Thursday 22 August 2019

Ellis clearly States her allegiances for England battle

US coach Jill Ellis speaking with the media last week. Photo: REUTERS/Benoit Tessier
US coach Jill Ellis speaking with the media last week. Photo: REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

Luke Edwards

The US had just beaten France to set up a semi-final meeting with England when Jill Ellis was asked how she felt about facing her home nation in a World Cup semi-final. The question did not go down well.

"I've got US citizenship, brother," came the rather terse reply, hands clenched in front of her, the words delivered with a firm head nod, fully aware she needed to quash any suggestion in front of the American media that she might have divided loyalties in Lyon tomorrow.

It was a theme revisited two days later, although Ellis was more prepared. She was born British, but is very much an American. She can be proud of her heritage, as well as her nationality.

This time it was her captain Alex Morgan sitting beside her, who interrupted her manager before she could speak. "She is 100 per cent American..."

The Americans in the room laughed, but Ellis did not want to go down that route again.

Even if she had tried, her accent would have betrayed her.

It is a fascinating blend, a soft Virginian drawl, punctuated by the occasionally crisp English intonation, the result of a childhood spent on the south coast of England, in a small village, Cowplain, just outside Portsmouth, and an adult life in the US.

Ellis was 15 when her family moved to America. She is now 52. Her formative years were spent in England, but if she had not left, her life would have taken a very different path.

When she got to the US, after her father John, a former Royal Marine, moved to set up a soccer academy, she already loved the game, but had been effectively prevented from playing because of the social stigma attached to girls joining in.

In America, she was, in a football sense, reborn.

"I'm an American except when I'm in the supermarket or at the candy store," said Ellis, who has risen through the US coaching system, taking the national team job in 2014 and winning the World Cup in Canada a year later.

"I grew up playing with boys in the schoolyard and my brother in the backyard. I had zero opportunity to play over here (in Europe), so that is what America gave me, an environment to put on my first team uniform in terms of soccer. I always loved sport, so it gave me a vehicle to experience it even more.

"I have a lot of fond memories of my life in England. I was a Pompey lass - I can't say I supported Pompey all the time. I have been a Man United lass since I was seven. But so many fond memories, great people.

"I am very grateful for that, because if I had grown up in another country, I am not sure I would have the passion for football that I have.

"What America gave me was kind of a dream and the opportunity and ability to follow that path, which I really had never dreamed about. I just feel very fortunate to be here."

That life in England belongs in her past, but there is genuine fondness there.

She also remains a passionate Manchester United supporter, revealing that one of her greatest memories as a coach was meeting Alex Ferguson.

"I had a picture with him," said Ellis. "It was at the Fifa Ballon d'Or World XI awards, I bumped into him in a hallway and he was super gracious, charming, nice. It was a brief interaction, but I have read his books and being a young United fan back in the day I was all in [to meeting him].

"I grew up as a Manchester United fan so I can't speak enough about him as a manager. He got the best out of his players and was ruthless at times in that regard."

Ellis is now wary of one of Ferguson's former pupils. She was initially scathing of the decision to appoint Phil Neville as England manager when he had no previous experience of the women's game and was not afraid to say it.

But, like most of those early critics, she has been impressed with the way the former United defender has embraced the job over the past 18 months.

"He conducts himself in a great way," she said.

"I enjoyed our sideline conversations at the SheBelieves and he seems like a genuine person."

It was nice to hear the woman plotting England's downfall being genuine about where she comes from too. (© The Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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