After a successful period studying and playing in America and at Durham, Molly Sharpe has now established herself as one of the Championship’s most promising forwards. I have been fortunate enough to have some time to speak with Crystal Palace’s new signing to find out what makes her tick.
Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
So I’m originally from Bradford in West Yorkshire and lived there most of my life. I’m a Bradford City fan unfortunately, but we have had some good times! I’m a striker but started off as a midfielder when I first started playing.
Who was your biggest footballing inspiration while growing up?
To be honest, when I was young my female inspiration was probably Sue Smith, she was just so good at being in the right positions. My role model throughout my life is my mum, Janet. She’s always been there to take me to training and games even though she didn’t really enjoy watching football too much, she gave up so much for me to play.
Could you tell me about your experience at youth football?
So I started playing for my local team when I was about 5-years-old, they were called Thackley Ladies and I played with a lot of my friends there. Then I moved on the playing for Leeds United for a short stint before going to Bradford City. My favourite football memory would be probably scoring in the County Cup Final as a 16-year-old, we ended up winning it that year and the following year too.
I’ve been speaking to former Bradford City teammate, currently at Portsmouth, Rosie McDonnell. She was recalling times where you were at Thackley and she was at your rivals, Idle. She didn’t say which side tended to come out on top though?
Yes so I played against Rosie for a number of years, she’s probably one of the fastest players I’ve ever played against, baller. So yes I played for Thackley and she played for Idle and to be honest I think Idle actually won more games, they had a really good team. But then both teams formed together to form Bradford City so that was a really exciting time.
Rosie also told me that you spent a very short amount of time in the reserves before being promoted up to the first team?
Yes. So when our under 16 team made the move up the reserves we were all training with them and the first team would be on the next pitch, I always admired them because that was where I wanted to be. I played a few games for the Reserves before the manager, Steve Winterburn at the time, asked me to start training with the first team. If I’m honest I was terrified and I actually did ask to stay with the reserves because I didn’t think I was up for it, but he said he really wanted me there and it turns out that I had quite a successful career in the first team with the club I support!
How important was your time at Bradford City in your development?
Oh, I would say that was probably the most important part of my footballing career, the jump from playing with girls my own age to women of all ages was something that scared me, but made me so much better as a person as a player. I felt so privileged to be there and involved in the first team that I would give everything every single session to make sure I kept ok improving and make the girls and the manager proud for believing in me.
At what point did you decide that you wanted to move to the United States to study and play football?
Playing football overseas has anyways been in my thoughts since I started secondary school, and I knew the opportunities in America were like no other place in the world. I made sure I trained every day so that I would be good enough to be accepted for a scholarship over in the states when I got old enough.
Could you tell me about the process that you had to go through in order to do so?
So I basically used a company called Sports Recruiting USA to make the process of getting a scholarship in America much easier and more effective. I attended their showcase days where coaches from the colleges in America would attend and scout the players. Form this they made a video for me and sent them to different Unis there and, thankfully for me, a Uni in Miami called Barry University offered me a scholarship.
Did participating in football and building relationships with your teammates make the process of settling in much easier?
Oh definitely, at college you’re basically one big family with your teammates as you spend a lot of time with each other. I was really nervous when I first flew out because it was my first time being in America as it is, but going to a new place for months at a time was really scary. But the girls were amazing and really welcomed me in, and playing football every day in Miami wasn’t so bad either.
Were there times that you found it the most difficult being away from home and how did you overcome it?
Missing my Mum and Gran was probably the worst thing for me, not seeing them for months at a time was really hard. But to be honest, I was having the most amazing time it was worth missing them, and I got to come home at Christmas and summer so that really helped me a lot.
You spent four years away, did it become more difficult or easier as time went on?
It became easier definitely, the friendships I made got stronger and the football got better and better so there were many good things to look forward to constantly. I also got to go on trips and see other parts of America which was the most amazing experience.
What advice would you give to any young girls who are considering following in your footsteps by going away to study and play?
I would 100% encourage it, it not only improves you as a footballer but there are so many amazing things to experience while you’re out there. I loved my time there and if I could go back and do it all over again I absolutely would as it was the best four years of my life.
