Weekend Interview: Sheffield United fan Ellie Roebuck aims to keep England in safe hands at World Cup

Ellie Roebuck does not strike you as an obvious candidate to be a potential football superstar.

England hopeful: Goalkeeper Ellie Roebuck. Picture: Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Friendly and polite, there is none of the cocky swagger that people often associate with young footballers.

When posed with the standard questions about working hard and taking things one game at a time, she comes across simply as what she is – a 19-year-old with a microphone pointed at her, trying to remember her media training and say the right thing.

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Turn the conversation to her home county of Yorkshire, though, and she visibly animates, laughing and smiling as she remembers an unorthodox journey to the top of the game which started with a penalty from Phil Jagielka and has now brought about a starting spot at Manchester City and the prospect of an upcoming World Cup appearance.

While she now brims with pride in a City shirt, as a youngster growing up in Killamarsh it was the red and white stripes of Sheffield United that she wore at the club’s Centre of Excellence.

“I’m a big Sheffield United fan, I don’t know if I’m allowed to say that!” she jokes, glancing at her obliging press officer.

A season-ticket holder from an early age, she has her football-mad father Nigel to thank – or blame, depending on your point of view – for her unwavering Blades loyalty, and she makes the pilgrimage to Bramall Lane as often as she can.

Her first match seems a long time ago now, but it is a memory which still brings a misty-eyed recollection.

Ellie Roebuck of Manchester City looks on during the WSL Continental Cup Final between Arsenal Women and Manchester City Ladies at Adams Park on March 14, 2018 in High Wycombe. (Picture: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

“We were in the Prem, funnily enough,” she says. “So quite a while ago now.

“We played Tottenham, we won 2-1. It was the season we were in the Prem, so it was quite a nice one and then downhill from there!”

Rob Hulse and Jagielka were the goalscorers that day, as Neil Warnock’s Blades held off a Spurs attack of Robbie Keane, Dimitar Berbatov, Mido and Jermain Defoe to claim an unlikely win.

The goalkeeping performance of Paddy Kenny may well have set off a spark in the then seven-year-old’s head, but it was a long time until Roebuck thought football could be her life rather than her hobby.

“I played at school for fun,” she says.

“The only time I realised that if I took it seriously enough that there was a route was when I got my first England youth call-up. That was quite a surprise.

“I wasn’t that well-educated on the process. I just used to turn up on a Saturday, play, do my best and enjoy it with my mates.

“Then as soon as that happened and I continued to be selected for that set-up, it kind of triggered that, actually, I could do something with this.”

For a football-fanatic of a father, it was also a dream come true.

“He was buzzing! My mum, not so much. I think my mum always wanted me to be the kid that was wearing dresses but I used to live in my Sheffield United kit.

“But my dad loved it., I think even now I’m pretty much living his dream. We played Yeovil the other day and he travelled, I don’t know why. It’s crazy, he literally never misses a game. He travels all across the world with me.

“I think having that relationship and how big a fan of football he is, really kind of helped push me through.

“Whereas at first I think mum was a bit reserved, like, ‘you’ve got to get your education’ my dad was more like ‘football, football, football’!”

Growing up playing as a goalkeeper in a boys’ team sounds like a daunting prospect for a young girl, but Roebuck remembers the games and her team-mates fondly.

“The majority of the boys I used to play with, I went to primary school with, so they knew I could play,” she said.

“The lads I played with were all very good, very supportive.

“Being the goalkeeper, when the opposition turned up on a Sunday they’d be like, ‘Oh, a girl in goal, got it in the bag’.”

It is unlikely that any of those opponents will make it quite as far in the game as Roebuck already has, having moved to Manchester at the age of 16.

“When I found out City had interest it was a no-brainer,” she admits, despite the sadness of leaving her childhood club.

“You’ve just got to see the impact the club has had on women’s football. I was straight there, I couldn’t wait to sign!

“The way that the club is backing women’s football reflects massively on the way we’re progressing as a team.

“I had to move away from home, which I found hard because I’ve been such a home girl; I’m a real family-orientated person.”

She can hardly speak higher of the team and staff at the Etihad Campus, who helped her settle as she moved away from Sheffield for the first time.

Roebuck has struck up a particularly strong friendship with Georgia Stanway, the 20-year-old forward who joined City a year before her.

At the beginning of November, they made their senior international debuts together.

Stanway scored and Roebuck came off the bench in a 3-0 win over Austria and both were in the squad as City captain Steph Houghton received her 100th cap three days later.

“Me and Georgia are really good friends, best friends,” she says.

“We live together, we’re pretty much together 24/7. So to be able to do that together and as we’ve come through the youth age groups together, that was extra special.

“Steph is an unbelievable person and to not only make my debut but to be able to share her milestone moment with her was fantastic, one that she massively deserved.”

The Lionesses will travel to France this summer for a World Cup in which they have a genuine chance of doing something special, with a number of Yorkshire representatives in head coach Phil Neville’s exciting team.

Sheffield United are the county’s only team in the top two tiers of the women’s game, but it is an area which continues to produce quality footballers. Perhaps it is something in the water?

“Must be!” Roebuck says with a smile.

“I think Sheffield itself is a good footballing city. Millie Bright (Chelsea and England) lives literally right round the corner from my house so you can narrow it down even more.

“I know there’s a lot of girls who came through the Sunderland ranks and that kind of area but there are more and more coming through from Yorkshire, which is really nice to see.”

With plenty of first-team experience and a first cap already under her belt, the sky is the limit for Roebuck. For now, she has a title race to concentrate on. City recently ended table-topping Arsenal’s 100 per cent start to the season, and Roebuck is hoping to keep her place with half-a-season to play.

However far she goes in the game, you suspect she will never forget where she came from. Lioness, Cityzen, or any other moniker she carries in her career – Ellie Roebuck will always be a Blade.

The 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup will be played in France between June 7 and July 7 across nine cities. The United States are the defending champions. England are in Group D along with Scotland, Argentina and Japan.