Life and football overlap in many ways, and in both, everything is not always as it appears. Boston Breakers and England forward Lianne Sanderson is acutely aware of that, but as her on-field ambition burns on, staying true to who she is remains the endeavour most dear to her.
Some years have passed since the South Londoner dazzled in a star-studded Arsenal Ladies team as a teenager and there are few 26-year-olds with quite as much high-level experience to their name. Approaching the end of her second season with the National Women’s Soccer League’s Boston Breakers, she has been racking up the air miles in recent months after being restored to the England fold since Mark Sampson’s appointment as Head Coach.
Lianne had a footballing heritage growing up, with her father Jeff a former Crystal Palace reserve player who was coached at Southend United by the late and lamented World Cup-winning England captain Bobby Moore. In May 2006, Lianne wore the Three Lions herself at senior level for the first time as she took to the field against Hungary.
Fast-forward eight years and so much has taken place at club and international level, and indeed in her life. The Lewisham-born forward is infinitely wiser than she was as a teenager but fond musical reminders remain from those days.
“When I was in the Under-19s with England and we were in Hungary (for the 2005 UEFA Women’s Under-19 Championship) we used to play that song by M People (lead singer Heather Small) – ‘Proud’,” she recalled. “A song that we used to sing in China for the (2007) World Cup was 50 Cent and Justin Timberlake ‘Ayo Technology’, and also Axwell ‘I Found U’.”
Joining Arsenal at nine years old, Lianne scored 48 goals as Vic Akers’ history-making side secured a quadruple in 2006/07, winning the UEFA Women’s Cup, the FA Women’s Premier League, the FA Women’s Cup and the FA Women’s Premier League Cup. Since then, she has represented teams in various countries and undoubtedly become one of the women’s game’s most distinguished playing personalities.
A genuine fanatic of the sport, she takes her role very seriously but seizes any chance to bring character and fun too. Describing herself as extremely empathetic, Lianne has hordes of supporters who identify with the warmth she exudes.
The player interviews on this site look into how music affects people and Lianne is one who has an undeniable bond with it. She shares a little more of her personality as she describes music’s importance to her and the role it plays for her before kick-off comes around.
“Some music I connect with the lyrics and some music I connect with the actual sound. I like things like drum and bass, I love house music, but the music that gets me up for games is slower kind of music.
“Any kind of Beyoncé song is definitely on my playlist every single game I play. My new favourite artists are Disclosure, Sam Smith and Tove Lo.
“Disclosure’s album (‘Settle’), especially the remixes, is on repeat at the moment on my playlist. If you were to say to me would I rather live without music or TV, I think I could live without television.
“Growing up, as embarrassing as it seems, I listened to Westlife, Boyzone, Backstreet Boys, ‘N Sync. I think a lot of people my age would have grown up with music like that.
“I wasn’t really a big Take That fan, my brother and my sister were but I was probably more of an East 17 fan. Now, Beyoncé is definitely my number one but I love Florence and the Machine, Drake, Rick Ross, Rihanna, Pink, you name it.
“The first CD I bought might have been one of the ‘Now (That’s What I Call Music)’ CDs or something like that. I can remember the first tape; it might have been Backstreet Boys on the cassettes you had to wind with your finger.”
Chelsea Ladies are the last English team Lianne has represented to date, and after heading Stateside in 2010 she played in consecutive Women’s Professional Soccer Championship games with the Philadelphia Independence. Spells with Spain’s RCD Espanyol and Cypriot club Apollon Limassol apart, she turned out for D.C. United Women before joining the Boston Breakers for the start of the National Women’s Soccer League last year.
In the inaugural season of the NWSL, the Breakers finished 5th, one place and six points shy of the play-off bracket. U.S. forward Sydney Leroux, an interviewee on here last season, led the team with 11 goals while Lianne also thrived, scoring five and grabbing seven assists.
Leroux is now with runaway leaders Seattle Reign and 2014 has been a tougher proposition for Boston as they lie bottom of the table with five games remaining. However, a win last time out at Western New York Flash offers hope of a more positive finish to the season for the Breakers, coached this year by Tom Durkin.
