Having established herself as a regular at Manchester City and breaking into the international setup, Ellie Roebuck now finds herself facing one of her toughest challenges yet: battling back from injury. But with Euro 2022 just around the corner, she has the motivation to come back stronger.

From Sheffield to Manchester, geographically speaking, is not all that long a journey. But it’s a journey that for Ellie Roebuck, transformed her from a girl into a woman, as she continued on a footballing journey that has seen her lift the WSL title, establish herself as an England international and play in the Olympics. She may have seen a career in football as a reality relatively late on, but with the decision made she’s fully committed, clearly showing that it was the right decision. An aggravating calf injury may have stalled her progress for the time being, but with her sights firmly set on a return, we caught up with the City stopper for an in-depth talk about her beginnings, her ambitions, and a positive mindset that has – and will continue – to make it all possible.

When you think back to you as a kid, did you have any dreams and think about what you could be when you grow up?

Yeah, think I’ve always been pretty centred in what’s happening in the moment. I never really looked too far ahead or got ahead of myself really. I always knew I wanted to play football, but never knew it was possible to play professionally - I just knew it was what I loved doing most. It was really late actually, when I came into the game - I was like 16 when I actually thought I could do this as a career. It's what I've always loved most - the dream has always been football.

So, it’s been your passion all your life?

Yeah 100 percent. I’ve grown up in quite a big football family. I’m a huge Sheffield United fan - all my family are huge Sheffield United fans. I’ve had a season ticket since I could walk. My dad just loves football and it was him who introduced me to it.

Growing up watching and being a massive fan... When you say it wasn’t till you’re 16 that you realised it could be a career, was that because you literally didn't see it? Like, the exposure for women's football wasn't there?

Yeah, you didn’t see it, it was so rare. I remember I used to go to the FA Cup final once every year and that was the main event, but even still that wasn’t huge. I remember when I first signed for city and this was probably when I first realised what could be ahead. It was off the back of the 2015 World Cup and that was the first time I really felt like the players I was watching were superstars. 

It must be amazing to see how far it has come and all the experiences you’ve had. Is it just monumental?

Yeah, like even from when I first joined City to now, every year you got more and more opportunities. With TV deals and the investment like that, I’m very optimistic but I never expected to see it growing at this rate.

When you put it down on paper, Olympics, cup finals, league titles… Have you ever taken some time to say it back to yourself? 

No, I get caught up in the moment but I’m always thinking what’s next. So, I think until I probably retire or achieve all the things I'm dreaming of achieving, I’ll not really look back. My parents always tell me I should be grateful for what I have but I'm always aspiring for more.

Such a fast-paced environment as well…

Yeah, there’s always something coming up on the horizon that you need to prepare for. I enjoy the moment but swiftly focus on what's next.

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It must be kind of strange going back home seeing mates, who can’t really relate to what you’re going through day to day?  Is that a different kind of challenge.

Yeah, the world's mad. It’s a different place to when I left Sheffield at 16. I moved house, all my mates went to uni and stuff, the lifestyle is so night and day, you just can’t do that. Fortunately, and unfortunately, you have to put that to one side.

You grow and make new mates in football who can relate to you more in and around your job. You’re just on the same page and do more things that work in the bubble we're in. I wouldn’t be able to live the life that my school friends live -the social aspect of it, I don’t have time to do it.

A lot of players don't get that opportunity of going to uni, making a few mistakes, being able to find out who they are in that way - how do you feel about that?

Yeah, I never had that opportunity to do that but it's not something I regret. As soon as I finished my GCSE’s, I moved into a house in Manchester and I’ve just lived this life for the last seven years. I wouldn’t have it any other way - I’m such an obsessed athlete, I very rarely go left or right on what I should be doing to be honest. I'm adventurous but I know the sacrifices that needed to be made in order to keep developing my game.

Even that, just saying that is what is really refreshing. Your drive and honest way you look at things is unique...

