Back in May, Siobhan Wilson and her Málaga teammates achieved promotion to the top flight of women’s football in Spain where they would take on giants such as Barcelona and Atlético Madrid. In the crowd was one very proud father whose tough love and advice has helped the 24-year-old defender reach the heights she has today.
“My dad came out last season and watched the last game of the promotion season,” says Wilson of her father Clive, who played nearly 500 leagues in a career which spanned spells at Manchester City, Chelsea and QPR.
“He is very critical of me but I know he does it out of love. I could score ten goals in one game and he would still tell me what I need to do better but he has always been like that with me even when I was younger, so I’m used to it.
“I appreciate every piece of advice he gives me because he’s been in my position and experienced what’s it’s like playing at the top level himself.”
However unlike her father, Siobhan has moved abroad to progress her footballing career. As a youngster she played for Enfield Town Ladies and Tottenham Hotspur but it was actually Keira Knightley and co. who inspired her to take her game to the next level.
“I always wanted to study in America from a very young age,” she says. “Bend It Like Beckham was one of my favourite films growing up so seeing the characters pursue their dreams and going to America on a scholarship at the end really did inspire me.”
Wilson first joined Clayton State University, spending two years studying and playing there before finishing her degree at Georgia State University, who play in the top level of college sports, NCAA Division I. Injury meant she would spend an additional year at university in order to fulfill her playing experience in the States. During her time there, the defender regularly led her college and league in terms of assists, setting up goals from her attacking full back position.
“The standard of college soccer is very different to the standard in England and Spain,” she says. “College soccer relies a lot on athleticism and fitness. Thankfully I am blessed with both of those attributes so the game over there suited me well.”
Despite injury keeping her out of most of the 2016 season, Wilson was back to her best the following year, which would be her last at Georgia State. As she neared graduation, her mind turned to what lay ahead for her. Fortunately, a former teammate provided an opportunity for her to remain in football.
“It was always in my mind that I wanted to continue playing but I just didn’t know where.
“When I was in America, I played with a girl who was from Barcelona. She graduated a year or so before me and during my last semester in America, she messaged me saying that her coach was looking for a left sided player.
“I got together some footage of myself playing in the States and sent it over. He got back to me and said that the club would be interested in giving me a trail.
“I then trailed for two days [with Málaga]. They liked how I played and I signed pretty much there and then. I came home for a weekend to get my clothes and then moved the week after.”
The deal was done in January earlier this year and Wilson would join Málaga as they looked to earn promotion to the top flight. However, on her arrival in Spain, the language barrier meant the 24-year-old could not hit the ground running as quickly as possible, despite the presence of English goalkeeper Chelsea Ashurst in the squad.
“If I’m being honest, when I first moved to Spain, it was extremely difficult for me,” she says. “I learned a little bit of Spanish in school but just the basics so my Spanish was pretty much non-existent.
“In training when they would explain drills I had no idea what was going on. Chelsea was always doing goalkeeper training so she was never really around to help me.
“Thankfully, we had a few girls on the team that could speak English so when I didn’t understand something, I would go and ask them. The only downside to that is that it would take me a little longer to understand the drill.”
Eventually, the former Georgia State athlete would start to grasp the language of her new home and began to settle into the side. It was just in time as well, as her club finished top of Group 4 of the Segunda División and therefore earned passage to the promotion playoffs.
They would go on to cruise to promotion, winning all four of their playoff games and conceding just one goal along the way as they secured their place in the Primera División for the following year. It seemed from the outside that Wilson had taken professional football into her stride but it was down to her hard work as well.
“The game in America is completely different to the game in Spain so of course, playing here [in Spain] is a big step up for me. But I am grateful to be able to play and train every day with some great players which only helps me get better myself as a player.”
Eight games into the new campaign and Wilson’s club have made a solid start to life in the top flight. They currently sit in tenth place with three wins and a draw to their name, with the English defender having made four appearances so far.
It’s been a good start but for Shiv, as she is known to Spanish fans, knows there are some big games to come, including taking on a certain Toni Duggan, who leads the line for Barcelona.
“I’m really looking forward to playing against Barcelona,” she says. “I think it will be a great test not just for me but the team as well.
“Making the England Squad [to play alongside Duggan] would be a dream come true. That’s definitely one of my goals.”
Her father may not have achieved international recognition despite his impressive top flight career but Wilson may yet tick that accomplishment off for the family, if she continues her path to the top.