Lianne netted her fifth of the year in that game and she brings the speakers for the locker room each time. Other players get involved too and those who have been at the home matches at Harvard Stadium will be familiar with one of the pre-game tracks Lianne mentions.
“Sometimes Cat (Whitehill), sometimes Courtney (Jones) plays the music, and for the most part it’s r&b, sometimes old school. I play like ‘N Sync, house music, it just depends.
“The girls’ favourite is ‘Tsunami’ (DVBBS and Borgeous), the dance song that they play before the Breakers’ games. Sometimes you can see it as a big pressure to be in charge of the music but I like to think I’ve got good taste.”
Whether it is scoring or creating goals, having fun and living life, or helping others, there is a lot of desire within Lianne. She expresses that energy out on the field but she likes to be a spectator in various scenarios too, including when it comes to music.
“I just love going to concerts and the girls used to make fun of me last year because I went to about seven. I’ve been to see Beyoncé’s last tour like three times, the tour before that four times, and I’ve been to see her in different locations and feels.
“There’s an artist called Selah Sue, I think she’s from Belgium, and she was playing on the CD when I was in France. I had to ask the waiter ‘who is this singer?’, and he wrote the name down.
“I got home, went on YouTube and listened to her. Never would I have imagined that I would be in Boston seeing her live.
“I went to see her at The Sinclair in Cambridge and there were only about 40 people there. I got to meet her and it was amazing to see her live.
“I’ve been to see Jessie J before she was even famous, in XOYO in London. Eni (Aluko) was the person that introduced me to Jessie J.”
Chelsea Ladies forward Eniola Aluko is another to have featured on here, as well as England teammate Alex Scott, who also used to go along to those Jessie J shows. The Arsenal right-back and former Boston Breaker has been known for a long time as the England team DJ and she has been talked about by her fellow pros frequently on here.
Lianne recalls how her ex-Gunners counterpart awakened some nostalgia by bringing back a genre that was synonymous with the Cypriot party island Ayia Napa towards the end of the 90s and into the 2000s.
“Alex tells me I get on her nerves because I’m always asking her what the song is. She said: “Get Shazam and stop asking me what song it is!”
“Alex has always got really good songs and when we were in Cyprus she started playing old school garage like ‘Body Groove’ (Architechs featuring Nana), So Solid Crew, Oxide & Neutrino, Ms. Dynamite, DJ Luck & MC Neat.
“She always knows when to play the right song. When I was in Cyprus with six of the American girls we went out in Ayia Napa and they were playing all the old school garage and I was dancing.
“They weren’t feeling it so we ended up leaving this one bar! It was like Christmas for me but they don’t know about old school garage here.”
As most are aware, Lianne is a Manchester United fan but it was while watching her father’s team Arsenal that she became enraptured by the seemingly effortless wizardry of Dutchman Dennis Bergkamp. She also cites ex-Spain midfielder Gaizka Mendieta as a male player she was hugely impressed by and the true entertainers of the game are those she reserves the most affection for.
From her long list of career teammates, legendary Arsenal and England forward Rachel Yankey was a role model who would go on to become a friend. Lianne also speaks very highly of Sweden midfielder Caroline Seger, who she played alongside at the Philadelphia Independence.
A recent recruit for Paris Saint-Germain, Seger proved it is not just on the pitch where her vocals are useful.
“Caroline Seger’s got an unbelievable voice and I’d be like ‘will you sing to me?’! Erin McLeod, I’ve not played with her but she’s a friend of a friend and we’ve hung out, and when we were in Cyprus I asked her to sing for my teammates so they could experience it.
“Me and Jill Scott on the England team, whenever there’s a dance or singing we always get picked because they know we love it. I love karaoke and once I get on the mic I don’t stop.
“When Jill sings, I never know what she’s singing! I’m not a good singer but I feel like I can hold a tune – with her there’s no chance!
“She’s funny though, she doesn’t try to be a good singer. We’ve all got signature moves that we do and mine is like a side-moonwalk and the girls say I’ve got a dance face.
“They say I’ve been away for four years and still got the same dance move!”
