There was little shock when eight Manchester City Women players were called up to the England squad for Euro 2017 on Monday morning, with Nikita Parris, Izzy Christiansen, and Demi Stokes making their first tournament appearances for their country.
Along with goalkeeper Karen Bardsley, outfielders Jill Scott, Lucy Bronze, Toni Duggan, and captain Steph Houghton were also named in Mark Sampson’s squad that will walk out against Scotland for the opener in July.
They’re not the only familiar faces in the squad either, 19 of the named 23 were on the plane to Canada two years ago with Millie Bright the only non-City newcomer to the squad. While some may believe there were players who deserved a call-up over those in the squad, Houghton believes the consistency in selection is key.
“For me, to be able to rely on the fact we have 19 of the 23 that won bronze two years ago is really important,” said the defender.
“Most of that 19 went to Euro 2013 too; we’ve had a bad tournament together and a good tournament together so now we can fine-tune everything on the pitch in the coming months to make sure we have another good one.”
It hasn’t been such a smooth 12 months for City teammate Duggan who saw her spot under threat after a spell out of the squad in 2016 as her form for both club and country dipped.
But the striker echoed her captain’s sentiments about why it’s so important the squad is similar to that of two years ago.
“A lot of us have been together a long time, we know each other off by heart and we spend a lot of time together — some of us have been together since we were 13!
“But the other four are no strangers, we obviously know them well and hopefully we can build on this now whilst we have the time.”
With goals not exactly flying in against the top nations recently, Duggan admits the pressure is on the forwards to deliver sooner rather than later.
“We’ve spoke about it a lot, these players score for fun for their clubs so why can’t we do that for our country?
“As a forward you take on that pressure but that comes from being a sports person — you’re always under pressure but the best players enjoy that.”
It’s been a much smoother two years for right back Lucy Bronze. The City defender quite literally shot herself in the headlines at the 2015 World Cup with a wonder strike against Norway which she followed up with a header against hosts Canada.
With Bronze one of the eight Manchester City players in the squad, the defender sees the positives about continuing her partnerships with teammates she’s already all too familiar with.
“I play week in, week out with Steph at Man City so I’m used to it here, I’ve got Karen behind me, Demi to the left, Jill and Nikita in front, and Toni and Izzy on the other side so it’s all familiar to me,” she laughed.
“I know the ins and outs of their games, particularly Steph, and I think that will hopefully help the squad as a whole.”
Bronze also reserved praise for her club, which wasn’t even in existence under its current name at the last European Championships four years ago and her comments were echoed by City captain Houghton.
“City have done a lot,” said Bronze. “People might see we were in the squad before coming to City but three of the new girls here are from City too.
“They look to develop the players for England as well as City and it’s really paying off.”
Houghton added, “The league as a whole now is improving — it used to be a banker for Arsenal! I can only speak for City but the three years I’ve had there I’ve enjoyed every single minute.
“I’ve improved as a player and as an athlete, and I do believe we’ve got a really good style of play. It’s a credit to the eight girls in the squad but also to the club for helping us.”
Duggan also says she’s thrilled to have her seven club teammates in the squad. “You’re always looking out for your mates and I’m delighted to see the other seven here.
“We work together seven hours a day, seven days a week, so nobody knows each other better than the eight City girls — it’s like being on the road with your sisters.”
Jill Scott meanwhile is no stranger to squad announcements, the midfielder is now embarking on her sixth major tournament with the Lionesses and Scott says that apprehension never goes away.
“We knew we’d be getting an email on Friday and it’s always a nerve-racking moment. I don’t usually wake up too early but I did on Friday and it’s an amazing feeling to be called up again.
“it’s always the tournaments that stand out. I don’t remember much in life but you ask me about any tournament and I’ll answer straight away! 19 of us here have that experience of a major tournament, we know what it’s like and people only see what happens on the pitch but for five weeks we’re together off it and there’s disappointments to deal with.”
Scott added, “We’ve made massive strides in that area, so many of us keep in touch away from camp and there’s a lot of respect there. The off-pitch stuff is massive, if you’re having a rubbish time and the group isn’t gelling then you see that on the pitch.”
While a few behind Scott’s tally, 26-year-old Duggan is already preparing for her third major tournament with the Lionesses and the striker agrees that the nervousness never changes when it comes to the big announcement.
“It’s always the same feeling,” she said. “It’s exactly being the same as being a 12-year-old for the youth squads. I used to get a letter back then and tick off the people I knew going to camp!
“It’s nervous the days before, we got an email this time and you know when it’s coming but that feeling never changes.”
Duggan also echoes the sentiment of her teammates regarding the early nature of the announcement. “I know my seat on the plane is secure now so I can focus on being my best over the next few months and focus on hitting my peak when needed.”
She added, “Part of getting the squad early is about that relief but nobody in this squad is complacent so you’re always nervous and that’s normal for us.”
Given her status as captain, Houghton was virtually assured of a spot as long as her fitness held up but the defender, along with Bronze, said it’s a weight off their shoulders to know the squad as early as April.
“It’s the first time I’ve experienced this so early but I only see it as a positive,” said Houghton. “We have a squad now who will know their roles going into the first game but we can’t relax, we have to make sure we’re ready and sharp for that Scotland match.”
Bronze added, “All the girls here have been involved for the past two years but to get your name set in stone is a relief. You’ve had all that waiting and now it’s real. Some people might question it being so far in advance but it’s a good chance for us to knuckle down and look at what we need to do.”
The 25-year-old also agreed with Scott about off-pitch relationships being as important for the squad as what happens on the field.
“Everyone here gets on really well and has good relationships,” she said. “We’ve done a lot of work off the pitch and maybe we didn’t have that environment a few years ago. Players have better relationships with each other and with the staff, we feel confident we can go to Mark and the coaches and speak to them openly.”