Following her Everton breakthrough, Megan Finnigan found both her place and her voice, so much so that today, even the most unforgiving of team tasks does not have the sharp-witted defender shying away.
With the departures last summer of captain Danielle Turner and forward Simone Magill, the tag of Everton Women stalwart shifted solely to defensive duo Gabby George and Megan Finnigan. For the latter, her elevation to the first team eight years ago was ultimately as much about emergence of self as proving her on-field credentials.
Billinge-born and growing up in nearby Ashton-in-Makerfield, Everton has become her unequivocal footballing home since joining at nine years old. Now 24, her time in the senior team has encompassed promotion back to the top division, the jump to full-time contracts, and an FA Cup final as recently as November 2020.
After a tumultuous season last time around, Brian Sørensen’s arrival as head coach has brought the desired ship-steadying, with their homegrown centre-back among those figuring prominently. Now leading the way for longevity in the squad, she also finds herself at the front of the pack for a role where only the strong – or blissfully unbothered – survive.
“You picked the right person because I’m the one in charge (of the changing-room music),” she explains. “To be honest, I don’t really feel like I have much competition, because I don’t think many people would like to step up to it.”
“I just play a bit of everything really but I’ve had quite a few compliments this year, so I’m obviously doing a good job. Sometimes Izzy Christiansen likes to connect, but it’s too much pressure for some people; it is a very pressured job.
“I’ve had stick in the past, but I can deal with it, so…”
Earning a commendable goalless draw at Manchester United last time out, Everton can return to 5th in the WSL with a point from their game in hand on Aston Villa. Part of a Blues backline keeping seven clean sheets in all competitions so far, Megan gives a glimpse into who else should probably take some credit for their form.
“Right, this is the most basic one ever, but you know that (sings) ‘I’m good, yeah, I’m feelin’ alright…’ (‘I’m Good (Blue)’ – David Guetta & Bebe Rexha) – that one!” she adds, scrolling her phone for reminders of their playlist. “That’s just a really good, feelgood song.”
“J. Cole ‘No Role Modelz,’ that’s a completely different vibe, but when I put that on, I look around, and everyone’s getting into it.”
Along with that subtle unifying touch during a long season, music is a force for good in her own life – as an athlete, and in her lesser-known role back in the real world.
“I actually use it a lot for visualisation, so if I’m listening to a song, I’ll picture myself…I don’t know…scoring a hat-trick, which would never realistically happen, but you just paint good pictures in your head. The same with real life, if you’re in a sad mood, having a bit of a bad day.
“It definitely plays a big part in my life.”
90+1′ MEGAN FINNIGAN
— Everton Women (@EvertonWomen) May 1, 2022
Pinpointing meaningful examples can be a challenge when so many of your life’s memories are tied to songs, but the subject leads her back to a time before WSL forwards were ever bothering the thoughts.
“It’s a very hard question, because I’ve got 2500 songs on this phone, so it’s very hard for me to actually narrow it down. This is going to sound a bit weird, but I like to visualise things, and in school, I was actually head girl, but we had to go through a big interview process.
“The night before it was getting announced who it was, I played this song, ‘Language’ by Porter Robinson; it’s like a proper dance anthem. Basically, when the drop comes, I imagined them announcing ‘and the head girl is…Meg!’ – and it happened the next day.
“For some reason, it never works when I visualise myself scoring a hat-trick.”
Music also had an uncredited cameo in England’s 2018 FIFA Under-20 World Cup. Megan’s Young Lionesses squad included Georgia Stanway, Alessia Russo, Lauren Hemp, then-Everton teammate Chloe Kelly, and current on-loan Manchester United goalkeeper Emily Ramsey.
They would overcome hosts France, whose side included current senior stars Selma Bacha and Marie-Antoinette Katoto, in a penalty shootout in Vannes for third place. Led by long-time former Everton manager Mo Marley, the ex-England captain found an unexpected new twist when it came to her pep talks.
“Whatever the last song was before she came in, she would take the lyrics from the song and take them into her motivational speech! She couldn’t have planned it, because she didn’t know what song was coming on, but every time, she did it.
“One of them was ‘Impossible,’ the James Arthur version (originally by Shontelle); she came in and she said, ‘No…I’m possible!’ Another one was ‘Magic’ – B.o.B (featuring Rivers Cuomo), and she was like, ‘Today, you guys have got the magic,’ – each to their own, it was different!
“There were so many moments (with the team over the years), like on the coach, where you’d be travelling somewhere and you all have a massive sing-song. Adele, we’d all belt ‘Someone Like You’ – I’d dread to hear it back now.
“Sandy MacIver was like the DJ at our youth age groups, she did a good job.”
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Golden Glove winner at that World Cup, now-Manchester City goalkeeper MacIver was alongside Megan in the Everton side that took City to extra-time in the 2019/20 FA Cup final at Wembley. On the bench that day was a current Manchester United prospect and Bristol City loanee who, despite being just 17, had left an impression (one way or another…) with her ‘official’ first-team introduction.