In 2006, a Player of the Match performance from 18-year-old Lianne in Arsenal’s 5-0 FA Women’s Cup final win over Leeds United Ladies included a goal as well as an assist for Julie Fleeting. Displays like that and feats such as 100 goals in two seasons (from 2006 to 2008) ensured that she was an extremely highly-rated youngster.
After featuring in the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup and also the final of Euro 2009 as England were beaten by Germany, Lianne felt she had to step away from international football in 2010. When former Bristol Academy boss Mark Sampson replaced the long-serving Hope Powell as England Head Coach last year he called Lianne up to his first squad.
She has since helped the Lionesses to second place in the Cyprus Cup as well as preserving the 100 per cent record that has them on the cusp of qualification for next year’s World Cup. Lianne is currently on 37 caps and 11 goals for her country and all of her initial nerves at returning were allayed thanks to an atmosphere she has been able to revel in.
“It’s such a happy environment and I feel like I can be me. Mark’s so approachable and I feel like I can go to him and (Assistant Coach and Coach Developer) Marieanne (Spacey) and talk about personal things.
“Every player has different issues, some can be having problems in their family, in relationships, but I feel like they’re open to that and realise that there are other things in life besides football. Mark is pretty open to us having music and having banter.
“He’s a good guy and he likes to have a laugh. Obviously there’s a time to be serious but he realises when you are away from your family and you’re in a team it’s important to have that balance as well.
“Kirsty Pealling, one of the best right-backs I’ve played with, can ping a ball for fun, she always used to say to me: “Don’t ever sell yourself – have an opinion and be you.” That’s exactly what Mark said to me as well when I went back into the team: “I just want you to be Lianne Sanderson.”
Lianne has become a familiar face at airports this year, travelling by plane to a number of games with Boston as well as when she links up with the England squad. She is currently back home with the national team for the friendly with Sweden at Hartlepool United’s Victoria Park this coming Sunday (August 3rd).
So much travel is bound to have an effect on anyone and while it has been far from easy for her, the pride at representing England and being amongst a great group seems to make it all worthwhile. Mark Sampson has shown his commitment to maintaining an industrious yet enjoyable environment and Lianne describes how singing manages to fit into that.
“We have a lot of banter and if you forget your water bottle or your heart-rate monitor you have to sing. Toni Duggan is a terrible singer but she’s funny, she’s another one you can’t understand when she sings!
“Alex (Scott) will bring the speaker, and me, Jill (Scott), Laura Bassett and Karen Carney sit at the back of the bus. Normally, Neetz (Anita Asante) and Eni (Aluko) sit in front of us, and we’ll just start singing.
“Even the people that don’t want to join in will think it’s funny so it’s good to loosen people up.”
In her time with the Philadelphia Independence, Lianne got to work with a compatriot in boss Paul Riley. The Liverpudlian is now in charge at the Portland Thorns and Lianne credits him as being a major influence on her career, teaching her vital additional aspects of the game.
Riley is an opposing manager she understandably respects but which players does she particularly enjoy the one-on-one battle with in the NWSL?
“I think in this league, I love going up against Lauren Holiday (FC Kansas City) and Allie Long (Portland Thorns) because I get along well with them and I feel like we’re very honest with each other. One time Lauren Holiday might get around me and Allie Long might get around me, but we have that respect for each other that we’re not going to swipe each other out.”
The extent may vary, but every player has their difficulties to overcome. It can be injury, loss of form, or circumstances stipulated by others. As we discussed the managerial approach she responds best to, Lianne talked of knowing when she has made an honest mistake without needing to be reprimanded and also how belief from a coach puts her ‘on cloud nine’.
Manchester City WFC and England goalkeeper Karen Bardsley was interviewed on here in April and she described Lianne as someone who is great for the team environment and all about enjoying herself. Whether online or in person, Lianne is never short of fans and such a level of interest can only be of benefit to the women’s game as we move forward.
She offered her thoughts on receiving the attention she does and brought it back to a time when her father Jeff gave her some advice she has never forgotten.
“I’m the kind of person where I never get carried away no matter what people tell me, but it’s such a great feeling when there are kids waiting for your autograph or someone asking for a picture. When we go on away trips we get given cakes, cookies, and I got given a Manchester United t-shirt.
