When picking her squad ahead of this summer’s Under-20s Women’s World Cup, one of England coach Mo Marley’s first ports of call was Everton Ladies.
It is a club she knows well from her 14-year playing career she spent entirely in royal blue, before going on to cross the touchline and manage the team between 2002-12.
With three players in the squad, Everton have contributed the second most players to Marley’s group, with Chloe Kelly, Megan Finnigan and Taylor Hinds all seeing action so far, while goalkeeper Sandy McIver is a former Toffee now at university in America. Only Manchester City – with four – boast more current players.
The trio featured in the Toffees’ matchday squad throughout the second half of the 2017-18 WSL 1 season and so were natural picks for Marley ahead of the tournament in France.
Both Finnigan and Kelly started all three games, with Hinds stepping off the bench twice, as the young Lionesses reached the knockout stages after safely navigating a group including reigning champions North Korea, South American heavyweights Brazil and Mexico.
Marley says it is the attitude of clubs like Everton, famed for giving young players a chance across both men’s and women’s football, that helps her on the international scene.
“Everton have got a history of developing young players and it’s great to see that [carry on],” she said. “Over the years they have invested in that and played young players not just in the women’s game but in the Premier League as well on the men’s side.
“It is nice for any club to see their players develop, play week in and week out in the WSL, and get the opportunities on the international stage as well.
“I am most familiar with Megan because she came through the Academy at Everton when I was based there. But for me, it is about where can our young players go and play regularly? It doesn’t matter what club that may be but certainly Everton has that strong tradition of developing young players and giving them opportunities.”
One such player who has benefitted from that Everton approach is Chloe Kelly. Coming through at Arsenal, she spent time on loan at the Toffees in 2016-17 before again making a temporary switch before the start of last season.
She had no hesitation in making that move permanent and was joined in the mid-season window by fellow former Arsenal youngster Hinds.
Kelly, who netted eight times in an impressive campaign for the Blue Girls, scored the goal that turned Sunday’s game against Mexico in England’s favour as Marley’s side overcame a 1-0 half time deficit to run out 6-1 winners, booking their place against the Netherlands in the knockout stages.
The young forward has been enjoying the tournament and says there is plenty more to come from the young Lionesses.
“We know how to bounce back as a team and when we got that goal we were all buzzing,” she revealed.
“To get the goal was a bit of a relief but then we didn’t want to stop there. We kept digging in, finding more from ourselves and we ended up scoring four more.
“We go out there to have fun. You wouldn’t play football if you didn’t want to have fun, and it’s a great group of girls, so who better to share this experience with?
“We’re all just buzzing with the win and to be playing great football.”