When I first moved to Manchester at 15, not going to lie, I hated it. I lived in a house in Sale, miles away. I used to get taxis to and from training, that’s all I’d see, inside of a taxi, city, go home and have my tea and do that every day. I’d gone from being so social with my school friends, being out on the streets at nine at night, hanging on the street corner to doing this now? It was nuts. And I’m quite a big family person, so living away from home was tough, I hated it, there’s no getting around it, like I didn’t enjoy it at all. It was just all so new and I was young. I'm not complaining in anyway - it shaped me - I just look back at my younger self and realise, I was just that... young.

Then I got to 18 and you almost get a bit more independent and lived on my own and found I preferred living on my own than being in another family environment. That worked for me. You've just got to find your own formula.

Would you say it made you grown up fast?

I’d like to think so. I think my circle now is like older people. I'm learning from them. I’m 22, but my best friends are 27/28. For the life I live now, I connect better with older people. For my independence, I have had to grow up fast. I have a dog, I’m a dog’s mum and that’s a huge commitment. It's not a normal 22-year-old’s life, but what is... I enjoy it.

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This has been the hardest thing I’ve had to do really; it’s been such a difficult injury with people telling me they don’t know. Up until now it’s been very smooth and now I’ve hit the bump it’s been the start of a rollercoaster."

What about the ride to getting where you are? You said it happened late in football terms, but has it been a proper graft? How do you describe it?

Yeah, I think when I first went to City, I didn’t know what the whole professional thing would entail. I was probably training twice a week at Sheffield and didn’t really embrace the whole lifestyle. It has to be a 24 hour a day thing, you can’t switch off. You have to eat well, sleep well and they weren’t really things I took seriously until I started playing and knew that they were the things I had to add in to keep me at the level because the level is so high.

Up until the injury I currently have, it's been an experience of riding on cloud nine really. The progression has been smooth but then I got hit with this and to come off the back of an Olympics and have with four months out hurt.

Given the injury and a new England manager, you question things - you're in a place mentally where you don’t know where you sit and it’s not a nice place to be. At the minute I don’t know the time scale of my recovery and but I have to keep working each day at a time. That’s obviously really difficult to stomach because I was on such a high at the start of the Olympics. This has been the hardest thing I’ve had to do really; it’s been such a difficult injury. Up until now it’s been very smooth and now I’ve hit the bump that may be the start of a rollercoaster. I know with the lows will be highs. I just have to make them happen.

Do you feel battered by it or does it feel like fire and fuel in the tank to come back stronger?

Yeah I think it started off that way, pretty bruised, I initially got told that it would be six weeks max! Worst case scenario, six weeks max. There’s been that many complications with it - I started off with that fire and I was thinking there’s so many areas I can improve on, focus on the gym, smash the gym, but then to be honest it got to three months and I hit such a wall, I was like "what am I doing", I wasn’t making progress and I was like I need a new direction.

I probably had a period where I sulked for a week but then decided that I just had to suck it up and do everything I was told to do. As long as you know you’re doing everything you can, you can’t blame yourself. It’s in the people I trust to fix me. I’m doing what they're telling me and I just have to trust it. I’ve had the fight to train hard, I’ll never be out trained, that’s what I pride myself on. I might not be the fastest, the strongest but I’ll graft my arse off to get there. For me that’s not been a problem. Rehab has actually been alright, I’ve enjoyed working hard and doing different things its just more it gets to the point where you miss football. I’d happily do all the rehab if I could play every Sunday.

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There’s other people in the squad who may have been able to help you through it? Have you sought their guidance?

Yeah definitively. You can pull on advice and everyone’s circumstances are different. Obviously, you put yourself into perspective when you look at the girls who had longer-term injuries. I never thought this would be a long-term injury but turns out it has been. I think looking at the other girls who were out for a little longer it does kind of make you think "suck it up, pull yourself together".

Have all those experiences shaped your personality away from football?

Yeah definitely, I would say when everything is smooth its great and people are bigging you up on social media and you can get so lost in that. Then one day you let a goal in, and that person is slagging you off, so it does shape you and I think that all the experience of living on my own, growing up quick, my friendship group - they're all quite cool people. All those things together have helped me learn a lot about myself in the last four months. It interesting that you can learn so much about yourself during the low times rather than actually when you are at your best.