“The fact that someone’s gone out of their way to bring that to New Jersey (for the game with Sky Blue FC) for me just means so much. I got sent an England jersey for the time I wasn’t in the squad and wrote this lovely letter and honestly it’s overwhelming.
“It’s something that I’ll never get tired of and I’ll never refuse anyone my autograph or a picture with me. I love meeting people and it’s not to feed my own ego, I just love making people happy.
“I’ve been there as a kid with my dad and I used to stand outside Selhurst Park and Highbury waiting for the players and sometimes I’d never get to meet my idol. My dad used to say ‘darling, remember how that felt when your favourite player walked past you, because one day that might be you’.
“It’s true, it’s not the same level as a professional male player but I’m all about trying to be a good role model and I’m not putting on an act. I’m not going to lie, I do sometimes get asked for some ridiculous things like an American passport.
“I can’t work miracles but for the most part I reply to a lot of people.”
I bring each interview on here to a close by getting the player to do some fantasy 5-a-side team selection. The player, whether male or female, is asked to include themselves in the line-up and to choose four of the best they have ever worked alongside to join them.
Before she names her final four, here is Lianne to introduce some of the forwards who did not quite make the starting team, but may well be on the bench!
“For different reasons I’m going to say a few. Natasha Kai because people were scared of playing her and in the year in Philly I played with her everything she touched went in.
“Tasha’s such a great person, if you see past all the tattoos and what you think someone’s going to be like. She’s one of the most selfless people I’ve ever met and would do anything for anyone.
“She’s the kind of person who would go to Starbucks and buy everyone a drink.
“Obviously Sydney Leroux – I think people are scared of Syd. I think she’s a good player, she’s fast and if people are scared of you it can be a big deal.
“Amy Rodriguez – her pace, her runs were great when we were in Philly. I loved playing with her.”
For her final selection, Lianne started with her choice of defender and she went for an England and FC Rosengård player who has been picked on numerous occasions by her peers for this question.
“I’m going to go with Anita Asante at the back. She’s one of the most composed I’ve ever seen on the ball, unbelievable ability, you just know what you’re going to get out of her.
“I think we just have that connection and she’s so reliable. The year we won the quadruple (at Arsenal), I honestly believe Neetz was one of, if not the best centre-back in the world.
“Midfield, I’d say Kelly Smith – unbelievable player, unbelievable talent. I think if it wasn’t for injuries Kelly would have been crowned number one player in the world at one stage.
“(When asked for an insight into her personality) She’s an introvert, I would say, but she’s a good person and I think sometimes people can misunderstand people that are introverts. Kelly’s a lovely person and I feel like I can talk to her and we have a good understanding.
“She’s not like me where she’s open to a lot of people but when you do get to know Kelly she’s a great person.
“My goalkeeper is Alyssa Naeher. You can always rely on her and her shot-stopping is one of the best I have ever seen.
“She is reliable, never panics, and having a world-class goalkeeper is so important for the rest of the team’s confidence.
“It’s a hard one and although I seem like I’m being Arsenal-biased I’d have to choose Julie Fleeting for the sheer fact she knew where the goal was – she’s like Chicharito (Manchester United striker Javier Hernandez). She’s the kind of player who could be quiet for 89 minutes but score two goals in the 90th minute.”
The interview usually ends with the 5-a-side team but there was one final poser to put to Lianne. Thinking back over the days when she would be on the train home late at night in her football kit after training, with school the next morning, she reflected on her journey in the game up to now. Still only 26, what would enable Lianne to feel truly happy when the day comes for her to hang up her boots?
“I think if I retired at this point in my career – not that I’m ever going to do that because I want to play until I’m about 100 – with my story now I almost feel like I’m in a movie. I never thought I’d be back on my English national team again.
“I always want to go to sleep at night knowing that I’ve been a good person and done the right thing and been a good teammate. I love football and I would train for ten hours a day if I could, but I just want to be a good teammate.
“How I want to be remembered when I stop playing is – ‘I’m glad Lianne was on my team’.”
Follow me on Twitter: @chris_brookes
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