Some strikers score trophy winning goals. Some strikers score goals that dig out their teams in difficult times. I hope that there is a future in which Bethany England wins trophies at Spurs, but right now, with six games remaining, it looks like her goals might keep the club in the top-flight.
Spurs before England
Before England’s arrival, Spurs had not scored for five league games in a row. And as many people have said, you can’t win a game if you can’t score.
Then in January England came.
For anyone who missed it – this was big news. Reportedly the highest ever fee for a within-WSL transfer: £250,000.
England almost perfectly embodies the intersecting grit and glamour of women’s football. In the period when her male contemporaries were in full time academies, she was playing semi-professional football at Donacaster Belles, and doing night shifts (10pm-6am) in a chip shop in Barnsley. But in the years since England has won titles with Chelsea, played in International and Champions league games and was voted the WSL Player of the year and PFA Player of the Year in 2020. Her goalscoring record is stellar. Across the eight seasons she has played top-flight football she averages a goal every 120 minutes.
In contrast Spurs are relative newcomers to top-flight women’s football and a team without starry players.
To say that expectations were massive understates it.
But England has not seemed even momentarily phased. In the first game she scored. And then she kept on going, scoring in five of her first six WSL games (six in eight games overall).
Not all her goals have been beautiful. But when you are in a goal drought a tap in from a yard out is beautiful.
And a couple have been memorable. Against Manchester United, at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, down 1-0, England collected the ball at the half-way line, carried it the length of the half, until at the top left corner of the area, she cut inside switched the ball to her right foot and fired low past United and Lioness keeper, Mary Earps. The goal, a glorious solo effort, was crowned February goal of the month. But less than two minutes later England’s hard work was undone. Almost from kick off, United broke down the right crossed inside: an own goal, and a 2-1 defeat. Spurs caught napping.
The problem is that in plugging a hole England revealed another: Retaining the lead. Three games and three lost leads.
And then, England’s fourth league goal, against bottom team, Leicester, at the time only two points below Spurs. A game in which the stakes were high, battles were hard-fought, but there was little quality. Until England’s second half strike. The run was almost a replica of her goal against United but shorter, a different keeper to beat, the ball floating upwards this time, bending across goal into the top right corner. Not a surprise to learn that it has been nominated for March Goal of the Month (voting open at time of writing).
And this time finally, for the first time since England’s arrival at Spurs and since she almost single-handedly re-ignited our scoring, it was not all undone. This time Spurs held on: 1-0. A win. The first since October.
Even last week. In the hell that was the North London Derby – a game that mainly served to highlight the gap between the teams and deflate any hope Spurs fans had taken from the win against Leciester – England scored. Yes, it was a penalty. But it was a good one. And Spurs missed the last time we were awarded a penalty against Arsenal.
Still on the outside
England left Chelsea to join Spurs because she wanted more game time. No doubt, this was in part because she enjoys being on the pitch. But the more pressing motivator was that she wanted to re-gain a spot in the Lionesses, after being a non-playing part of the Euro-winning squad and then being left out of the squad in the autumn window at a time when she was a rarely used substitute at Chelsea.
Chelsea’s loss was our gain. And while I have previously had bones to pick with Sarina Wiegman, if her non-selection of England motivated the striker’s move to Spurs I, and every Spurs fan, should be grateful.
Yet now, despite the numbers England is putting up since joining Spurs – both in terms of minutes and goals – she remains outside the England squad. When Sarina Wiegman did not select her in February it was speculated that it may have been too soon after she joined Spurs and started getting regular game time. But that cannot be the argument now.
Indeed when asked about it Weigman, said that ‘We chose to select less centre-forwards. The competition in that position is so high so I just chose these two [Rachel Daly and Alessia Russo] and kept it as that.’ England has done everything that could have been asked of her and more. But with just months to go, this puts in serious doubt whether she will feature in the World Cup squad.
Meanwhile, Spurs are not over the line. With just five points separating the bottom four (Leicester, Brighton, Reading and Spurs) at the start of this weekend and with most of these teams yet to play one another, it is not possible to feel any sense of ease.
Spurs remain without a permanent manager, and currently seem wedded to a system that exposes obvious weaknesses (in pace, in midfield progression, in communication).
Talk to fans and you will hear little enthusiasm about the rest of the season.
But if Beth’s goals are providing Spurs with moments of magic and the keys to a better place, it feels like it is her will pushing us on. In a league of bland goal celebrations, England’s are visceral: knee slides and clenched fist roars. Her intensity and hunger reflects, and increasingly fuels, fans’ desire. In a team lacking confidence and making mistakes, conviction matters.
Not that her game is purely instinctual. England’s play is borne of hard work and intelligence. What is more, there are some signs that it is rubbing off. As our other players train alongside her, day in day out, little-by-little their runs, their positioning, their decision making seems to be improving (yup, I’m looking at you Rosella Ayane). Meanwhile we see moments within games when she creates the space for those around her to be better.
So, let us take a minute, before we embark on the final stages of a painful season, to celebrate Bethany England: A player who creates the space for fans to dream that Spurs will be better, that next season we will properly compete.
Rachel Lara Cohen is on Twitter @spurswomenblog
9 Replies to “Celebrating Bethany England”
Great report Rachel as usual. Beth has been a massive inspiration to our team however it is such a shame that RS has inherited and signed so many uninspiring players that cannot match her skills. Until this changes this Summer with 6-7 statement signings then this club is destined for the drop. Sorry but that is how I see it.
We have a left side that is not working no matter who is picked. A defence that is very fragile now that Shelina not available and a midfield that is in disarray. In a squad of 25 we only have 6-7 players worth talking aboth with Beth being at the top. The rest are just not good enough or past it.
The team management is just as bad.
We lose again at Everton as we take off our best players and put on underperforming ones .. zero press and a weaking midfield opened the door for a last minute goal to them. Why o why did she change Korpella for Spencer and keep Ayanne and James on for so long who did nothing is beyond me. Seems to me VJ is no better than a RS clone … and she is on touchline. They were these for the taking and we backed off 2nd half big time. Can she not see who does not perform in a white shirt. Ayanne should have been subbed at half time. Really not sure she knows what she is doing bar give out yellow water bottles.
VP did exactly the same in the Villa game as mentioned above … take off best players and bring on 3 … yes 3 constantly underperforming players in Ayanne Naz and Cho who bring very little to the team and cannot even defend especially when we have fighters still on the bench in Percival Graham and Zadorsky. We needed to try see the game out 3-2 but with this change it is like 11 against 8 and I was not surpised they equalised with the midfield press that was allowed to happen and with Spencer in goal iso Korps – we didnt stand a chance. Sorry but VP is no better than a RS clone and simply not good enough like Stellini is or was with the men’s team. 1 point in the bag yes – but she played into their hands and it could so easily been another loss. Bad management decision – sorry