From Liverpool to Madrid, via Manchester and Barcelona; Toni Duggan’s club history is one that any professional would be proud of. The England international has ripped up the game at the highest level, playing in World Cups, Champions League finals – you name it, she’s been there. And the recent global situation has given her pause for thought; time to reflect on a quite phenomenal career, as we found out when we spoke with her recently.

Duggan has an infectious personality; a scouser who’s adopted the Spanish way of life – from the food to afternoon siestas and sun. But more than that she brings an experience and lust for life that few in the top level of the game can match, and it pours from her as we talk through her career to date. At 28, she’s one of the core members of the England side that has carved out the unique identity for the women’s national team. Her passion quite simply is the game; it’s her teammates, their achievements together, and passing that on to the next generation. Whether or not she finds the success on the pitch with the Lionesses or with Team GB that she so desperately craves, her impact on the game and her influence on young female footballers should never be underestimated.

To start with, we need to touch on where we are in the world right now and what we've been through the last couple of months. How have you found the whole lockdown experience? What's it been like for you?

It's been crazy, to be honest. I think obviously everyone's in the same boat. It's been difficult. I think you go through so many different emotions. You know, you're scared, you’re anxious wondering what’s going on and what is going to happen next... With your day to day stuff, you start to think about how do you get on with your day job, how can I keep fit? So yeah, it’s been crazy. I must say, the work that the NHS are doing - the doctors and the nurses, they’ve been putting themselves on the front line for all of us so knowing what they’re doing and what they’re going through, I do think they’re making it a lot easier for us. We’re told to stay at home and stay safe and that’s what we should be doing so that keeps you going.

Have you been in the UK or have you been in lockdown in Spain? 

Yeah, I was lucky enough to get home in time. Obviously Spain is a bit ahead with what is happening so I was fortunate enough to get home and back with my family to isolate with them. That has helped a lot. One of the main positives that have come out of it is that I have been able to spend time around my family. Living abroad for three years I haven’t been able to do that for a while. 

Your seasons are so relentless when you look at both club and international obligations, has it been a break like you’ve never had before over the last 10-15 years?

Yeah it’s so true. At times you may get one to two weeks off in a year maximum. So to have so much mum is probably sick of me but it’s been so nice to be at home with my mum, my brother, my boyfriend and just spend some really good quality time together. Like you say, it’s good for your body to get a rest along with your mind as well. There does come a point when you’re itching to get back playing though. We know that will only happen when it’s safe and right to do so.

While it’s a healthy break, you must be so hungry to get playing again?

Oh yeah, I cannot wait for a game of football. There’s only so many street runs you can do, only so many jumps and squats and things like that. Nothing replicates a game of football. Hopefully we can get back soon.

You’ve touched on the positives you’ll take from the situation. . Being able to spend so much time with family is so precious but did you also see it as a chance to reflect and take stock of the last few years as well?

Even to have the chance to do that has been unique. My career especially has been so fast moving that you don’t get a chance to sit down and reflect on what has actually been going on. You go from a tough season with your club where you might have some success, you might not, to then onto a World Cup or a major championship and then you’ll have your one to two week break where you’re happy to see everyone but then you’re straight back in again and it’s the same cycle for 10-15 years.

So yeah, I have had a chance to reflect and it’s been interesting actually to think about what you’ve achieved in your career, what’s happened, what route you’re going to take next and what’s to come. You start to think about what your ambitions are for the next few years so it’s been really good to self reflect and also work on yourself as well. I’ve had a few injuries this year unfortunately so to just do my own specific training that sometimes you wouldn’t be able to do when you’ve got three games a week so I’ve just been trying to look at other ways that I can focus on myself during this time.

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It’s probably only in the last six weeks that I’ve realised how much I have achieved individually but also collectively. Being a part of Women's football over the last five years and the road that it has come on and the journey that it has come on has been incredible"

When you do look back and you hear yourself talking about World Cups, big occasions, big clubs - is it hard to imagine these words are coming out of your mouth given the ambitions you had as a kid and what you’ve achieved over time?