While at Barry University you picked up a host of awards including All Conference First Team, All Region First Team, CoSida Academic All American Second Team. While in your senior year, you were voted the Sunshine State Conference Offensive Player of the Year. How did it feel to be recognised for your personal contribution to the team?
Yes as time went on at uni I started winning more awards, but it was really because we had such a strong and competitive team. I was lucky enough to be leading the line up-front and scoring tap ins! It was an amazing feeling to be recognised because that’s what everyone works towards, everyone wants to win games and leagues and it is really important.
When you returned to the United Kingdom you signed for Durham. When did you first learn of their interest? Was it always important for you to find a team in the North so you can be close to family?
Yes I did. The manager got in touch with me when I was in my final year of uni in America and told me they offer a masters programme, and that was something I was really interested in whilst playing in the Championship. It was important because I’d been away for so long, I wanted to be able to see my family and friends as often as possible.
Is there one particular highlight during your time with The Wildcats that you’ll treasure the most?
I think my debut was probably my favourite memory, I started on the bench against Leicester and when I got subbed on I ended up scoring 2 goals, literally my dream debut! Either that or scoring against Everton in the FA Cup, scoring against a team like that was a massive deal for me.
With all of the Covid-19 issues, how did you stay fit and most importantly entertained?
So during lockdown I went back to Bradford to live with my Mum and Step-Dad so it was nice spending quality time with them, we watched different shows and baked a lot together. I live next to a canal so it’s a perfect place to go running, so I did that every day mixed with getting on the ball on the football pitch near my house. I thought it was time to relax and unwind.
How did you find the protocols on match days and the impact of there being no fans at matches?
No fans was tough because it’s always a driving force for a player I think. I suppose it was just something we had to deal with to be able to play football, which is what everyone wanted to do at that point. But having fans back really brought an atmosphere that we didn’t have for a full year.
This summer you’ve made the move south to Crystal Palace. Could you tell me what attracted you about making this move?
I am really excited about my move to London. They expressed their interest in me and when I spoke to Dean, James and the rest of the staff I thought it would be the best place for me to improve as a player, and the club has great aspirations to eventually make the move to the WSL which is something I would love to achieve with this amazing club.
How have you been settling into the area and the club?
I had never lived down south before this move so I’ve just been exploring the area, and London so far. It’s been unreal as I really enjoy being in places with a lot going on, and I feel like there is always something to do. The players at Palace have made me feel so welcome, and the staff have always been there if I need anything. All in all a great move for me.
You began the season turning a few heads with a 4-3 victory against Bristol City. With the match finely poised at 2-1 you provided your team with a bit of breathing space by creating the third goal from nothing, how did that feel on your league debut?
Yes, we were all so buzzing with the win! The assist on my debut was really good, I enjoyed it a lot. With the fans there too it was even better!
After the hard times of games being played behind closed doors how much of a difference did it make having fans back in the ground?
Yes like I mentioned it makes such an amazing atmosphere that is like nothing else, and with Palace having such loyal fans it just means that we want to impress them every game!
It is widely recognised that the Championship is the most competitive league within the Women’s Football pyramid. With everyone capable of beating each other on the day, do you see a scenario where it’ll be difficult for any team to build up a consistent run of victories? For me, I believe that it is going to be vital that teams take everything one game at a time.
I think this year especially it’s such tough completion, with more teams transitioning to full time it means the standard is just getting better and better in the Championship. I think you’re right, taking the games one at a time is important because if you get ahead of yourself I think it just makes it harder.
The women’s game is going through a lot of changes and I’d argue there are many more that need to be made in order to grow the game. For me, it’s the increased investment into the National League and opening up the pathway to climb the leagues, like the one up and on down system is not helping. But what do you think is the most important aspect of women’s football that needs to change?
I believe that the women’s game will keep on growing, and with added support from sponsors and men’s teams that are attached, it will continue to get bigger and bigger. It’s a really exciting time for young girls at this time because they can now dream of being a full-time footballer and it can become a reality if they work hard enough. Of course, the National League developing players is essential to improving the Championship and WSL as them players can then make the step up, and the standard can keep on getting better and better. Improved facilities and well-being support is getting better for women and it’ll keep ok getting better.