Emile Heskey: “Working with Leicester City Women has been a blessing”

Emile Heskey applauds title-winning Leicester City
Emile Heskey with the FA Women's Championship trophy following Leicester City's win against Charlton Athletic at King Power Stadium in Leicester, England. (Photo by IMAGO / Sports Press Photo)

Nine years ago, Emile Heskey sat watching Leicester City Women train at a local football club. He had to leave after the first half to tend to his own career as a professional footballer. About five years ago, after 21 years of playing professionally and 633 senior appearances, Heskey decided to retire. Today, he is an ambassador at the club as well as part of the coaching staff alongside manager Jonathan Morgan.

Starting a new legacy with LCFC Women

“Going into the women’s side of the club, I didn’t know what it was going to be like. I reached out to Susan Whelan [Chief Executive at Leicester City] and asked her if there were any ways that I could become more involved with the club. She asked me if I’d be interested in becoming an ambassador for the women’s game and I was up for the opportunity.

“Coming from the playing side to coaching, it’s totally different. It’s helped me being on the other side to see player’s points of view and coaches because I’m not long retired.” Heskey shared with Her Football Hub.

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Heskey began his career in football at the age of nine, when he joined Leicester City’s academy. His senior debut for the club came at age 17, and he made history from thereon.

Having won trophies at the club level while making 62 senior appearances on the national level for England, his experience provides a guide for his coaching style and allows for him to give playing advice from a different perspective.

“I’ve been in the game for so long, I’ve been around it, I’ve seen it, I just give a different point of view at times. We put all of our perspectives together and create a solution. It’s good to have someone different like myself come in, especially since I have been in the sport for so long. The players take to my point of view very well because I’ve done it before.”

Seeing growth in the women’s game

“It’s football. The actual game itself is literally the same. One of the things that I despise is when people say things like, ‘oh she’s not as good as that man’, for some reason we see that comparison so much in football and not as much in other sports. You see some errors from the men’s side, even this year at the EURO’s, but they will not be highlighted as much as if they were in the women’s game.

“So, I think we need to look at it as when we’re just simply watching football rather than comparing them to one another.”

Last season Sky and BBC announced that they would be taking over TV coverage in the United Kingdom. A new multi-million dollar deal was struck with the FA Women’s Championship and the FA Women’s Super League. The deal will provide more exposure to women’s football. It allows the game to become more accessible to anyone and everyone wanting to watch the matches. This will also help provide extra funding for clubs, which Heskey says will ultimately help grow the sport.

“The women’s game will grow even more with the new Sky & BBC TV deal with people being given more opportunity to watch the sport for what it is. If you go back long enough, you’ll see that women’s sports had larger crowds than men’s, and then it somehow became women not being able to play football anymore, so of course, they’re having to play catch up. But again, it won’t be long before we’re watching it and everyone’s just enjoying it for what it is.”

A new home at Belvoir Drive

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In January of 2021, the men’s side moved into their newly built training facility, leaving Belvoir Drive. In the same month, Leicester City announced that the women’s side would be taking over Belvoir Drive. Emile Heskey himself has made history at Belvoir Drive during his playing career, and he’s ready to continue the Leicester legacy with the women.

“We have our own training facility at Belvoir Drive, where we don’t have to choose between pitches or having to choose when we can train because someone else is using the pitch. There are six pitches that we can choose from and our goalkeepers have two of their own areas that they can choose from. We have everything set up for us and you have to thank the owners and the club for doing that.”

“But it is not going to be easy because as we know, it is a business and we know that with time, we’ll be standing right next to the men’s side of the club and they’re looking at us differently. But it takes time to get there. In the meantime, you have to thank the club and the owners for backing us the way that they are. I think for women’s football, there’s still a long way to go. When you look at teams who struggle with facilities and have little backing from their club, it goes to show that Leicester’s owners are fantastic with what they’re doing.”

A WSL first for the foxes

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Leicester City Women will make their debut in the WSL this season after gaining promotion from the FAWC. The Foxes made history last season, having broken the record for the longest unbeaten run in the Championship. The team went 12 games won in a row and only two losses in the league all season. This will be the first time that Leicester City will be in the top division.

“We will have a go at this season, at the end of the day we’re not coming in to just be a participant. All of us know it is not going to be easy but we’re going to go with our own plan at our own pace. We haven’t put a specific place on the table for us, but we know that it’s going to be tough. Everyone at the club gets on with each other and the atmosphere is great. We’ve got new players who have come in and they’ve been fantastic as well. We have a really good bunch of people here that understand our philosophy and will help push us forward.”

“I’ve enjoyed every minute of it working with the women’s side here at Leicester. The players and staff have taken to me so that was a good feeling because again, you never know. But working with this side of the club has been a blessing.”

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