiting for the day for a long time,” she said. “I only got on for a few minutes but it was one of the biggest days of my career. It was short lived but it was good. I was nervous but I really enjoyed it and I didn’t feel out of place.
“It took me a bit longer than I would have liked but I am now getting in the senior team a lot more often. Every time I go away with the seniors I just want to prove that I am worthy of a place in the squad.
“I’m happy that I keep getting called back into the seniors and I want that to continue. I think that when I’ve had the chance to show what I can do I’ve done quite well.”
With six Under-23 caps also under her belt, Whelan has certainly earned her stripes at youth level and she is now enjoying showcasing her talent against the world’s best, so there are few players better placed to offer advice to this year’s intake of U19s.
“It takes a lot of commitment, hard work and endeavour to get to the seniors,” she said. “You have to remember that it is a team game so you should always try and gel with your teammates as much as possible. You need keep on top of your game, work on what you need to improve on, listen to your coaches and obviously enjoy every minute of the journey.”
England squad in full
Mary Earps (Doncaster Rovers Belles), Megan Walsh (Aston Villa)
Lara Fay (Chelsea), Alex Greenwood (Everton), Annabel Johnson* (Leicester City), Meaghan Sargeant (Lincoln Ladies)
Rebecca Anderson (Nottingham Forest), Felicity Gibbons (Charlton Athletic), Elizabeth Ince (Blackburn Rovers), Kasia Lipka (Doncaster Rovers Belles), Jasmine Matthews (Bristol Academy), Sherry McCue (Aston Villa)
Danielle Carter (Arsenal), Bethany England (Doncaster Rovers Belles), Melissa Lawley (Bristol Academy), Nikita Parris (Everton), Keira Ramshaw (Sunderland), Jessica Sigsworth (Doncaster Rovers)
* replaced Sophie Gwilliam of Chelsea
** replaced Ellie Bailes of Charlton Athletic