There has been no shortage of shocks in Dartford, home of the London City Lionesses.
The brand-new FA Women’s Championship side are currently second in the league – with five wins in seven games – and are riding high according to captain Ellie Mason.
The club was created after the decision at the end of last season by Millwall Lionesses to break away from Millwall and go it alone.
That saw the birth of London City, an independent side without any ties to a men’s team at all.
“If no one knows about us or hasn’t watched us play, I think we’ve shocked a lot of people,” says Mason.
“We’re second in the league, we’re one point behind Villa and we’ve only lost two league games.
“You’ve got to look at it as we’re a brand-new team.
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“Half of us haven’t even played with each other before. We’re a couple of months old and we’re doing really well.
“If you haven’t watched us it’s a great opportunity to come down, if you’re free one Sunday.
“For people who haven’t watched women’s football I feel like they should because you have a different mindset on it after you’ve watched it.
“I would definitely recommend you come down to us – it’s a great experience.
“We’re an independent women’s team as well. There’s no men’s team behind it or anything like that.
“It’s a brand-new challenge for us as well so for people coming down, it’s a great experience.”
“We’re only going to keep shocking people”
Going it alone as an independent club is a daunting task ahead for the Lionesses.
There are, after all, plenty who doubt whether a women’s side can truly thrive without the financial backing of a men’s club.
There will also be several challenges along the way.
The Lionesses are, for example, comprised of a squad still getting to know each other and they are currently on the lookout for a new manager.
But to be second in the league at this stage shows just how much promise this team has. Their position might have shocked onlookers, but it hasn’t shocked the squad.
“Maybe a little bit – but I wouldn’t say massively – only because when we’re training it feels right,” Mason explains.
“The sessions that we do in training, the performances that we put on, we’re thinking ‘wow – there’s something really good here’.
“You’ve got to believe that as a team and we’re second in the league.
“We’re only going to keep shocking people.”
“It was the best decision I’ve made”
Mason joined London City in the summer after spending last season with Yeovil in the WSL.
During that season she changed positions from midfield to defence and learnt a lot by coming up against top opposition game after game.
Despite being just 23 years old, that experience and quality is already paying off for her new team as she was named captain of the side.
“It was a big challenge. It was a good decision and the best decision I’ve made,” says Mason on joining London City in the summer.
“I’ve got the role of being captain, which is a huge responsibility considering it’s a brand-new club as well.
“I’ve been trusted with that responsibility – and I take that trust on – and I know I need to be there for my teammates and the whole team in general.
“We just need to make sure that the team’s momentum is going forward, we put the effort in, and the teamwork continues hard throughout the season.”
Mason’s own individual performances have also stayed consistently high this term as she was nominated for October’s Championship Player of the Month award – something she describes as a great feeling to be recognised for.
But, sitting with the Lionesses captain, there is one common theme that frequently comes up when she speaks. First and foremost, it is all about the team and your teammates.
“I’ve got a big responsibility as captain but everyone’s a leader being on that pitch,” she says.
“There’s 11 leaders – not just one.
“We know what we need to do. We focus a lot around training on analysis and what we need to do a lot of work on.
“It is a big responsibility but imagine us being an independent women’s team, winning the league and getting promoted.
“It’s just a huge thing for us. Not many teams are independent so for us to say ‘we got promoted and we’re an independent team’ would be a massive achievement.
“How would I even do that again?”
The women’s game is changing in this country with increased attendances, higher interest and more professionalism.
London City Lionesses themselves have a professional set-up, helping players to thrive and be the best athletes they can be.
Mason has already benefited from one year as a professional with Yeovil last term so is already adapted to the way she is expected to train and recover.
But she still remembers the days when things weren’t quite that way.
“I remember when I used to get up at six o’clock in the morning, finish work at 3pm, go home, have a nap, have dinner then go to football,” she says.
“You’re constantly tired but you do it because you love it.
“Looking back on it now I think how would I even do that again?
“I’m just used to the professional side of it now. But I wouldn’t change it for the world – it’s what I love.”
That love for the game is crucial for the 23-year-old and is so abundantly clear in her conversation.
Talking about football is second nature and, after finishing our interview, she explains how she’s off to help a friend coaching football at an after-school club.
But it’s that passion – and that love for the game – that is finally being rewarded as the women’s game sees an influx of new fans following the World Cup in the summer.
“Obviously in the WSL they’re going to have bigger crowd numbers than in the Championship,” Mason says.
“But throughout my footballing career – each year and every year it’s gone on – there have been hundreds more people at games.
“Last year it was crazy turning up at games and there’d be hundreds of people watching me and it would be a great feeling.
“But the Championship is getting a lot bigger as well.
“I think it will from now on and it has for the last couple of years, the crowds have got a lot bigger.
“It’s great to see because getting people supporting teams – no matter what team – is great for women’s football.”
Words and interview: Alasdair Hooper
Image credits: With thanks to Next Gen Sport Solutions
All music in this episode is courtesy of Otis McDonald.
Thanks go to Next Gen Sport Solutions for setting up the interview with Ellie Mason. For more information about the sports management company for female athletes go to: https://nextgensport.co.uk