The eagle-eyed amongst you may be familiar with the Surtees name if you’ve been following our Women’s FA Cup coverage this season. Ellen is in fact the daughter of Woodley United Ladies’s manager Marc Surtees, and Marc himself is a former Woodley United player.
When asked about her earliest memories of being interested in football, Ellen said “My family is very football orientated.”
The family are big Sunderland fans with Ellen confirming her best memory following them is, “The season before last was when Sunderland were on a comeback at being relegated two seasons in a row. They had reached the play-off final at Wembley. Unfortunately, they lost this game, but the team performances during this season and the fight kept us on the edge of our seats and show some positivity in what had been a terrible two seasons previously.
“My dad and uncle used to play on the same team, my grandad used to manage teams and refereeing is a common theme within the family.” She doesn’t have a favourite player though and states she much prefers to just try and watch as much as football as possible.
As is the case with a lot of the women playing in football these days, Ellen mentioned she was “always the girl at school who would be playing football with the boys at break”. She recalls going to a football party at the tender age of seven, and it just so happened that it was being run by the manager of Reading Girls FC at the time. The manager endeavoured to get in touch with Ellen’s mum and invited her along to training with the team, a clear success as Ellen would spend just shy of the next decade playing at the club.
She embraced the chance to play at every opportunity stating she played “Saturdays and Sundays throughout my teenage years, as well as for school and the County team”. Ellen eventually made the switch to Woodley United when they formed an U16’s squad and as they say, the rest is history. Going off to study at Oxford Brookes did nothing to dampen Ellen’s football spirits as she played for the university team in the three years she spent there and still continued to travel home every weekend to get her Sunday football fix.
Fast forward to present day and Ellen is now captain of the Woodley United Ladies who play in the Premier Division of the Southern Region Women’s Football League, in the fifth tier of the women’s football pyramid. She describes herself as a ‘no-nonsense defender’ who’s “a bit of a sweeper at the back and like my teammates to know I’ll always be there as last man” as well as enjoying the chance to get stuck in with strong challenges, “especially slide tackles”.
Ellen is no stranger to set pieces either as Woodley’s nominated corner and free-kick taker in recent seasons, an unlikely role for a centre back possibly, but Ellen says she’s been “racking up the assists…[so] it definitely seems to be working in our favour”.
As you might expect from someone as surrounded by football as Ellen is, she believes that she can sometimes get so into games that she is too hard on herself: “I could make the smallest mistake and get so annoyed” but rightly so her Woodley team-mates are on hand to get her head refocused.
‘A cup of tea and a ham and cheese toastie’
One way in which Ellen finds helps her focus is her pre-match rituals and she’s quite particular in her efforts, explaining she does a number of things pre-game which include “having a cup of tea and a ham and cheese toastie before I leave for football. When I’m at football I always have to put my water and Lucozade on the bench next to me, and my captain’s armband over my Lucozade bottle. I have to have a certain amount of tape on each sock as well.”
As mentioned before, Ellen spent three years studying at Oxford Brookes University and played for the women’s football team whilst there. She recalls her most memorable moment was her final cheer with the club. They’d gone unbeaten in their league, played varsity team, Reading University, and won and if that wasn’t impressive enough, reached the cup final against local rivals Oxford University. Ellen played the role of striker whilst in her university team and talks of that cup final with an enthusiastic disdain, explaining that, “Unfortunately, we found ourselves 5-1 down with 20 minutes to go. We slowly clawed our way back into the game and it was 5-5 with three minutes to go. I had already scored two goals in the game and then with two minutes left on the clock, our goalie booted the ball upfield, I flicked it on with my head and we scored the winning goal! Scoring five goals in 20 minutes and having the season we had was such a special moment.”
The highs and lows
As anyone in the football world knows, the highs also come with the lows, and Ellen speaks frankly about how about the 2019/20 season was a real struggle for the whole Woodley United team “We were coming up against teams whose standard was higher than ours, and I think it was a bit of a shock to the system.”.