Yeah and it's true. It’s probably only in the last six weeks that I’ve realised how much I have achieved not only individually but also collectively. Being a part of Women's football over the last five years and the road that it has come on and the journey that it has come on has been incredible. There’s been some lows but there’s been so many highs. It’s beyond my wildest dreams to have played in World Cups for England, European Championships, Champions League Finals, the clubs that I have played for and been part of, the amount of history that has been’s been incredible and I wouldn’t change any minute of it.

When you talk about the journey, the progression of the women’s game too - how would you describe your personal journey and how it’s felt through those highs and lows from where you’ve started to where you are now?

Beyond my wildest dreams to be honest. I always think as well, you make one step and then you think, “wow this is amazing” but you also don’t realise what is around the corner as well. Maybe going from Everton, where I had an amazing time when I was younger, to being a professional player at Manchester City, you think at that point “wow this is incredible” but little do you know that a few years later you’ll be on a plane on your way to sign for Barcelona.

It’s honestly been incredible. I would have never dreamt of it and I just hope now that there’s young girls that can actually have these dreams because they’ve seen that it is a reality through the likes of myself and many other women’s players out there who are succeeding in their own right. That also fills me with pride - the fact that you can do that and inspire the next generation.

You’re an amazing beacon for people to follow. Your personality is infectious and relatable too which goes a long way. When you talk about getting on a plane to sign for Barcelona - how much have you enjoyed the travel that football has given you?

Yeah, it's obviously one of the pluses that comes with it and one of the bonuses. I’ve been fortunate enough to experience many things through the football environment. Little things that when you were younger you could only dream of. Sitting in a box, watching a football match, you always dream about those sorts of things but never think you’ll be lucky enough to actually do them, to be able to share that experience with your family and be able to take them to a game and be able to sit in the box or to go to a Champions League Final and watch Liverpool is amazing. It’s amazing that my family can come on this journey with me. So it’s been surreal.

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When a club like Barcelona comes calling, it's one of those decisions... do you really have to think about it? Can you remember when you first thought the opportunity of playing abroad may become a reality and what opportunities moving abroad could bring?

I think like you say, all these experiences come at you so fast. So you’re looking for a new club and looking for a new challenge. Before you know it you’re signing on the dotted line and living in Spain. If you had asked me at the start of my career or when I was at Manchester City in those early years, I probably would have said I would never play abroad but times change in football, things change and I took that opportunity and ran away with it really.

Now I’m at Atletico Madrid who are a fantastic club. I’ve stayed out in Spain which says a lot about the country and how much I have enjoyed it so far. It’s just an eye-opener as well on a personal level. Going over there and fitting in to a new culture, a new style of play, learning a new language – there are so many boundaries that you have to overcome. It’s been a journey, there’s been so many highs and so many lows. It’s difficult, I’m over there on my own, you don’t have the opportunity to bring your family and friends over as often as you want and it can be difficult but when would I ever get this opportunity again in my life? You just don’t know ... I’ve been really lucky.

Was it a bit of a leap of faith to move overseas - football has a habit of selling the glamour of a move like that very well but forgetting the challenges that people may face as human beings...were you nervous to be out there, have you been lonely at times?

It's totally true. It was a big leap of faith but you have to take risks in this life or you won’t get the rewards. I’m quite an outgoing person and I’m passionate about things. So if I want to do something, I’m gonna do it. Obviously I spoke with my family, my friends, my boyfriend and my agent also - they all want what is best for me but at the end of the day, I had to make that decision. I’m proud that I was brave enough to do that. As you say, it’s been an incredible journey but it’s also been a brilliant experience and it’s definitely been worthwhile.

What about in terms of the benefits from going overseas, cities like Barcelona and Madrid, has the experience of moving to places like that almost accidentally, in a brilliant way, broadened your mind?

