Written by: Lucy Ada Ukwa
Chelsea was enjoying a great run in the 2019/2020 season until its unfortunate suspension last month.
Unbeaten in the league and sitting second with a game in hand, we’d just clinched the Continental Cup, a trophy we’d never won in its nine years of existence, and we were also in the knockout stages of the FA Cup.
Compared to the last, this season already felt like a breath of fresh air because tangible results clearly matched the great performances being put in. Clinching the Continental Cup alone already meant more silverware than last season.
Ask fans to point to our most important player this season and almost every player will be picked, proof that successes this season have actually come from combined efforts. Nonetheless, a few players, like Bethany England stand out.
Displays this season and last year too, as well as the rise to become the main striker, are incredible stories because it didn’t look like she’d ever play, let alone start for Chelsea.
Going down memory lane.
In January 2016, England became one of the many signings Chelsea made in preparation for a full season, ahead of participation in the FA Cup, Conti Cup and the Champions League.
Originally it seemed easy to dismiss the signing as one that sought to make up the numbers ahead of a packed campaign. At 21, she was not necessarily expected to be a starter. Performances at her previous club Doncaster Rover Belles, indicated she was one for the future in a worst-case scenario.
In her first season, she scored 5 goals in 19 appearances (7 of them starts), numbers that would’ve probably suggested she ought to go out on loan this year. She signed a contract extension early 2017, and months later, Chelsea announced that she was going on loan to Liverpool for the 17/18 season.
What the stats don’t show is that she spent so much time on the flanks it’s easy to forget she is a striker. She was 23- going on loan didn’t just mean more playing time, it also meant playing in her natural position, up top.
Time away at Liverpool
Leaving Chelsea immediately on loan as a young player is often a bittersweet experience. You feel important since you have a valid contract at the club, but you’re not guaranteed a first-team place just yet. It’s often make-it-or-break-it in that regard, and England did not waste the opportunity to make an impression in the North-West.
Her 10 goals in 16 games saw her best Chelsea’s regular first-team striker Fran Kirby’s 8 goals that season. No mean feat, she was in fact, so pivotal to Liverpool’s mid-table finish I was terrified we’d lose her.
A hero’s return
England made a welcome return to Kingsmeadow despite the presence of bigger stars – Eni Aluko was still around, Fran Kirby, Ramona Bachmann and Erin Cuthbert were present too. The club had just signed Adeline Engman, but England’s time at Liverpool was enough to see her become a key player back with Chelsea regardless. It was a no-brainer.
The 2018/2019 campaign was well below par. No silverware, failure to get into the Champions League and some iffy finishing made for a terrible season. England’s impressive 12 goals in 18 games were not enough consolation compared to the lofty targets that had been set originally. The potential was there, the results? Not so much.
Emma Hayes’ decision to boost her team strength with a sole signing in Guro Reiten was a bit understandable. This addition increased our squad size to 21, as we had parted ways with a few veteran players.
It also looked a safe move for existing players; no one felt like they’d have to fight for their spot, especially not England who had shown that she was ready to don the number 9 jersey and play up top consistently for Chelsea. Also, Kirby’s unfortunate injury ensured that she started all our league games.
This season started better than the last, especially for England who has started all 15 matches so far and has scored 14 times, 2 more than the previous season, and just 2 behind the League’s top scorer Vivianne Miedema.
For context, Miedema scored 9 of her 16 goals in one match, whereas, England managed to score in 11 different matches (3 braces against Birmingham City, West Ham and Bristol City), and until the suspension of the league, had scored in 9 consecutive matches.
It’s not just the consistency that’s impressive, but the importance of those goals. Take, for instance, the equalisers against Liverpool in December and against City early this season. Then, of course, there’s the late winner against Arsenal that sealed the Continental Cup trophy. Clearly, even Sam Kerr’s arrival couldn’t rattle her.
During this break, the uncertainty of things is unnerving. One thing that’s sure, however, is the quality she’s capable of. It’s exciting to think of how much better she can be whenever the season resumes.
In London, a hero has arisen and her name is Bethany England.
Edited by @KristenPulisic