Liverpool FC Women manager Vicky Jepson has spoken of her pride at leading the team on an historic tour of the USA together for the first time with the men’s senior squad.
After Thursday’s 2-2 draw with Cleveland Ambassadors in Notre Dame University, the squad have now touched down in Boston for their final tour game on Monday night against the Metropolitan All Stars.
In a fascinating sit-down interview with LFCTV in the USA, Jepson spoke about the tour and provided a fascinating insight into the life of managing Liverpool FC Women.
Read on for Jepson’s thoughts on the forthcoming season, why she lives and breathes football and her excitement about a trio of new signings…
The Liverpool FC Women’s team are, of course, part of the official club tour. When the news was broken to you that this was going to happen, how exciting was that for you as a manager?
I was delighted because this is the fourth year of me coming out on the pre-season tour but obviously in a completely different role, one that brings a lot of pressure. But to take our women’s team out here alongside the men is just a step in the right direction for our club. Obviously our players are delighted to be part of such a great pre-season tour out here in the USA.
Last year when you came out on the US tour you were coaching in the community, this is a massive change, isn’t it?
It is a massive change. From working with kids in different areas in the community in the USA last year to being out here with 20 players making sure they are achieving what they need to achieve physically, technically, tactically and obviously do well in the games that we have got out here. It is a completely different ball game but one that I really do admire and love the fact that I’m out here now with those challenges.
When a year ago you were coaching the community and working your way up the ladder in football, did you feel you were ready for a job as big as this? Managers say they can never pick the opportunity and sometimes the opportunity picks you, but what was your mindset a year ago as a coach?
A year ago I was managing our U21s in the LFC Women’s set-up. I had been doing that for six years. I have worked through the age groups, I had already been involved in the first team doing an analyst role when Matt Beard was here, so I was very much aware of what the senior environment was like. And obviously with my journey with the England set-up, I think that really prepped me in terms of how to structure my days with a professional team, to review games, to prep games, the session content on the grass, so I think that put me in good stead. I felt like I was ready. When Neil Redfearn walked and left us and I had to take the reigns along with Chris [Kirkland] and the staff that was left, that was when the test really came in. It was kind of, ‘Am I good enough or not? I’m not sure’, but you only know until you put yourself in that situation. It seemed to fit right and I felt really confident and comfortable. I knew one thing from being at the club for 10 years working in the women’s section and that was I knew every single youth player that was coming through, so I knew the talent that was underneath.
I was well aware of the women’s game as a whole, in terms of recruitment to strengthen our squad, so I could have a real good strategy around developing our players and buying new players to strengthen our squad, which is where we are up to now with the three new players that we have brought in. We had one of our younger players in Missy Bo-Kearns getting her first 90 minutes in Notre Dame and she has been at the club since she was eight. I remember tying her bootlaces, which I’ve spoken about before, so for me it was a proud moment seeing her do it. I actually saw a tweet yesterday which got to me a little bit because she put, ‘Delighted to play 90 minutes for the club I love so much.’ I thought, 'That’s cute, isn’t it? She has been with us since she was eight and now 90 minutes with the first team, she’s only 18. But that’s what we are about. We are about developing our own but also we’ve got to make sure we just don’t get stuck in that and make sure we are still buying and look to push our squad forward with our strength.
When you come into an environment where a manager signs a lot of players and they invest in him and his message emotionally, how difficult is it then for you to pick them up again? That's the place place you were in just over a year ago...
It was tough because there was players who the manager had picked and had brought in and a lot of them had played for him at his previous club, Doncaster Rovers Belles. The reason why they were at the club was because of him. So for me, obviously I was there as the assistant, I had to quickly learn about them as individuals as quick as I could, so I knew how to motivate them – who needed a rocket up their backside to motivate them, who needs an arm around their shoulder, who are the stronger players and what’s their best position. Just so we could make sure we could compete at the top level and survive and stay in the league. In doing that, we’ve got good foundations now because we did finish the season on a high to build on. Now we are in our pre-season with new players coming in and ready to build and kick on when we start our new season on September 8 against Reading.
How does life change away from football for you then? Nights out and things like watching Netflix probably doesn’t exist anymore because you are watching games and players...