“The strangest (initiation song) I’ve seen, Grace Clinton a couple of years ago; she did ‘Smelly Cat’ from Friends, which I found hilarious but none of the foreign girls knew what she was singing. I did have to do an initiation, which I think was absolutely crazy because I’ve never been anywhere else, but they made me do one, and I was so painfully shy at the time.
“I did ‘Breaking Free,’ High School Musical. If I could have the moment to do it again, I would do something completely different, but I just panicked.”
New names in the squad this season include on-loan youngsters like dazzling Man City prodigy Jess Park, alongside a number of international arrivals. So, did their respective moves to Merseyside come with the same musical mettle-tester that Megan once faced?
“The last two seasons, they’ve kind of got rid of it, which I’m not a fan of, because I like to see people…crumble under the pressure! That’s a bit nasty, but to be honest, sometimes they can get a bit awkward, if people don’t go for it.
“If you can tell someone’s really scared, you just want it to end.”
As she found out, though, you don’t necessarily need to sing in front of a baying bunch of footballers and staff to feel firmly removed from your comfort zone.
“I did Wireless last year but I was a bit out of my depth there. I thought I knew r&b, but when you’re actually in the festival with people who know it a lot better than you, I made myself look silly.
“I don’t know if I’m a festival girl, to be honest, especially the camping thing, but I have done a couple. I went to T in the Park, in Scotland; that was my first one, when I was a kid.
“I’d love to do Glastonbury. In terms of artists, I’ve seen Coldplay but I’ve also seen Adele last summer, and she was unbelievable.
“I love Coldplay. I’m going again this year, I love them that much.”
Having recently missed out on tickets for Beyoncé’s Renaissance tour, she would place Queen Bey above all others if given the chance to see any act from all-time. A One Direction devotee in the past – “Well, if they did a reunion, I’d go…” – the first album she remembers having was effectively her teen-pop-hysteria welcome pack.
“I reckon it was probably S Club 7; I was a massive S Club fan. They were the first people I went and watched live and I remember I got the CD; I also got the dolls as well!
“‘Bring It All Back’ (was on there). I remember the album cover, on the beach.”
Even without a CBBC programme to launch their careers (and no multi-platinum-selling albums as yet), Megan and her ex-England youth teammates have also known life growing up together in the same industry. Life on the tour bus, preparing to perform, and almost certainly some ‘creative differences’…at 1-0 down at half-time.
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On her way up through the age groups, Megan captained the Under-19s, a feat all the more significant given the previous introversion she alluded to. On reflection, is there anything she credits with allowing her to shed that shyness?
“I don’t know really, I think I kind of had to, because I’d made the jump to senior football, and if I’d stayed as quiet as I was, I probably wouldn’t have progressed to be the player that I am now. I think certain people played a part in it; Gabby George always says now she’s the reason, because she took me under her wing.”
It makes perfect sense, then, (unlike this following scenario) that if she was ever required to record a song with at least one of her career teammates, Everton’s number six would be straight in the mix.
“I’d say Gabby George, just because I’m not sure anyone else on the team would participate with me, but I feel like Gabs would, and I feel like we’d do a bit of a rap. I’d probably be main vocalist; she would do the rap, I guess.”
It was Everton who were tipped to bring the noise heading into last season, with many feeling that the Blues were as well placed as any team to gatecrash the WSL’s ‘big three’ of Chelsea, Arsenal and Man City. Then led by Willie Kirk, their status as FA Cup runners-up, coupled with headline additions like young Sweden star Hanna Bennison, had them pegged as prime contenders.
The season instead brought a 10th-place finish and two managerial departures, with the end of Kirk’s three-year tenure, before ex-Lyon coach Jean-Luc Vasseur lasted just ten games, as Chris Roberts and Claire Ditchburn completed the campaign in interim charge. The reset that came with Danish boss Brian Sørensen joining from Fortuna Hjørring has so far yielded encouraging results.
A much-improved defensive record has seen just 12 conceded in their first 12 league games, only bettered at present by Arsenal, Chelsea and leaders Man United. Sørensen, who helped set the careers in motion of Danish stars like Pernille Harder, Nadia Nadim and new Arsenal signing Kathrine Kühl, has been commended on the ideas and communication he has so far brought to the squad.
“There’s been a lot to think about since he’s come in, because it’s a completely different playing style to what we’d been used to,” adds Megan. “There’s new things to think about every week and he’s quite good at having individual conversations with you.”
“We’re a very possession-based team, that’s how he wants to play, so he’s very much focused on short passes. One of the strengths of my game would be my long-range passing, I’d say.
“Under Willie Kirk, I feel like that was one of my strengths that I did consistently, but under Brian, I can’t remember the last time I played a long pass. He encourages me to dribble a lot more; even at centre-back, that’s something that he looks for.”