I think you learn to chill out and enjoy the moment more. You learn not to get fixated on things you can't change. So it makes you relax and take stock. Not saying you’re going out and drinking but you can at least go for a meal without the thought of “shit, I have a game this week.” I’ve never lived like that. Since I was 15, I’ve been in this professional environment. Like you say, my friends have been at uni. So I think being able to relax, go out for food when I want, catch up with my mates from home, that side of things has been nice. 

You dress well - has that been a way to express yourself and almost a healthy distraction through rehab? Where do you soak up inspiration?

My Instagram discovery page is a dangerous place to look. Obsessed with Zara – who isn’t obsessed with Zara? But yeah like, in football, a lot of my teammates are really cool dressers. In school I had no idea of fashion - it was skinny jeans and nothing else - it's not great looking back [laughs], but yeah, I’m surrounded by a lot of cool people now. That's where I get my inspiration.

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I’ve had the fight to train hard, I’ll never be out trained, that’s what I pride myself on. I might not be the fastest, the strongest but I’ll graft my arse off to get there."

How would you describe your taste?

I’m not overly extravagant, I’m more into comfort: baggy jeans, hoodie. I like winter now, it’s perfect because you can layer up. I mainly spend my life in tracksuits but I do like to experiment with what I'm wearing.

You said about on social media, one day someone will love you, one day someone will slate you but obviously a lot of people look up to you. On the flip side, who do you look at, not necessarily in football, and admire?

To be fair I always thought the Barak and Michelle Obama thing was really cool and obviously when he was president, I thought Michelle Obama was so cool. There are quite a few people in general life. I got a tweet off Billie Jean King. I’ve never been starstruck, but… it was a little picture of me as a little girl where she has me on a wall in her bedroom, dressed as me and looking up to me and it went huge this picture. Billie jean retweeted it and I thought that was cool. To have someone who is idolising me and someone who I idolise tweet that is pretty cool.

I guess it shows just how far you’ve come...

Yeah, I find it crazy, it still weirds me out a little that people look up to me. You know I’m just a normal 22 year old going about my day. I just play football, lucky enough to do it as a job. But it's mad, I don’t sit here and think I’m a footballer, I’ve done this, I’ve done that. I’m just happy to be here really.

At 22-years-old...the Olympic call up came. Tell us about that...What is that like on a human level, when you actually get told you’re going to go to the Olympics?

Nuts. I think going there and playing, like I’ve not played in a major tournament nationally. Not going to lie I was shitting myself. It was scary…standing in the tunnel for that first game. I can’t say I enjoyed it, I was sweating, my palms were sweating. There wasn’t even fans and I was sweating. You know when you were there it was a big deal. I think that was when it sunk in. It was incredible.

What's it like now - do you get that elite treatment being at City?

Yeah, my mum still everyday will tell me "don’t get caught up in it" and I’d like to think that with my character I never would. She’s like "it’s not the real world" so I think being that grounded and being brought up like that really helps because then everything else is just a bonus and its nice. I don’t expect it, but when it happens its nice and I appreciate it.

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The journey with England - going through the various age groups and then to the level you’ve got to now, that must be a crazy trip in itself, how would you describe it?

Yeah, crazy. I think growing up, for me the main thing is my dad’s always been my number one supporter. He's never missed me play, whether it’s been in Kazakhstan – y’know, the most far out places to go – he’s been there.

I think the latter part of this journey now and where I’m at has probably been the most pivotal time, like making my England debut, and he’s not been able to be there because of COVID so that’s been the thing that I’ve found the most challenging. We’ve kind of done everything together and he’s still not been able to see me play for two years because, on top of Covid, I’ve now been injured.

I think this whole thing has made me appreciate the journey a whole lot more and I’ll never take it for granted because not getting picked for the last three camps has been the hardest thing but now, I’m happy I’ve had that but I’ve always knew in football, shit happens. To now have that almost taken away from me, I’ll never ever take it for granted again.

What have they made of the experience and being able to see Kazakhstan and random places like that?