I think that’s the thing I’ve struggled as a manager a little bit. There’s no interest now outside of football because football is just the priority. Even when the Women’s World Cup was on we were out there, I watched a lot of games out there, I was watching near enough every game. I had one game on the TV and the other one on my laptop! I watched them so I didn’t miss a moment of football. When we play a game I don’t sleep after it because I am reviewing the game. Sometimes I’ll watch the footage back when we are in possession and then I’ll watch it when we are out of possession, so you become obsessed with it. I think if you don’t become obsessed with it you end up missing out on key opportunities to try and push your team further. It’s seven days a week.
Take this morning, I’ve got players who want to go through clips, five players who want to go through their individual clips, which is great and it’s just non-stop. Even when you think you’ve got downtime when you are out here, you haven’t because there will be an individual that wants to catch up with you about some things. I think in the women’s game they always want reassurance, what’s the purpose of doing things and what’s the objective they want to achieve. So as long as I cover that and I’m very clear with clarity of what I want, then it works. But that’s quite demanding to make sure you feed their needs because they have got a real thirst to learn. Sometimes I’m quite drained from it, I think I’ve found a few grey hairs but that’s a part of the challenges you face.
Your TV planner at home is full of programmes you are never going to watch, isn’t it?
Every now and again I do get on Netflix. I managed to watch all of Game of Thrones, I binged watched that! But it is hard to find things to help you switch off because you will be watching Netflix and then you will be thinking, 'Right, tomorrow when I’m doing that session I need to make sure I’m doing this with the wide players'. So it’s hard to switch off but I think as I progress, this is my first proper pre-season in the senior game and I think the more you do it, the better you will become at managing your own time and having more time for me, which is something that I’m not very good at currently.
Your family has to be very understanding, Jürgen Klopp was talking about it this week and he said the first person he went to was his wife when they won the European Cup because they see all those struggles. I often think of your dad because he’s a big football fan, a Liverpool fan, seeing his little girl do this. You’ll always be his little girl no matter what age you get to…
You are making me cry! My dad was there when I was at primary school and I was playing in the boys' football team and he always brings it up at Christmas. He says, ‘Remember when you walked out with the team and the parents are going, 'St John’s have got a girl playing in this boys team'?’ He was dead proud of that, so he has been on the journey with me. When I worked with England and when I’ve been with the younger age groups at Liverpool, he comes to every single game now, supports the women’s team. It’s funny because when we lose I don’t answer the phone to him for at least three days because I don’t want to hear his opinion! I say, 'Dad, you are an electrician, don’t tell me what the players did!'.
He just generally cares and I know that, with his eyes up in the stands, I always feel I’ve got that support. Sometimes I don’t really see him unless he is up in the stand and I’ll give him a little wave. He always drops me a text and I know we are out here now but he was keeping an eye on our first game the other day, he was asking me how did we get on. He’s just really keen and supportive. Yes, disappointed when we lose because obviously he wants everything to go well for us but he is really supportive and he is a proud dad.
What was his text like when he saw you walking down the steps from the plane with Klopp then?
He couldn’t believe it. He said, 'Wow, look at you and Jürgen, I’m so proud!'. So it was good to see that. He was really proud.
This is your team now, isn’t it? The big thing now is you take it forward with the new players that you have brought in. I know you lost Laura Coombs, which is a big disappointment, but these things happen as a manager. It’s about fitting those pieces in your jigsaw now…
Laura did a fantastic job last season, she was a catalyst and a leader, somebody I really enjoyed working with and I do wish her the best of luck at Manchester City. But we now have Jade Bailey in and she has got so much talent. Physically she just needs to get in a better shape. I know it’s only week two of our pre-season but it was exciting to see her on the pitch in our game in Notre Dame, and she showed what she can bring to our midfield. We also had Becky Jane and Mel Lawley playing their first games. Mel was exciting and she was the reason why we managed to come back and draw the game with her crosses from the wide areas, and Courtney Sweetman-Kirk got in on the end of it. They are the players that we need now to carry us forward definitely.
Like with the men’s team, you are competing with the likes of Manchester City. How do you compete with that then?
