Leading the Lionesses: Mary Phillip on being England Women’s first black captain

In the last interview of Sky Sports News’ Leading the Lionesses series, former England captain Mary Phillip explains her career journey, what it means to wear the armband and gives her advice to current skipper Leah Williamson.

Phillip was handed the captain’s armband in 2003, making history by becoming the first black woman to captain England. She went on to earn 65 caps before retiring in 2008.

The former Arsenal and Fulham defender began her footballing journey with Millwall Lionesses at 12 years old, before embarking on a career in which she won five Women’s Premier Leagues and seven FA Cups.

Phillip, who until 2011 was the only player to represent England in two World Cup squads, was handed her first call-up at 18 in 1995 after only two training sessions with the team.

Now manager of men’s Kent County League team Peckham Town, Phillip speaks to Sky Sports News as part of the Leading the Lionesses series ahead of this summer’s Euros.

‘Born and bred in Peckham’

“I grew up in Peckham and done everything within Peckham. I was born and bred in Peckham.

“From there to my primary school, where we were given the opportunity to play girls-only football, when the boys wouldn’t let us play. It was fantastic, and it all grew and continued to grow from there.”

Phillip on ‘surprise’ first England call-up

Mary Phillip with England

“I received a letter from the FA saying I had been pulled up into the England squad for the upcoming World Cup. And it was a surprise because I’d only been to a couple of training sessions, and I’m now going to a World Cup.

“Just going out there with the players that were there, it was amazing and seeing the requirements needed, the standards needed to be able to push and develop into that squad, it was a great experience.”

‘Honour’ of being England’s first black captain

“It wasn’t until a few years back that I found that I had become the first black female captain, years after me actually having received the captaincy, and it’s a great honour to hold that.

“That is something that always goes down in history. And long after I’m gone, my great great grandkids will be able to see that when looking back in women’s football and say, ‘Hey, Mary Phillip, that’s my grandma, and she became England’s first black captain’.

“To be able to go out there [as captain], give the messages and be able to lead and uplift the team and carry us forward. You know, it’s a great experience to have.”

Phillip on her leadership style

Mary Phillip speaks to Sky Sports News

“Do what you can do, don’t try and do the impossible. If the options are there to play it first time, play it first time, don’t make things hard for yourself.

“And I like to think that was pretty much how I put things out when I played the game. Just take things easy, and don’t try to do the impossible.”

Has the role of England captain changed?

“Your captaincy is something personal to yourself and how you are as a person. So, it’s something that shows you out there and what you want for your team.

“I don’t think the role itself has changed because a captain’s role is a captain’s role. It’s just the person who is captain at the time, how they pull it out there and how they rally the team up around them to make sure the team is giving the best performance that they possibly can.

“The modern England side would be a nice one to captain. But I don’t see how it would be any different to when I did captain the team because I’m sure the girls have all got that same drive and same spirit to go out there, play, platform and get a result.

“And as long as you’re all wanting that and gunning for the same thing, I think the results and the atmospheres would all be the same.”

Phillip’s advice to Leah Williamson

“Just be the player you are, that’s all you can do!”

England's Leah Williamson during a training session at St George's Park, Burton-upon-Trent. Picture date: Tuesday May 31, 2022.
Image:
Leah Williamson will lead England out as captain at the Euros for the first time at a major tournament

Follow Euro 2022 across Sky Sports

Keep up with all the latest from Euro 2022 across Sky Sports and Sky Sports News this summer.

Coverage will be anchored by Sky Sports WSL presenter Caroline Barker, alongside Jessica Creighton and Kyle Walker. Meanwhile, Karen Carney, Sue Smith, Courtney Sweetman-Kirk and Laura Bassett will give analysis throughout the tournament.

They will also be joined by experienced England goalkeeper Karen Bardsley and Manchester City defender Esme Morgan.

The pundits and presenters will work from the Sky Sports Women’s Euro 2022 Mobile Presentation Bus, which will follow the Sky Sports News team around the country to the various stadiums where matches are being played.

In addition, Sky Sports’ Essential Football Podcast will be rebranded for the tournament to Sky Sports Women’s Euros Podcast rom 21 June. Hosted by Charlotte Marsh and Anton Toloui, it will feature exclusive news and player interviews in addition to a strong programme line up around the tournament.

Euro 2022: The groups…

Group A: England, Austria, Norway, Northern Ireland

Group B: Germany, Denmark, Spain, Finland

Group C: Netherlands, Sweden, Portugal, Switzerland

Group D: France, Italy, Belgium, Iceland

Euro 2022: The schedule…

Group stage

Wednesday July 6

Group A: England vs Austria – kick off 8pm, Old Trafford

Thursday July 7

Group A: Norway vs Northern Ireland – kick off 8pm, St Mary’s

Friday July 8

Group B: Spain vs Finland – kick off 5pm, Stadium MK

Group B: Germany vs Denmark – kick off 8pm, London Community Stadium

Saturday July 9

Group C: Portugal vs Switzerland – kick off 5pm, Leigh Sports Village

Group C: Netherlands vs Sweden – kick off 8pm, Bramall Lane

Sunday July 10

Group D: Belgium vs Iceland – kick off 5pm, Manchester City Academy Stadium

Group D: France vs Italy – kick off 8pm, New York Stadium

Monday July 11

Group A: Austria vs Northern Ireland – kick off 5pm, St Mary’s

Group A: England v Norway – kick off 8pm, Brighton and Hove Community Stadium

Tuesday July 12

Group B: Denmark vs Finland – kick off 5pm, Stadium MK

Group B: Germany vs Spain – kick off 8pm, London Community Stadium

Wednesday July 13

Group C: Sweden vs Switzerland – kick off 5pm, Bramall Lane

Group C: Netherlands v Portugal – kick off 8pm, Leigh Sports Village

Thursday July 14

Group D: Italy vs Iceland – kick off 5pm, Manchester City Academy Stadium

Group D: France vs Belgium – kick off 8pm, New York Stadium

Friday July 15

Group A: Northern Ireland v England – kick off 8pm, St Mary’s

Group A: Austria vs Norway – kick off 8pm, Brighton and Hove Community Stadium

Saturday July 16

Group B: Finland vs Germany – kick off 8pm, Stadium MK

Group B: Denmark vs Spain – kick off 8pm, London Community Stadium

Sunday July 17

Group C: Switzerland vs Netherlands – kick off 5pm, Bramall Lane

Group C: Sweden vs Portugal – kick off 5pm, Leigh Sports Village

Monday July 18

Group D: Iceland vs France – kick off 8pm, New York Stadium

Group D: Italy vs Belgium – kick off 8pm, Manchester City Academy Stadium

Knockout phase

Quarter-finals

Wednesday July 20

Quarter-final 1: Winners Group A v Runners-up Group B – kick off 8pm, Brighton and Hove Community Stadium

Thursday July 21

Quarter-final 2: Winners Group B v Runners-up Group A – kick off 8pm, London Community Stadium

Friday July 22

Quarter-final 3: Winners Group C v Runners-up Group D – kick off 8pm, Leigh Sports Village

Quarter-final 4: Winners Group D v Runners-up Group C – kick off 8pm, New York Stadium

Semi-finals

Tuesday July 26

Semi-final 1: Winners quarter-final 1 v Winners quarter-final 3 – kick off 8pm, Bramall Lane

Wednesday July 27

Semi-final 2: Winners quarter-final 2 v Winners quarter-final 4 – kick-off 8pm, Stadium MK

Final

Sunday July 31

Winners semi-final 1 v Winners semi-final 2 – kick off 5pm, Wembley

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