Yeah, definitely. Both on the pitch and off the pitch. I think on the pitch I’ve learned a different culture and a different style of play. Probably the polar opposite style that we’re used to in England as well. So that has brought me on as a player. I know that if one day I go into coaching that I have a variety and a mix of different cultures in terms of style of play as well as different mentalities. Then off the pitch also, the food, the language, the lifestyle – there’s so many things that are just so different.

I’ve just had to embrace it. You need to embrace the change. Before you go you’re probably wondering, “will I be in the starting eleven”, you probably don’t think about things like, everyone is sleeping at 2‘o’clock in the afternoon having a siesta. I’m not used to that. It’s those little things that you don’t really think about until you’re there and you’re witnessing it and you’re experiencing it. I would have never thought about stuff like this before I arrived at the club.

What about your outlook and your tastes in general? Has Spanish food made you a foodie?

[Laughs] It definitely has. I’ve always been a fussy eater and going over there, I had to change my diet quite a lot. I like Paella now and things like that. Croquettes, things like that I would never have tasted if my mum had put them on a plate in front of me. I’ve learnt to cook because I’m over there on my own and it just brings you on both on and off the pitch.

Those clubs you’re now associated with – such massive football brands. Was the experience one of just seeing what happens or did you have any objectives you set out before you made the move?

I just said going over there that I was going to make the most of it. Every minute of it. As you say, I don’t know when you would get an opportunity like that again. For me, it was the right time in my career to go there. It was perfect for me. I had the support of everyone back home and I just wanted to really embrace it. I also went over there with the ambition to win trophies. I have won a couple and I have made history with Barcelona in getting to the Champions League Final. Also this year with Madrid in the Champions League – getting the furthest they ever have before.

I would like to win the league though. I haven’t done so yet but even if I didn’t, I wouldn’t come home as disappointed because I know that I have given absolutely everything to do that and it has surpassed all my expectations. Going over there, by myself, sticking to it as well because there’s times when you could easily just get on a flight back home and be back in my comfort zone, back with my family. But to actually stick it out, I’ve actually impressed myself.

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I cannot wait for a game of football. There’s only so many street runs you can do, only so many jumps and squats and things like that. Nothing replicates a game of football. Hopefully we can get back soon"

While English players have moved to several European clubs, playing for Barcelona and then Athletico, you’re kind of out there on your own. What has that been like and what about the experience would you recommend to other players?

Yeah it is a bit like that. I’ve spoken to a lot of the girls who have gone abroad since I went abroad. Don’t get me wrong, there were loads of girls who went abroad before I did. Girls have gone to America, Anita Asante played in Sweden which I always admired because she was there on her own. She played there for many years and there’s definitely other individuals who have done it but I think since my move to Barca there have been a lot more. Especially in the Lionesses, intrigued about what it is like, what the lifestyle is like and how I’ve coped. I’ve definitely passed on that advice. I always say to the girls that it has to be the right time in your career. That is the most important thing because if you go over there and you have baggage back home then maybe it will pull you back home and you’re not going to enjoy it as much. You need that support. You need that system.

I’ve been lucky enough in the three years that I’ve been out in Spain, I’ve had someone at every single home game. I’m fortunate enough to have that so if I’m passing on advice to someone else and say “yeah go out there, it’s amazing, your family can fly over every other week” and they haven’t got that support system then they might not enjoy the experience as much as me. So I think it’s important to pass on information and share my experiences because I do think it can bring you on and take your game to the next level. It’s a fantastic opportunity that you can have as a footballer and as a person in general. As I say, it has to be important for you - the right country, the right place, the right time.

It must also be an incredible quality of life. That constant sun and an incredible setting. How much is it about getting that right balance for you so that you are living in a place that you love as much as you are playing for an elite team?

Yeah, I think that's the one thing that I've got right, actually. By going over there, I probably have less distractions over there than I do at home. The most difficult part of it is being away from your family and friends but you actually have more distractions at home so being over in Spain, I can focus totally on football. When I get home from football I can relax and recover for my next session. I can maybe sit in the sun for an hour or two or whatever.