Yeah, they love it, mum and dad just go on a big jolly up. It’s just a big booze up for my dad and its funny actually because growing through the ages, you all become a family and I have best mates like (Ella) Toony, Alessio Russo... all parents have that group that they went drinking with since they were young and now they are still together so it’s pretty cool.

That’s what feels so different about the England squad, male to female; the women’s side feels like such an amazing community…

Yeah, the amount of time I’ve spent with these girls is more than I have spent with my parents, so why wouldn’t I make the most of it. It’s a nice thing to be a part of.

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I never thought I could get anything like this so if I can inspire one person to think they can do it as well, I'll be happy."

What is it like to have very best friends to play alongside at the biggest stage?

It’s so cool. Last England trip a lot of the girls that I grew up with and made there England debuts, like Toony scored a hattrick and not to be there, not even the fact that I wasn’t with England, knowing that they’ve achieved that and we’ve done it all together, that was hard not to be there to appreciate it all and support them.

You mentioned about your profile, and becoming bigger and surreal, does it feel like a burden or do you enjoy that platform?

Never a burden. I never thought I could get anything like this so if I can inspire one person to think they can do it as well, I'll be happy. Anyone who wants an autograph I’ll always do that because I was that person.

Do you feel obliged to use your platform to change the game for the future?

Yeah, I almost think I could be better at that. I have so many ideas that I could contribute to put my stamp on the game or do something that makes a difference - I want to do more. When you’re caught up in playing you don’t always do that because you get so caught up in the cycle of playing. Now I’ve had time to sit back and reflect there’s so many different areas that I’d like to help and impact.

My mum and dad are foster carers so I’ve grown up with less privileged kids, so I would never take this lifestyle for granted because I know what they’ve come from. At the minute we have this little girl living with us who didn’t like football but since she started living with my parents she's become football obsessed. It's so nice to share that feeling.

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I want to win everything. Champions league is the big one and for me the home euros or World Cup. I think having the taste of playing in the Olympics and not winning anything is hard. It was an unbelievable experience but now I’m like ‘I’ve had that experience, lets win’."

Following on from that, what things go through your head, what’s top of the list ideas-wise?

I think that’s quite a big thing for me because I’ve grown up as my parents have been foster carers, I think giving back in that sense. I think there’s a lot of kids that maybe haven’t been given the opportunity.

My dad has driven me across the country, driven me to Manchester three or four times a week, without him I wouldn’t have been able to do it. That opportunity is not there for everyone, not because they have bad parents, I was just fortunate. I remember when I was in school and people would come and coach, I would love to do something similar as there is so much talent that gets missed.

What are your dreams now that you’ve been in an Olympic tunnel, you’ve held the trophies that you have?

I want to win everything. Champions League is the big one and for me the home euros or World Cup. I think having the taste of playing in the Olympics and not winning anything is hard. It was an unbelievable experience but now I’m like "I’ve had that experience, lets win".

I’m not really bothered with individual awards but yeah, I want to win everything. When I got the Premier League title with City I wasn’t playing because I was still young, so I want to help contribute a bit more. That would mean a lot.

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22, going into 2022, its going to be a massive year, it must be hard given the injury but how do you feel about the Euros and what it could be like?

It’s nice, I think it will be a nice little refresh. To be honest with you this year apart from the Olympics has been a bit… I had an injury at the end of last season, then obviously Covid came along, so the whole season has been a bit iffy. So this year will be a fresh start. And then having the focus of the Euros in the summer, I will just be tunnel vision until then!

You must be determined to get back into the squad…

Yeah, just to get back in the frame, get a good run of games. My goals have gone from being so extravagant to literally now get back in the team and get back playing, you just gotta channel it and hopefully get a good run of games.

Is there stuff behind the scenes that no one sees that you feel will get you there?

To be honest with you it has been tough, I’m not one to shy away with working hard, I’m a bit of a training head, I’m a bit obsessed. That mindset probably got me into the position I am now but like I say I would never not do the extra. But this rehab has been tough. A calf-injury limits you in doing whatever and I think mentally a lot of people get buzzes from training but mine is grafting.

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