Katie Wilkinson has won the Championship Golden Boot two years in a row with Sheffield United. This season, she faces a fresh new challenge with Coventry United.
The 27-year-old striker scored 15 goals in 14 games for the Blades before the season was curtailed in 2019/20. She was also the league’s top scorer last campaign with 19 goals in 20 games.
As expected, Wilkinson was in high demand over the summer, from both Women’s Super League and Championship clubs. After careful consideration, she chose to accept an offer at Coventry United, who were making the step up to being full-time.
Coventry haven’t made the best start to the seaon but Wilkinson is adamant the team can pick up more points and have a good campaign. Wilko, as she is known by fans and fellow players alike, is determined to become Golden Boot winner three times in a row.
A striking partnership is born
Wilkinson has a twin brother, Ben, and he was her first inspiration growing up. Ben played for a boys’ team and instead of going to tap dance classes, Katie simply wanted to play football.
Their parents agreed she could join in and the twins spent three years playing together in the same team.
In an interview with Her Football Hub, Wilkinson admitted she “ended up being better than him.”
She joined the Aston Villa Centre of Excellence when she was eight years old. It was there that she developed her trade as a prolific striker.
Birmingham City come calling
Close neighbours Birmingham City then came calling whilst Wilkinson was still only 17 years old. She recalls her 18 months with the Blues as being “a good experience, playing with some good players and playing in the Champions League.”
With Wilkinson being so young, her opportunities were limited. She was often a substitute, but when she did come on she usually found the back of the net.
Wilkinson learned quickly. This was not surprising when she was training and playing alongside some world class players. Karen Carney, Jo Potter, Jade Moore, Laura Bassett, Rachel Williams and Kerys Harrop all played alongside Wilkinson.
“It was such a good training environment to be in but I needed more playing time,” she said.
Return to Aston Villa
A deal was done where Wilkinson returned to Villa, initially on loan for six months. Villa finished 4th in the 2014 WSL 2 campaign and Wilkinson’s performances earned her a new contract.
Wilkinson was very popular with the Villa faithful, scoring many goals in her three years there. However, in 2016, she suffered a major injury to her right ankle which kept her out for a significant period.
Villa had a change of management with Dave Stevens and Iain Sankey coming in while Wilkinson was recovering from her injury. This made it hard for her to get any significant game time as they’d not seen her play before.Embed from Getty Images
London Bees and Sheffield United
In January 2018 Wilkinson signed for London Bees. During her 18 months down south, she got regular game time which really helped get her career back on track.
Wilkinson had some good times with the Bees and she won the WSL 2 Player of the Month award in May 2018.
Her performances then earned her a move to Sheffield United, where Carla Ward was manager.
“I liked the way she wanted to play, her philosophy and mindset, and how she wanted to go forward and how she saw me fitting into that,” Wilkinson explained. “It was a no-brainer for me to go to Sheffield”.
Wilkinson spent two very successful years at Sheffield United between 2019 and 2021. Her first season was curtailed early because of the pandemic, and the Blades missed out on promotion to the WSL by one game.
Sheffield finished six points behind Villa, but had a superior goal difference. The Blades lost to Villa twice in the league. If they had won just one of those games they would have finished top instead.
“This was hard to take but if anyone deserved to be promoted it was Aston Villa.”Embed from Getty Images
Lone striker or striking partnership
Wilkinson expressed she’s equally happy to play in a partnership or as a lone striker.
“As a two you have to have a really, really good relationship with that person and you have to know exactly what that person is going to do before they know they’re going to do it themselves”.
“The relationship as a two takes time and you have to really nail it. That can only happen by constantly playing together over a period of time.”
“I’m completely happy playing on my own as a No.9. I think I can deal with two centre-backs on my own. If it frees up another player around the pitch with me as a lone striker then I don’t mind.”
Wilkinson likes to compare herself to Wayne Rooney in the way she plays.
“He’s quite similar to me in the way I play. He likes to drop and in and get the ball to feet and he’s quite technically gifted on the ball. I can pick a pass and have a decent shot on me when I want to.”Embed from Getty Images
In-demand Wilkinson maintains her loyalty
During the summer of 2020, Ward left Sheffield United to become manager of Birmingham City. She took on an extremely difficult job and did well to sign the players she did.
One player Ward would have loved to sign was her former top striker, but Wilkinson had a commitment to Sheffield and she decided to remain loyal to the Blades.
Wilkinson remained at Sheffield until summer 2021 and was subsequently signed by Jay Bradford at Coventry United. The Red and Greens, now fully professional, have ambitious plans, which was a big draw for Wilkinson.
Friendships on and off the pitch
Bradford made several signings at Coventry and as a result many of the players have played together elsewhere before. There are a few players in the Red and Greens squad that Wilkinson would regard as very, very good friends. People that she’s known for many years.
Asked whether the struggles on the pitch have tested the various frienships, Wilkinson replied: “If I’m honest it’s actually brought us closer.
“There have been tiffs at times. You get told what you get told and if you don’t like it, go and have your minute. Come back whenever you’re ready to be friends again.”
“What’s said on the pitch is on the pitch and we know as soon as we walk off, that’s done then.”Embed from Getty Images
Expectations and targets at Coventry United
Wilkinson admitted when she first joined Coventry, she “definitely expected us to win more”, but admitted “the hard reality is things take time when they’re quite new.”
Wilkinson has reflected on their first few weeks and her motto is to simply “keep going”.
She says: “They’re working hard every single week to get a win at the end of the week and we just want to start putting points on the board.”
The striker has a mindset of going into every single game wanting to score goals. She’s had a little look at the top goalscorers in the league and winning the Golden Boot for a third time in a row is not unreachable.
But despite wanting to secure the accolade for yet another year, she says: “The priority is for the team to perform well and get points on the board. If I can score along the way then happy days.”