I have people over here visiting and stuff and so I’ve felt a bit like a tour guide now and then but as I say, there’s less distractions being over in Spain. It is about getting the balance right definitely. I’m 28 now so I’m an experienced player and I know what is and what isn’t good for my body. Maybe if I went over there when I was 19 and was going into training the next day, sun burnt having been out in the sun for seven hours then it might not be the best thing to do. I think at the age of 28, I’m old enough and mature enough to know what is right and what is not.

As years go, this one's been particularly all over the place for the world in general but how do you feel looking back a year on from the last World Cup? Does it feel like another healthy step change for the Women’s game?

Yeah I do. I think this World Cup definitely showed to the world, how much belief we have in ourselves but also how much belief people have back home in the Lionesses. We actually believed in this tournament, although we didn’t go on to do so, that we could go for gold. Not getting that was difficult to take. When we went to Canada, there was no expectation on us. The whole of England got behind us and supported us and we got the bronze medal and we came home and it was like we had won it. That was the feeling because we surpassed all expectations from everyone, even ourselves. Whereas this World Cup there was a different mentality.

I think it’s been difficult, especially those few months after the World Cup to digest that we didn’t achieve what we set out to but I do definitely think there has been a mentality shift in the whole culture of women’s football in England. For ourselves, for the public, for the fans, for the media in what we can achieve in the future so I think that’s been a real positive step in the right direction.

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How hungry does it make you now having had a mixture of experiences and emotions to get back on that kind of stage and win?

Yeah, we're desperate to. And we can see it coming. When we say it in the media, we actually do believe it. That’s what I love about the team now. We actually believe it. I feel that in teams in the past we kind of said it but there wasn’t that belief. I just think it’s around the corner. It’s so frustrating that the Olympics and the Euro’s have both been pushed back. So that is difficult to take because we’re itching. We know it’s coming. We need to wait now obviously for the next two major tournaments but the girls will be ready. Even in the last few weeks, speaking to everyone and seeing how everyone has been keeping busy and the work they have been putting in even though the season has been cancelled now, the girls have been putting in a hell of a shift in because we know we’re so close to getting there.

On the Atletico side of things – they were one of the first sides to put a fixture in the club’s main stadium. Before you joined did they explain their vision as to where they wanted to take the women’s side? I’d imagine that was a big selling point for you?

Yeah, I think obviously before you go to any club, you meet with them and you speak with them about the ambitions. Obviously that has to match up to yours. I think with Atletico, they didn’t have to tell me because I had already experienced it. With Barcelona being one of their main rivals, I had seen the great things that they had implemented with the club. When I played against them in my first year I was like “wow this club, the supporters, they were so passionate and the atmosphere at the game was incredible”. I was ringing my family saying “you’ll never believe the game today - there were 4,000 people but it felt like there were 50,000”. They had flares, they had drums, they had everything. Obviously we played the special game at the Wanda as well where we broke the record for the attendance. Even that - I was playing for the opposition, Barcelona and I scored a goal that day but I still left feeling “what a club this is”. They had won the league back to back for the last three years so I knew what I was going into when I signed for the club.

If I’m going to be brutally honest, it’s been a really difficult year for the club. A lot of things have been going on in the world this year - we’ve had three different managers this year which has been difficult for the players so we probably haven’t reached out heights. We’re in the Champions League and we have created history with how far we’ve gone but yeah, Atletico is a special club. They have their own women’s training ground for just the women’s team which is probably better than the mens if I’m being honest. So we’re really lucky and it’s such a great club to be a part of.

Are there things out in Spain that you’ve noticed that you think the rest of the game should adopt or take note of?

Well, yeah I think giving the opportunity for the women to play on such a massive stage such as the Wanda Metropolitano is such an incredible stadium, you’ve seen that when Liverpool played in the Champions League Final there also. For us to have that opportunity and for it to be sold out and have that support and backing from everyone in Spain was incredible.

