One of the rising stars of women's soccer, Toni Duggan has shot to fame recently as a striker for Everton and England. Scoring a raft of goals for club and country, she was recently shortlisted for Women's Player Of The Year at the PFA Awards.
Toni, a proud Liverpudlian, is also the proud wearer of Umbro football cleats, and we're really pleased to see her achieving so much on the pitch. Recently, we sat down with Toni during a photoshoot for us to discuss all things football and beyond, and you can see some of the highlights from our chat in the video above.
Below, you can also read the full interview with Toni, who is in action tonight in the Women's Super League with Everton against Doncaster Belles. Thanks again to Toni for taking the time to speak to us!
Can you tell us a little bit about how you started playing soccer?
‘Basically I’ve got two brothers, one older, one younger, and I used to go and watch them play. Then I started getting involved, playing with the lads at the side of the pitch, and from there I played at school and my local youth clubs. Then, it’s just the same as how lads get involved, playing in the street and finding that love for the game.
I was playing for a lad’s team and it got to the age where boys and girls can’t play together, so I moved on to Mossley Hill, my local junior club and I really enjoyed my time there. Then Everton were watching the games and scouted me, I was invited to go along for some trials and I got accepted. From there, the England situation was the same, scouting my Everton games and it’s all built from there.’
There’s a lot of stereotypes around women’s soccer, are there any in particular that you’d like to challenge?
‘I’d just like to change
people’s perceptions of the game. I’d just encourage anyone to come along to a game, and they’d
see that it’s nothing like that. The girls are all technically gifted, and the
game is changing now as well. I don’t think people should just base their opinions on how it used to
We can’t compare ourselves to the men, we can’t compete with them as they’ll always be physical stronger, more powerful and pacey, our game isn’t really about that, I think the women’s game is more about the skill. Like I say I’d just encourage anyone, if they haven’t seen women’s football, to take a look and see that there’s other qualities there.’
Looking back, what’s your earliest memory of playing soccer?
‘I think it was in school, that was the turning point. We’d be out in the yard, all the other girls were doing their own thing and I’d be the only girl playing football with the lads. I’d need a new pair of school shoes every week off my mum, because they were getting destroyed, from then whenever anyone saw me I’d have a ball in my hand. I just knew that I loved it and that I wanted to make a career out of it.’
Were you always a striker?
‘I have always been a
striker, I haven’t started moving down the pecking order yet. Ever since the
under-8s, I’ve been scoring goals and my mum would give me little bonuses, if I
scored a hat-trick I’d get a fiver, or a pound if I got one, little things like
that spurred me on to keep scoring. From then I’ve just been establishing
myself as a striker.’
You’ve started this season really well,
what do think is the secret behind that?
‘Over the past four or five seasons, my main aim since I broke into the squad at Everton has been to get that number 9 position, and this year I’ve been lucky to get in there. I’ve worked hard to get there and my focus has always been scoring goals, so I’m happy that this season I’ve got eight goals in the first four games already, so hopefully I can continue with that and help the team to become successful.’
You’ve been playing for a few years now despite still being pretty young – what would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?
‘The girls do say it feels like I’ve been around for ages, but I’m still only 21, I did make my debut when I was 15 though, so I suppose that’s why! As a highlight, I’d have to say winning the U19 European Championships with England. Playing for your country is a massive honour anyway, but to do so and win something when no one else has won anything since 1966, that was a big achievement and something that I’ll always remember.’
Was that a point when you realised that you could make a career out of being a soccer player?
‘Definitely, before that it was more about maturing as a player, deciding if that’s what you really want to do with your life. That’s the difficult period really, when your mates are all going out and doing their thing and you can be misled, it’s tough, I’m not going to lie. But then winning something like that with the U19s, it becomes more serious – it’s not about participating any more, it’s about competing and wanting to be the best.’
Who were your heroes and heroines when you were growing up?
‘When I was younger I was a Liverpool fan – I am swaying more towards the blue half now – but Michael Owen was a big hero of mine. He was a goalscorer, that probably made me want to be one as well, if I saw Michael Owen scoring, I’d be out on the street trying to recreate it. I’d definitely say he was one of my biggest idols. I would also mention Rachel Yankey and Kelly Smith as well, they were always the names that were being shouted about in women’s football, and it’s great now that I can play alongside them and look up to them.’
There’s a lot of different tournaments in women’s football, can you explain which ones you’re involved in with Everton?
