Sophie Baggaley — United She Stands
It’s not often you find yourself relegated only to be signed by Manchester United, but that’s the fate afforded to ONE Glove endorsee Sophie Baggaley.
The 24-year-old has spent the past four seasons with Bristol City but a final-day defeat against Brighton & Hove Albion in May sent the Robins down into the FA Championship.
While it was a desperately disappointing time for the former Birmingham City youngster, a call from United soon lifted her spirits and she recently penned a two-year deal with the option for a third.
“I wanted to be playing at the highest level possible, so when I found out Man United were interested, it was a real honour and something I didn’t have to think twice about,” Sophie told www.theoneglove.com. “It was a shame Bristol went down last season, gutting in fact, but in a strange way it has worked in my favour.
“With our position last season, I was really busy in goal so it gave me the chance to highlight my strengths. I got a chance to develop myself and that’s probably helped me out in the long run. I will always be grateful to Bristol City; I enjoyed my time there and it’s a club that has helped me get to where I am today.”
Like their male counterparts, there is a chasm that exists between City and United. While the Robins had modest facilities by WSL standards, Sophie and her team-mates share a Carrington training ground with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first-team squad, and find themselves immersed in some of the best facilities the women’s game has to offer.
“Bristol did great with the resources they had, but it’s a lot different here; it feels like the next level in terms of professionalism,” she adds. “We’re based at Carrington full-time, we have our own facilities, our own pitches and the way the club does things and treats their players is unreal to be honest.
“We’re also playing our home games at the Leigh Sports Village, which is also a very good facility. I’ve played there a couple of times with Bristol and there’s always a big, vocal support there. The fans really get behind the team.”
Given the pandemic, crowds were certainly at a premium last season. Indeed, Sophie played just one game in front of supporters when Bristol took on Reading, so she is looking forward to seeing supporters at games once again.
“It’s been really tough playing at empty stadiums, in fact I hated it,” she admits. “We all understand the reason why but I really thrive off the fans being there. No matter how big or small, when you make a save and the crowd reacts, there’s nothing like it.
“I know that I’m probably not going to walk straight into the team but that’s my aim – to improve, to wear that shirt and to play in front of our fans.”
United currently boast four keepers: number one Emily Ramsey, Mary Earps and Fran Bentley. Only one can play for the first team each week but Sophie reveals there’s a real togetherness between the quartet as the season gets ever closer.
“All are very good keepers and we push each other on. That’s how you want it, that competitiveness in training. We know Emily is the first choice right now, so it’s going to be difficult to get lots of games, but I’m sure there will be rotation with cup games.
“It’s all about taking my opportunity when it comes and to keep improving day in, day out, to get that number one spot. Our goalkeeping coach Ian Wilcock has already picked up on a few things for me to improve on, which is only going to be good for me. But that’s what I want, to be pushed to the next level.”
United will host Reading on the opening day of the season and will no doubt have a new head coach in place following Casey Stoney’s departure. The new FA WSL fixtures were announced to a big fanfare on Friday, given games will be shown live on both Sky Sports and the BBC this coming season, taking the league to a whole new level.
“It’s going to be a massive season,” Sophie states. “There’s already been a lot of movement in terms of players and those clubs who are not doing so will likely be the ones who will struggle.
“While Chelsea will again be the team to beat, the league is going to be more competitive than ever. Manchester City will be up there too, but Everton have made some good signings, so there could be three or four teams – along with ourselves – who will be pushing for those Champions League places.
“We’re all excited though because of the greater coverage we’re going to receive. The women’s game is already on the up but this is going to take things to a whole new level.”