After the shared struggles of 2021/22, her season ended on a bright note with a last-gasp goal in the 2-2 home finale with Tottenham Hotspur. It seemed fitting that the longest serving player should then set them on their way to a 3-0 win in September’s televised derby against Liverpool, with 27,574 at Anfield for the Sunday-evening game.
One more followed against West Ham United in another 3-0 victory last month, for someone who has previously joked self-deprecatingly about her goal threat. Arguably among the WSL players quietly coming to the fore this season, she gives her take on what she typically responds best to when it comes to coaching styles.
“Probably an arm around the shoulder. I’ve tried to work it out over the years, but I think overall, that’s probably the type of person I am.”
⛔️ Clean Sheet
— Everton Women (@EvertonWomen) January 22, 2023
The broadened outlook that comes with being among players from varying countries and backgrounds has not been lost on her either, having grown up in a market town in the North West.
“It’s definitely great to have so many nationalities on the team. I think as the years have progressed, since I’ve been at Everton, what’s predominantly been an English team is now I’d say kind of a 50-50 split of English and then girls from abroad.
“You learn a lot, and it’s fascinating. Before I dropped out of uni, I actually studied geography, so I find it very interesting learning about different countries, different cultures.
“When I used to go away with England in the youth age groups, seeing different places that I would never normally see, I’d never think to go to, it’s one of the perks of the job really.”
Earlier on in her career, she was considered a midfielder as much as a defender, enjoying the physical battle that came with the former, and the cerebral aspects of the latter. Any player’s personal progression is now happening with a dramatically-altered backdrop in the women’s game.
The heightened recognition and scrutiny were certainly wished for back in the days of nominated WSL players wearing their Twitter username on the back of their shirt as a promotional tool. There is a lot to revel in, though in many cases, a player’s image and personality are now under the microscope as much as, if not more than, their on-pitch performances.
For those coming through today, such a dynamic is standard, but the timing of Megan’s own breakthrough meant that she got to see the other side of that particular coin. She considers how much adaptation the recent shift has demanded on her part.
“I wouldn’t say it’s been hard; I’m not the most high-profile player, so I’m certainly not getting recognised down the local supermarket or anything. The biggest change for me would be after the games and stuff.
“At Everton, we’re getting nearly sell-outs every home game, and the time that it takes for us to leave the pitch after a game, it’s crazy, because there’s so many young girls, even young boys as well, that are wanting to speak to you. The United game, there was a group of girls that came down and were shouting me; I went over at the end, and I felt really bad because I didn’t recognise them, but I’d done something with them before.
“You do get recognised a bit more, and you see that you’re making an impact on young girls’ lives and stuff like that.”
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The much-celebrated progress almost makes it difficult to believe that there are still top-flight players without individual sportswear endorsements, having to buy their own boots. While not somebody to especially chase the limelight, sponsorship is one area that could make a discernible difference to Megan.
Speaking with her career currently in a position of promise, she gives a frank overall reading of where she sees herself at present.
“It’s a weird one, because let’s say something happened – touch wood it doesn’t – where my career ended tomorrow; if I was to look back, I’d probably be a bit disappointed, to be honest. I want to win silverware, and I’ve obviously never done that, but then on the flipside, I’ve also got no regrets about my career.
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“I’ve got no regrets about being at Everton this long. I had the chance to go to America on a scholarship, like many of the girls did, but I don’t regret staying at Everton.
“It’s just about sticking with it; hopefully in the next few years we can start to win things. I want to look back on my career and say ‘I won that.’”
Given her senior debut by her one-time Centre of Excellence coach Andy Spence, this season has seen her surpass 150 club appearances. While the Toffees’ steady improvement means they are worth keeping an eye on, the same could well be true of a player who naturally holds on to ambitions of becoming a senior international.
Before then, here comes the call-up she never knew she wanted. The site’s closing question through the years (from back before fantasy 5-a-side teams were even popular) asks the interviewee for four teammates from their career they would want alongside them in the small-sided arena.
Instead of a ‘best’ selection, the theme is simply examples of those they would definitely enjoy mixing it with. As player-manager Meg named five others, maybe the I’m a Celebrity winner in the team won’t mind starting on the bench…
“Lauren Hemp. Do I need a goalkeeper? (Told she can if she wishes) No, I don’t want one.
“Alessia Russo; I’m just gonna do the whole Lionesses team here. Ella Toone.
“Let’s throw someone in from Everton…Hanna Bennison. And…Jill Scott.”
Everton play Liverpool in the WSL’s first Merseyside derby to be held at Goodison Park, on Friday 24th March (7.30pm kick-off). Tickets for the game (£8 for adults, £4 for under-18s and over-65s, with hospitality packages also available) are now on general sale: https://www.evertonfc.com/women/tickets
To catch each of these interviews, you can follow me: @chris_brookes
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