I think the platform that the club puts the women on, the new training facilities – I couldn’t believe that they had been designed specifically for the women. I know a lot of the clubs in England train at the men’s facilities which is nice but to actually have a dedicated area just for the women’s team and their own mini stadium, I thought that was incredible. I do think that some of the teams and people in Women’s sport in general can look to Atletico in the way that they’ve dealt with the women’s team but in general, women’s sport is moving in the right direction but we all need to keep pushing.

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For me personally, equality isn't just about money. Equality for me is about the facilities and more so than anything, the respect and the way that the women are treated"

When we talk about change and progressing the game ... it’s a massive thing but what would you like to change about the game now?

I think we’re still battling every day. For me personally, equality isn't just about money. Equality for me is about the facilities more so than anything, the respect and the way that the women are treated. If a men’s team of a younger age group is going to travel on private planes to a major tournament but the women’s team can’t then I don’t feel like that is really equality. So I think there’s certain areas like that which definitely need to be improved. The travel, the accommodation, the simple things but yeah people need to be outspoken about it because if people don’t know what’s happening then how do you make a change? A lot of things have progressed and when you focus on the positives and look at how lucky we are and fortunate to be in the position we’re in, you can see how grateful we are but we want to keep pushing on. We want to keep pushing our sport and more importantly, women’s equality in general. We need to keep pushing for these things every day.

As you’ve gained more experience have you also seen how powerful your voice can be for spreading a positive message?

Yeah, I think it's so important. I think there’s so many people that have played the game before us that have been outspoken and I believe it’s thanks to them that we have this opportunity now. So I think to give back, you need to be doing the same because the game has come on so much but there’s still a further way to go so if you have an opportunity to stand-up, to speak, to be heard and to make that change then you need to be doing that. Not just for yourself but for the next generation coming up.

You have experienced so much, when you think about your career and the highs and lows, what are the stand out memories that you really cherish?

I think the World Cup in Canada. That was one of the biggest turning points for me and for women’s football. Especially in England. I think obviously playing in the Champions League Final with Barcelona was obviously incredible. It was a disappointing result but an incredible experience. I think obviously winning the trophies at the clubs I have been at – Everton, Man City, Barcelona, hopefully at Atletico too. They’re obviously memories that you’ll never ever forget but more importantly, creating history and being part of this change is what really drives you on and that’s what you will look back at and say, “I helped create that''. That’s what I’ll be most proud of.

You obviously still have so much more to give. How would you describe your ambitions now having achieved so much and reached so many milestones in the past?

I’d say my main one is that I’m desperate to win something with England. Or Team GB. Something on the world platform. I will be so disappointed if we never do it because I know how good our team is. I want to be part of that. That’s what I’m going to be striving for. I want to keep winning trophies at club level and keep creating history and keep being a voice in the game that tries to make change. That’s my ambition for the next few years and that’s what I’d continue to do.

When you look at the USWNT, there’s so many players in that squad who have shown the power of their voice. Do you feel that same level of voice is now coming through with the Lionesses?

Yeah, I think with the Lionesses, we know that there’s a bigger picture out there. If you look across the team, there are so many outspoken players and they are players who want to leave the game in a better place than when they started because we have so much respect and appreciate the effort that people have done for us so we are outspoken and we do push things. That’s what we believe in as a team. When we first set out as the Lionesses, it wasn’t to win a World Cup or to win a European Championship, that wasn’t the aim, it was to inspire a nation. I feel like we’ve done that but there’s still a lot to do.

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It’s a beautiful sentiment. Do you ever think about your legacy and how you want people to think about your career?

Not really, I think I’m just someone who's very passionate about the game, about my team-mates and about the young players coming through. So I just want to be seen as maybe someone who made a difference on and off the pitch. That’s it really.

Watch the full interview with Toni Duggan on IGTV.