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‘She was just a natural’ – England’s Rachel Daly stood out in junior football
Daly caught the eye of her school teacher when playing against boys as a child.
England left-back Rachel Daly’s “natural” talent helped her stand out when she was still in primary school.
The 30-year-old will be aiming to help England earn their first European Championship title when they face Germany in the Euro 2022 final at Wembley on Sunday.
Daly began her career at Killinghall Nomads in Yorkshire, where Rossett School teacher Michael Sweetman first saw her ability for himself – though he had not immediately realised who he was watching.
“I was head of year seven and I did all of the transitions from primary schools, so I used to have to visit all of the kids in primary school,” Daly’s former teacher told the PA news agency.
“Because I loved football, and always wanted us to do well, I used to always go and try and scout the best players – if I found out a kid was a good player and they were coming to school, I was made up!
“I’d heard that there was this girl who was really good playing for Killinghall Nomads in Harrogate, so I went down to see her play. Sunday morning I rock up at the fields and it’s just the boys playing.
“I thought, ‘I’ve given up my Sunday morning, I’ve turned up and girls aren’t playing’. Anyway, there’s a blonde-haired boy, a striker and he’s brilliant. I’m thinking, ‘wow what a player he is, I’ll find out at the end of the game if he’s coming to Rossett’.
“Anyway in the meantime, Rach’s step-dad came over, he said, “hi Mr Sweetman, don’t worry she’s coming to Rossett’ and I went, ‘nice to meet you, but I’ve come down and she’s not playing’.
“He said, ‘what do you mean?’, I said, ‘well this is the boys playing’. He went, ‘no, that’s Rach playing up-front, that blonde-haired kid’ and I went, ‘I’m really sorry I didn’t realise – I was looking for the girls!’
“Anyway she was class, and that was my first introduction that she was playing with the lads in the lads’ team, she was one of the best players.”
Daly played youth football for Leeds before travelling to the United States to play at college and was selected in the 2016 National Women’s Soccer League draft by the Houston Dash, where she has played ever since.
She was the NWSL’s third top scorer in 2021 with nine goals and Sweetman revealed that her natural ability to play instantly caught his eye.
He said: “When you’re scouting you look for technical ability, speed, stamina, can they handle the ball? Can they receive it? Can they use both feet?
“She was just a natural footballer, she wasn’t rapid, she didn’t have amazing stamina, she was just great on the ball, was just comfortable.
“She could use both feet, she understood the game, she understood when to dribble, when to pass, when to shoot, she just knew the game, she was just a natural.”
Sweetman follows Daly’s career closely and still keeps in touch with her, revealing that he has a few prized possessions from her career.
He said: “I’m just sat opposite her first England shirt, she gave me her first England shirt against Serbia so I’ve got that in a frame.
“I’m just sat next to it here and a pair of boots, I’m waiting for my daughter’s feet to grow a little bit so she can use them – if I dare even give them to her because I don’t like them getting muddy!”
Daly – a forward for her club – has been deployed at left-back for England and is likely to line-up in the final having started every game in the competition so far.
“She’s been brilliant, she’s been outstanding,” Sweetman added.
“She has a great relationship with Leah Williamson and Millie Bright at the back so they look very solid, she’s very comfortable on the ball, she doesn’t get fazed by anybody or anyone really.
“She doesn’t get nervous, I think character-wise she’s perfect.”