Overlooked Lionesses: Sophie Baggaley

One of the biggest frustrations for Bristolian sports fans in the 1990s was how Gloucestershire County  Cricket club’s legendary wicketkeeper Jack Russell didn’t receive more appearances England caps than his ability deserved. This was due to players from more fashionable teams being selected above him. Fast forward twenty years and we have a similar sporting issue with another ‘Keeper’ in the City but there the similarities end.

22-year-old Derbyshire born Goalkeeper, Sophie Baggaley, and affectionately referred to as ‘Baggers’ by her legion of fans at Bristol City. She has represented her country at youth level but yet to earn her first senior Lionesses cap.

Baggers has been in breathtaking form since joining from Birmingham City on loan in 2017. A permanent deal followed twelve months later.

Baggers turned plenty of heads outside of Bristol after the game against Arsenal, which was also shown on the BBC. The match ended as a draw thanks to a series of fantastic saves. This form continued for the rest of the season.

It was her second season were she came to prominence, especially in a memorable night against Chelsea where she had the game of her life keeping out Fran Kirby and her superstar teammates in a 0-0 draw.

Baggers proceeded to pick up the WSL player of month award for September after being the standout player in the Vixens stellar start to the season.

We all assumed an international debut was imminent but still England coach  Phil Neville continued to rotate between Karen Bardsley and Carly Telford. Neither of whom are first-team regulars. Even Mary Earps was called up and at the time she wasn’t getting the minutes on the pitch with Wolfsburg.

After further consistent performances, including a brilliant clean sheet against Birmingham in January during Mark Skinner’s farewell match in a  1-0 win which helped her pick up her second WSL player of the month award for the season, we were all shaking our heads as she remained in the international wilderness when a young goalkeeper was selected it was Ellie Roebuck who was again not an automatic pick at her club, Manchester City.

The World Cup came and went without Baggers even in the discussion which baffled many. Especially as she was named in the WSL team of the season! It was evident now that Neville has his favourites and also won’t pick players from clubs outside the top four. This is a dangerous policy to have as it gives no incentive to players playing for smaller clubs and it also sends the message to them that they have to move to a bigger club to gain international recognition, as was the case with Aofi Mannion who was only selected for Neville’s England once she had moved to Manchester City from Birmingham City in the summer, despite already putting in outstanding performances in the previous eighteen months without reward.

The straw that broke the camel’s back for me was when Sandy MacIver an unknown young English keeper playing for NCAA team Clemson Tigers, was select above Baggers. I felt this was extremely unfair on Sophie who must wonder more she has to do?!

I am very grateful she has re-signed for us and once again has been our standout performer my only hope is that Neville’s days are numbered and she will have a fairer shot at the England number one jersey with a new manager.

Richard Paish
harvpaish@yahoo.com