I think us coming out here on tour is a big statement. With Peter Moore’s support and the club’s support, from LFCTV, we’ve got the right backing that we need to keep pushing forward and catch up with where the others are up to. So that’s a massive push for us because it will help us with recruitment and we are now being backed by Liverpool Football Club. The second thing is making sure the environment is right. We’ve got to make sure we are an absolute football family. I know people throw that word around but we are a family! The girls are so close and the things we have been doing out here, team bonding and making sure they are all comfortable and happy and being pushed and challenged. They are really important things for players because sometimes managers treat them as footballers before they treat them as people. In the women’s game that doesn’t always work because you need to make sure you look after them as people as well as footballers. I think we get that right here.
I think we have got some great leaders in the team that help us push on as well that are quite humble. Our captain Sophie Bradley-Auckland is a fantastic captain with the youngsters and the older players that are in the team because she is ruthless when she has to be and she says it how is is. But she is also like a mother figure to the group and she is good at putting her arm around their shoulder and picking them up. So I think it’s a real positive environment for anybody to go and flourish in. For the likes of Mel [Lawley], who sat on the bench last season at Manchester City, I think this is a really good environment for her to go and flourish and showcase what she is about. Before I recruit a player, I need to know they are good people. We are a team and we are not about individuals and the three that have come in really fit into that ethos that we have got here at Liverpool.
Talk to us about your staff. How big a part do they play in giving you that support in making this team better?
The team behind the team are so important. Everybody has got to be on it because it’s an elite environment and we’ve got to make sure we are high performing, so I have to make sure I delegate well and I have a good filter with things I shouldn’t be doing. At the beginning of last season when I took over the job, I think sometimes I struggled to delegate and I wanted to do it all. Now we’ve got a full backroom staff to back us, the analyst knows what he needs to do, my assistant knows what she needs to do, we’ve got our strength and conditioning coach, our physio, the club doctor that helps out, a goalkeeper coach. Everybody is really clear as to what their roles and responsibility are to make sure the girls ultimately get everything they can possibly get to perform at their best.
What do you need from an assistant manager then? Sometimes it can be become difficult when you are in control of all of it, is your assistant Emma Humphries the polar opposite to you, in terms of personality and approach, or do you like somebody a bit like yourself?
We are very similar in some ways. I think I’m the bad cop and Emma’s the good cop! A lot of the time that’s the case and she is very laughy, jokey and relaxes the players. She is a good soundboard for me. So, even on the sidelines, if I’m getting worked up by something, I don’t like to verbally get it onto the pitch because it can have a negative effect on the players. She is my soundboard when I’ll call over and say, ‘I’m not happy with this or that!’. You get a bit annoyed as a manager when things aren’t going well, but she is very good at absorbing that and then I’ll say, 'Actually, you are right!'.
A good listener and a good soundboard is what you need in an assistant, but someone who is not a yes person and [has] got their own opinion and can actually give that advice when you call upon it. The girls absolutely love her as well so it works well. There’s no point in having an assistant that the players aren’t really taking on board or respecting because then it relies on you to do all of the delivery. I think it works really well.
All set then for September 8 when the Women’s Super League season gets underway against Reading. How ready will you be by then?
Becky Jane said you couldn’t write it really because we have just signed her from Reading where she was at for many seasons, Jade Bailey was there on loan, so those two are really looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to it because although you can’t wait for a little break, when you get your break you become bored and you can’t wait to get back again. Playing our friendly in Notre Dame was brilliant because I’ve missed that buzz on the sidelines. The girls have missed playing because no matter how many training sessions you do, there’s nothing quite like a competitive game. That one on September 8, we have got our eye on it and we are looking forward to making sure our processes are right, fitness is in the right place and we can go out and compete in that first game.
Finally, what are the aims this season?
We’ve looked at our season in phases, so it’s five games at a time and how many points we want to get from each phase. The players have been a part of that process and we have set goals for the squad. But for me, we have got to finish higher than was we were last season [eighth]. I think we have got players to add strength to actually do that. I think last season, with everything that went on, that was a good finish and we only finished one point behind where the previous team had finished the season before, so in hindsight that was a good achievement.
Now we’ve added strength and we’ve built a good foundation, everyone understands how everyone operates from staff and from players that we should be looking to finish mid-table and that’s what we want to do. And in the cup games, we want to get some silverware if we can. It may be ambitious but that’s what you’ve got to be when you are in elite sport – you’ve got to want to win. We want to do that for our fans as well.
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