From fan to player, Esme Morgan is Manchester City through and through. Having once waited for an autograph and photo with Steph Houghton, the 20 year old now finds herself lining up alongside the legend for both City and also England.

It’s a rise that any fan would dream of; from season ticket holder to member of the first team. It’s a journey that Esme Morgan certainly isn’t taking for granted, but she represents a new generation of player, carrying the game forward and taking the baton from former idol and now teammate, Steph Houghton. Pushing to become a regular for both Manchester City and England, she’s perfectly placed to speak on the direction of the women’s game, supported by PUMA, who have recently showed an enormous level of support with the release of the women-specific Ultra 1.3. 

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What would you most like to change about football right now?

I think I’d like to see players being more accessible. We see players shielded away because clubs are scared of them saying the wrong thing but I think players should be allowed to express their personalities more on social media and things like that. I think players being themselves publicly is a powerful thing. Mens players especially are hidden away from the limelight or it’s a lot more controlled because the people around them are scared they will say the wrong thing. I think by leading a bit more of a normal life without judgement.

Female players do talk so openly, which is such a great thing. Do you feel like you have a blank canvas as to how you use your voice?

Yeah, I do. I think we’re a lot more free to support whatever we’d like to support and probably be more opinionated publicly and we can speak up on issues whereas the men’s players could be more hidden from that because they have a certain image to keep up. I feel like female players are in such a strong position to speak out on controversial issues that need addressing. Things like discrimination in the game; we’ve been able to speak out about it through all the experiences we’ve had.

It can come across that those players who have their social media managed are effectively told what to say. I think we can be a bit more open. It’s not a criticism, it’s more the nature of the industry and I think that all comes down to the scale of the audience. Male players have so many more eyes on what they’re doing. Their reach is enormous, which does make them that more open to criticism from people that follow them. 

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Manchester City are a club that don’t have separate instagram accounts for male and female teams – that in itself is a strong message – both teams are part of one club. It’s a positive move. What would you like the future of football to look like?

I’d like it to be accessible for everyone. I don’t ever foresee women’s players earning as much as the men. To a certain extent, that’s not the issue. Just having equal opportunity full stop is what I’d like to see. More exposure in the media and more of a spotlight on the game would be huge.

I want to keep increasing the visibility of the game whilst changing perception on it so that people aren’t just thinking female players are rubbish before they’ve even watched a game. We want it to be accessible so that people can watch it and have their judgements changed based on what they see. We just want the opportunities to be the same and the exposure to show the talent that is in the sport to be equal. We’re not necessarily asking for anything beyond that, we just want equal footing to show what we can do.

The Sky deal gives the next generation that visibility. Perhaps that’s something you didn’t have in terms of seeing players…

Completely. As a child, before I knew anything about the set up, I was dreaming of playing for the men’s team because I never knew playing for a women’s team was a real possibility until the London 2012 Olympics when I saw Team GB playing on the tele. Until that point I had never watched a women’s game and didn’t know any of the players' names. From that point on I started idolising players like Steph Houghton and players like that. Up until that point, I didn’t have that dream in my mind because it had never been visible to me.

If it’s on Sky and it’s on the BBC then it becomes accessible to people. They can then have those heroes from such a young age. It makes the possibility of becoming a professional footballer, something that’s in reach and achievable for a young kid.

Fast forward and you’re playing alongside Steph Houghton now…

Yeah, that’s very surreal the first couple of times. I remember her telling me where I needed to be on the pitch and getting a pass from her. It was very surreal. Now I’m very lucky to be able to call her my friend and get advice from her. It’s so strange that just a few years ago I was watching her as a fan and asking her for an autograph and a picture. We laugh about it now because I’ve still got those photos from when I was just a fan in the crowd waiting after the game to have a picture with her and now we’re posing with trophies together.

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PUMA have designed the Ultra specifically around the female anatomy, that shows a strong intent doesn’t it?

That kind of approach, where brands are making things specifically for women, following studies and scientific learning around injuries caused from incorrect products and that kind of thing is a big step forward.

I think that because PUMA is going against what has previously been done in just releasing men’s based products is a huge step. Giving women a specific boot and being part of the development process shows the level they’re investing into our side of the sport. It’s hugely exciting, it’s a really cool idea and good for the brand to be open to trying these new approaches out.

It’s been a journey and you’ve risen at City, now to be involved with England. How would you describe your hunger to keep achieving more?

That’s exactly it – as soon as you get a taste for something and you enjoy it, your mind and your objectives do shift. I remember when I got into the first team at City feeling just happy to be there and being part of the squad. But as soon as I got that taste for playing, I instantly wanted to become a more important player in the squad. Now that I’m starting a bit more regularly, I want to be in every game.

Being involved in the England set up like you said, having gone away and been part of camps, you only want more of it. It creates a fire inside of you to only want to get better and find the ways you can improve that means those call ups are becoming more regular. I’ve definitely seen that kind of motivation grow. Things like watching the Champions League Final last season between Chelsea and Barcelona and us not being in it – I’m now thinking, “right, what can I do to make sure City are there this season and what can I do over the summer to help my club win those competitions?”

I want to get into the England squad for the home Euros. That would be an incredible achievement. Having those experiences gives you a lot more drive and you want to be part of it more and more. It’s actually a bit addictive – when you’re part of such amazing experiences, you just want them to happen all the time. It definitely gives you a burning fire to want to win.

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Of those things, what would you most like to achieve in 2021?

The primary one for me is trying to cement myself as a regular within the City team. I want to be in the starting 11 every week. I’m going to need to improve in order to do that but I think if I can get to that level then it will put me in a good position to hopefully be selected for the England squad at the Euros which is a target I’ve had for a few years now. If that happens it will be a real culmination of a lot of hard work over several years. I’m determined to get there.

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