Team spirit was lost and they just couldn’t get into a winning rhythm with easy mistakes made. An understandable reaction given the team were unable to score a win in 15 games, with eight draws and seven losses recorded before the season was declared null and void after the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic. Ellen was honest when explaining that, “it was a frustrating season and I think it’s honest to say that we were lucky COVID came about when it did.”
Skippering the team in the Vitality Women’s FA Cup this season, Ellen’s squad faced Wargrave in the Extra Preliminary Round and nabbed themselves a spot in the Preliminary Round in a 5-2 win. Next up would see them face Thames Valley Counties Women’s Football League, Division 1 side Milton United in a convincing 5-3 win, however the team were to bow out in the First Round Qualifying when they faced tough opponents Fulham who play in the London & South East Regional Women’s Premier League.
As we mentioned earlier Woodley’s manager, Marc Surtees, is also Dad to Ellen, she talks of having him as manager being motivation in itself as well as joking about wanting to perform well in order to make his coaching life easier! She also tells us that one of the biggest benefits of having a parent as a manager is the chance to “have the conversations that you wouldn’t be able to have with someone you weren’t related to.”, while also feeling sorry for him for the earful he often gets on the way home when something’s not quite gone right in the game, be that a result, a decision or her own performance.
She finishes with the sentiment that “as a team, we would be lost without the time he gives up for us.”. Ellen also sings the praises of coach Nuno Antunes who joined the management team in more recent years in order to assist Marc. Noting that Marc and Nuno have “formed a great bond and work really well together to get the best out of the ladies.” as well as thanking Nuno for the time and energy he puts into the team.
Now we turn to Ellen’s thought on her fellow players, when asked who she thinks are the key players, she’s modest in her answer stating that she believes “each individual brings something different as we gel so well. What someone may be missing, someone else might have and it’s about putting the puzzle pieces together to get the best team performance. I think everyone position has an important role to play and every player in our large squad is capable of filling a spot and holding onto it.”
She’s set her ambitions high for the team and hopes to see them excel to the next level, which would see the team join Maidenhead United in the South West Division of the FA Women’s National League. She’s also keen to see the club to grow their female side, she noted, “We currently have a younger girls team but it would be so nice to see older age groups that can feed into the ladies team.”
Ellen shares that as a team they’re quite a boisterous set of players so there’s always a hyped atmosphere and music blasting before a game in the dressing room. No changing rooms and social distancing rules means, “pre-match seems to have turned into a ‘music off’ with who can play the loudest music!” jokes Ellen. We mentioned right at the start that Ellen is very particular with her pre-match rituals and the final one just before the whistle involves Woodley goalkeeper Nicole Haines and their own handshake and fist bumps at every game they play.
The chance to reflect on performance, both individual and as a team, is evident with Ellen as she says with earnest that ‘last season was a bit of a downer for us’. Despite missing a considerable chunk of pre-season, Ellen ultimately believes that the time away was needed for the whole squad and when they were able to return that everyone was raring to go.
The squad was acutely aware that the season was going to be anything but easy, as she explains, “We knew we needed to adapt our game and formation to find the best solution for dealing with teams, and so far we seem to have done that.” Woodley currently find themselves fourth in the table having played three games with two wins secured against fellow Berkshire sides Newbury and Ascot United. Whilst their loss came when they played table leaders Wycombe Wanderers.
We broaden our discussion now to the challenges faced by the women’s game in general. When asked what she thought, Ellen commented, “I think the women’s game has come on a lot in the past few years. The publicity it is now getting is way more than it used to. Women’s football is now present on most social media platforms and televised.” And she had plenty of praise for some of her male counterparts and their inclusion of women in football when she said, “I think the nice thing we are seeing is men’s teams promoting women’s teams too. I do have to say that Caversham United are great at promoting all women’s teams, local or not!”.
Final thoughts from Ellen were, “Sadly football has now been halted and we probably won’t return until next year. We had started the season well so I hope as a team we can continue this when we eventually return. I’d also like to say a massive thank you to Abi for everything she does to promote women’s football in the local area!”