‘The FA Cup is the same as the men’s, throughout all the leagues in women’s football. The Continental Cup is a bit different, because there’s only eight teams in our league it’s a short season, so what they’ve done with this is make two leagues of four, you play each other once, and then the top team plays the second team in other league, and vice versa. This is the first season that we’ve done it, and hopefully we can do well in it.’
There’s also the Women’s Super League, which announced some major changes recently. What will this mean for women’s soccer?
‘The changes in the WSL are just another step for us, there’s another league coming in and there’ll be promotion and relegation. We’re taking it slowly but we’re getting there, and then hopefully the next step is further progression and expanding the season further. I do think its good that we’re doing it step by step and not trying to do too much at once.’
As a Liverpudlian playing for Everton, is the derby the game that you look forward to the most?
‘A lot of people ask this, and derby day is always a big day here in Liverpool. There’s a few girls in both teams that aren’t from Liverpool so they probably don’t know too much about it, but I know how big it is. Saying that, every game is massive now in the WSL, the standard has improved so much and we go into every game giving everything.’
What are your ambitions for Everton this season, do
you think you could win the league?
‘Yeah, I don’t see why not, you only have to look at the past few results to see that everyone can beat everyone, it’s a really competitive league and we’re right in there so it’ll be interesting to see how it develops.’
What kind of links do you have with the men’s team at Everton?
‘Everton have always been
supportive of the ladies team, even when it wasn’t professional, and there are
more men’s teams getting involved now. You only have to look at Man City,
they’ve been put into the WSL top division next season, and they’ve vowed to
put as much money into the women’s team as they do with the men. Even
Liverpool, they’ve been through a bit of a transition this year, they’d never
been related to the men before but now they’re supporting them brilliantly. I
do think that this kind of support can bring more success and a better standard
to the women’s game, if we’re training four times a week and using their facilities
it can only be a benefit.
Here at Everton, we’ve always been invited to the end of season awards, they’ve always recognised the achievements of the women’s team and made us feel involved. Recently I did a photoshoot with Sylvain Disdin and he was talking about the women’s team, saying that the men’s team look out for our results, and it’s great to get that support.’
If you could offer one piece of advice to young female players, what would it be?
‘I’d just stay to stick with it and enjoy it. There’ll always be a time when it gets tough, but if that’s what you want to do you should stick to it. I look back now and I think, ‘what would I be doing now if I hadn’t stuck with it?’ Some of my friends used to invite me to parties and I’d have to say no because I had a game the next day, but they wouldn’t understand. Now they look back and they might think ‘I wish I’d stuck to dancing’ or whatever they were interested in, because they see me travelling the world and enjoying what I do so much. So I’d just say to stick with it and get the best from it you can.’
What do you like to do with your time outside of soccer?
‘If I get any time, I just enjoy spending time with my family and friends, going away on holiday when you can. Football’s quite difficult in terms of time off, it takes over your life, ultimately football’s there constantly, whether you’re playing or watching it on telly, it’s everywhere.
Can you tell us a little bit about the other work you do outside of the game?
‘Yeah, obviously the women’s game is still only semi-professional, so I have a job alongside that. The youth club near where I grew up, that’s where I work, it’s great because you’re with the kids in your area and you’re setting a good example. I was like them one day, and now I’ve gone on to do this, and just speaking to them on a day to day basis is nice, they look up to you, so I really enjoy that.
We have this rule, they can support whoever they want with the men’s teams, but it’s got to be Everton Ladies! I really appreciate the support they give me, when I’m away with England for instance they give me the time off so I’m really thankful for that.’
You were recently nominated as Women’s Players’ Player Of The Year at the PFA Awards, how did that feel?
‘It was a total shock, we knew that the girls would be nominated, but we didn’t know how many nominees there’d be or anything like that. So when I got the phonecall saying that my name might appear on Sky Sports News I was a bit taken aback to be honest, especially as its voted for by your colleagues who you play against every week. It was an honour just to come third, and Kim Little really deserved to win it. Even the PFA recognising the women’s game in this way is massive, and shows how far the game has come.’
Finally, we know that male footballers have terrible taste in music and fashion, do you think that female players are any better?
‘There are a few dodgy ones to be fair…no, I think we are better though, the taste in music in our team is good, we’ve got the DJ Amy Kane taking care of that. And the fashion sense, it’s alright, bit of a mixture really!’