Beth England does not seem like a player who would suffer a crisis of confidence. With nine goals this season and a flurry of senior England caps following her first call‑up, the Chelsea striker is continuing the fine form that led her to finish joint-third top scorer in the WSL last season with 12 league goals, 19 in all competitions.

Except suffer she did. Inked on her left thigh, one of two tattoos that are visible below the edge of her shorts while playing, is the script: “Life’s a gamble so enjoy the game.”

Her confidence broke, though, when Chelsea rolled the dice and took a gamble on her career. In 2017, during pre-season in Austria, the manager, Emma Hayes, told her she would be going out on loan. She “burst out crying”, the self-doubt setting in. “I doubted I would come back,” she says. “But, yeah, I did. Every other player that’s gone on loan from Chelsea hasn’t come back. I’m the only player that’s managed to go away and get a recall.”

Two seasons at Liverpool followed and although it took some time to find her rhythm, it helped her find her natural position. “When I was here before I played a bit of wing, a bit of forward, then a wing‑back, and I couldn’t really find my feet,” she says. “Going to Liverpool gave me the opportunity to just work on a set position, get minutes in the bank and prove what I can do. So, as much as I hated it at the time, it was the best decision, I think, for me and my career. It was more of a test of whether I would sink or swim up there and thankfully I chose to swim.”

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Did it strengthen her relationship with Hayes, given the loan move paid off? “I guess you could say that,” England says with a laugh. “But in the same breath I’m the one that had to go and prove it. I’m not going to sit here and slate her because it happened and it has worked out for the best, but it was a bad time for me and it took me quite a while to get out of that mindset of thinking I was not good enough.”

That mindset is still there, in the background, but she has “managed to loosen the reins a little on making mistakes and getting on with it and not letting things eat me up inside”, she reflects. “I was always a player that was really too much of a perfectionist and very self-critical.”

Her delight at being named among the Guardian’s top 100 female footballers for 2019, in at 89, reflects a player that always worked hard but never dared to dream big. “It’s crazy to think that a lass from Barnsley is now deemed one of the best in the world for football. It’s a bit surreal really,” she says.

Three years ago, England was working night shifts in a fish and chip shop and Christmas temping in M&S. “I was part-time at Donny [Doncaster Belles] and at college you’ve got to pay your way,” she says. “I did night shifts on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 10pm to 6am, at the chippy. So there would be times when I would have two or three hours’ sleep before I’m getting on the coach for an away game.

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“Or, say, if we went to play a team like Yeovil, we’d get back at like 9pm, quick shower, get my tea and then straight back out to work and do a night shift. I actually used to do the Christmas orders at M&S so I would spend three night shifts in the freezer. On top of that, juggling A-levels was quite difficult.”

A powerful, strong forward with great technical ability, England shows a fight and drive that is clearly a product of that work ethic. “I’ve got an assignment to write. Just 3,000 words on parliamentary sovereignty” for the law degree she is halfway through, part-time with the Open University and with the support of the Professional Footballers’ Association.

Once the essay is out of the way, there is the not insignificant matter of a crucial match in the title race when Chelsea welcome Manchester City to Kingsmeadow on Sunday. “The league has got tougher and it is still getting harder and harder each year to play against even the top teams, there is no whitewashing that.”

A goal would be nice too, though? “To score against the bigger clubs always tends to mean a bit more. I’ve had a few against Arsenal and they mean a lot to me. The last time I scored against City was at Liverpool, a header, so it would be pretty sweet to put one away just before Christmas and help the team. But I just want three points.”



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