“No,” replied England goalkeeper Carly Telford pretty bluntly when asked if she’s over the World Cup which now ended almost three months ago.
After months of buildup and a successful run to the semifinals, England’s hopes and dreams shattered in a 15-minute spell in which they had a goal disallowed, missed a penalty, and had a player sent off while trailing to eventual champions United States, 1–2, in Lyon.
It was the end of a dream that began when qualification was secured in Newport 11 months earlier and Telford admits the feeling of heartbreak still hasn’t gone away as time has gone by since the tournament ended in July.
“I think it will take a long time for a lot of us,” said Telford. “Especially the older ones that might not get another chance to go to one. That’s not me saying I’m retiring but it’s a long way ahead and you just think, ‘We were so close.’ That’s the hardest thing for us.
“We know how close we were and how close it was. The opportunity we had, it was really just a bitter pill to swallow. I don’t even know how to get over that, I think we probably lingered a bit over the World Cup at the last camp, whereas now, we’ve kind of parked that bus and we can focus on the new cycle, the next cycle.”
Post-World Cup Fatigue
Telford, like many of her teammates, took a well-earned holiday after returning from France before getting back down to preseason with Chelsea, which included a return to France for a preseason tournament before a short trip to Israel.
With an England camp coming around swiftly after, Telford admits it was hard to put the World Cup to the back of their minds when arriving back at St. George’s Park as a group for the first time since leaving Nice off the back of defeat to Sweden in the third-place playoff.
“The next time you see each other is when you come back into camp so you talk about it,” she said. “You’re still talking about something that happened four or five weeks ago but preparing for the next match and I think that showed on the pitch.”
England drew 3–3 in Belgium and lost, 1–2, in Norway, meaning they come into this Saturday’s match against Brazil — a sellout at Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium — on a run of four games without a win, and Telford can’t deny there was somewhat of a “hangover” from the World Cup at the last camp.
“There was a little bit of fatigue. We didn’t look ourselves and probably didn’t feel ourselves. I’d say even looking at everyone on Monday when we met up, everyone looked fresher, everyone seemed a lot livelier. We can make excuses for those games, it was a bit of a World Cup hangover, I think, we don’t have a great track record after major tournaments.
“I think the difference now is everyone is a few weeks into the season, preseason is over. It’s just a mind-set change, it’s getting that hangover done with. I think the hardest thing is people don’t realize is the mental shift you have after a major tournament.”
The Lionesses received a fair amount of criticism for their performances against Belgium and Norway, particularly defensively, but Telford freely admits she and her teammates weren’t over their defeats in Lyon and Nice when preparing for the matches.
“I remember we got into our room, I was with Steph [Houghton], and she just said, ‘I don’t think I’m over the World Cup,’ and I was like, ‘I don’t even think I am,’ and that was in camp.
“You put three years of effort into six weeks and the mental overload of ‘We’re going to win’ and ‘Okay, we’re out in the semifinals, we’re going to win bronze,’ and then you come away with nothing, I think you don’t realize how much that hits you. You think you’re going to go into these games and be the same team, play the same way and everything is going to be rosy, and it’s not that easy.”
While it appears most of the hangover has dispersed as England prepares for Saturday’s match against Brazil before a trip to Setúbal to face Portugal on Tuesday, Telford believes a lot of it comes from the team now being in a better shape physically as well as mentally.
The majority of players are now back into first-team action with the FA Women’s Super League kicking off a month ago and the squad has been strengthened by the returns of Jill Scott, Alex Greenwood, Fran Kirby, and long-term absentee Jordan Nobbs.
Despite the last camp being just a month ago, Telford admits the change in physical difference off the back of a few FA WSL games is “huge” going into their next set of friendlies.
“I think it’s really hard for people to understand that,” she said. “For us, it’s madness. We’re slowly going down the route of the men, they send us on about 100 tours so you’re not even in the country for a lot of preseason; you’re playing games and getting battered because everyone else is about to start their season.
“Then you get sent on national camp, pack your bags, and off you go traveling again. When does it stop like? You’re just in this cycle, you feel like a hamster on a wheel and then you get off and you’re on it again. It was a bit of a madness, especially for Chelsea and Manchester City who traveled a lot. We could maybe have done with one game instead of two, focusing on freshness and getting girls through the camp and obviously we had a couple who didn’t even make it through camp and got sent home.”
On a more positive note, Telford is set to return home to the northeast this weekend where she may play in front of a sellout crowd in Middlesbrough, while ticket sales for next month’s match against Germany at Wembley have surpassed the 77,000 mark, a figure which would be a record for an England women’s match.
For Telford, walking out at the national stadium next month would be a dream come true, quite literally.
“My mum said to me when I played at Wembley the first time for Notts County in the first FA Cup final there: ‘You were stood when you were a little girl and said you were going to play at Wembley, me and your dad looked at each other and were kind of like, “Hmm, okay, you can dream” sort of thing.’
“There you are stood there. Yes, there was only 40,000 at that game. I say only, but the fact that we’re talking about 75,000 and possibly selling out is unbelievable.”
The Chelsea goalkeeper also admits she’s been surprised by the reaction of the country since returning from France, so set she was on the belief, which she still holds, that England failed by coming home without the trophy.
“When we came back from the World Cup, we were all doom and gloom,” she admitted. “We totally messed up, and we were, not hanging our heads in shame, but you think everyone is going to see you and be like, ‘Aww, you told us you were going to win the World Cup and you didn’t,’ and when I got back I’m getting my hair done and the woman next to me is like, ‘You’re the goalkeeper aren’t you?!’
“I looked at her and she was like, ‘Me and my husband and the boys, we stayed up and watched every game. You were brilliant, I don’t like football but I watched you girls, you were fantastic.’ I was like, ‘Thanks so much!’ It was so weird. For us we had done worse, we had failed. But everyone else was like, ‘You were amazing.’ I just couldn’t get my head around it!”
She added, “We had spoken so much about winning. If the men had gone out there and said, ‘We’re going to win,’ which they didn’t, straightaway everyone would be on them, saying they were terrible. I didn’t think people were going to go out on the street and say we were crap but I just thought people would be saying, ‘Yeah, you could have done better, if only you could have done this…,’ and everyone was so complimentary.
“I think it’s because for the first time, 11.7 million have seen what the Lionesses were about and that was the difference. It’s not a small minority, it’s people that have never watched us before really stood up and said, ‘Actually, I like the way this team plays.’ People bought into the team regardless of our gender. For the first time ever people switched on because it was football, not men’s or women’s, just football.
“That’s why 75,000, 30,000 are coming to watch, because they genuinely enjoy watching the game. If you are a true football fan, why wouldn’t you enjoy watching another game of football or another team wearing your badge? I hope 75,000 people come and see us win.”