Interview: Leicester City’s Kirstie Levell

Photo: @KirstieLevell97

I caught up with Leicester City‘s Kirstie Levell after she signed for the club this season from Everton. We discussed her decision on why she chose Leicester and how hard of a decision it was to leave Everton, a bit about her career and what inspired her growing up.

Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I am a 23-year-old goalkeeper from Birkenhead (The Wirral) and I love it here. This is my first season at Leicester City and have previously been at my childhood club which was Everton, I was there for ten years. Although people are always been shocked that I am a Liverpool fan.

A few facts about me:
– I have a uni degree in sports development
– I black belt in karate.
– I love hot foods like chicken vindaloo!
– When I was younger I always wanted to become a vet.

Who was your footballing inspiration growing up?
Firstly it was my mum and dad for dedicating me all of their time and money to travel to all my football teams and buy all the equipment I needed as a goalkeeper. Secondly it was my brother. I had a disabled brother with brain damage who could not talk so he was rarely able to do any sports, especially contact sport, so I felt like I really was playing for him and do what he would have loved to do.

Photo: @KirstieLevell97

What made you want to become a goalkeeper?
I used to play out with all the lads in my street and go for a kick about on the Astro every day. My dad also used to take me to the park for a kick about and one day I put some gloves on whilst he volleyed the ball at me and turns out I was quite good. A. guy came over from a boys team and asked if I wanted to train with them. I was originally a striker but none of the lads wanted to go in goal so I tried it and I’ve never looked back since.

How did you find lockdown and not being able to train with a team?
I was actually very lucky in terms of facilities during lockdown. I am surrounded by quite a few fields, parks and Astro turfs which I was allowed to use for my fitness programmes whereas others might not have been able to gain access to things like that. I really embraced the lockdown to keep on top of my goalkeeping and fitness but I really did miss the girls and the team environment. I was also joined by Chantelle Boye-Hlorkah who is Everton’s number 7 so I always had her smashing balls at me! I also loved spending time with the family but there are only so many times you can walk your dog haha.

You’ve spent a lot of your career at Everton, how much did you learn from there?
I will always be thankful to every coach for my time there because they have helped me become the goalkeeper I am today. I think I had a different goalkeeping coach every season so I’ve learned to adapt to a lot of working environments but have always loved being part of the ‘gk union’ we call it. I have always learnt that when you get an opportunity or chance to play, you’ve got to grab it by two handstands give it your all 100% because your place is never really fully secure. There is always other goalkeepers pushing you for your place and knocking on the manager’s door to show that they should be the goalkeeper playing etc.

Was it a hard decision to leave Everton and take the next step in your career?
Absolutely! It’s a place I called home. It was just around the corner so lucky for me I’d finish football and go home to my family every single day. It’s a very friendly place which Liverpool as a place is known for so you can be yourself. Which also means when you are relaxed in this type of environment you can show your full potential here. I also have friends for life there and I’ve always had coaches that really push me and the players to get the best out of us so it’s a very competitive environment. The facilities are unbelievable so I wanted to make sure that where ever I went next matched this kind of lifestyle for me.

What made you want to join Leicester, what attracted you to the club?
I think firstly the fact that it’s called ‘Leicester’. It’s a really well-known club.

Secondly, the manager bought into me from an early stage even before I signed so I knew they believed in me which is always a good start. Thirdly when I heard what their goal was, I really wanted to go on that journey with them especially when they have just turned full time I wanted to be part of the new project. I have also been lucky enough to experience promotion back in 2017 with Everton playing every game so wanted to bring my experience to this league and team. Along with this I also knew a few of the girls signing and a few of the older faces from England camps so I knew the potential this team was going to reach and already had.

Leicester went full time this season, how big is that for the club?
It’s an amazing achievement for the club but one that is completely deserved. It’s a very well run club as well as being financially stable which is important to meet the requirements of a full time club. You may of seen Emile Heskey has also joined as club ambassador. I think this shows exactly the direction the club want to go and what we want to achieve.

What is the belief within the team about what you guys can achieve this season?
The belief and morale is really high. I think you’ve got to set high standards in order to achieve things. I think you’ve also got to look at the recruitment of all the new players. Thos of us that have came from WSL1 want to bring our experience and get this club to where they should be. Not only that we want to bring our encouragement and confidence to help the younger ones push on and create a really competitive environment.

Photo: @KirstieLevell97

How do you think the Championship will be this season?
Looking at the table right now even after 2 games it’s really really tight. You can’t underestimate any team in this league as most teams do feature several stand-out players. I think the season is going to be very very close with a lot of teams pushing for promotion and a lot of teams wanting to showcase what they can really do.

With all the signings announced in England this season how big is that fir the growth of the English leagues?
My twitter was absolutely crazy this year for the transfer window with all of the new signings. There are some huge stars that have now joined the English leagues and shows just how big these leagues are to attract these types of players. I think as soon as fans are allowed back in stadiums to see all these teams playing live and once COVID has gone the growth of women’s football in England is only going to increase dramatically.

What was it like to be able to represent England at Under 17,19 and 23 levels?
I think for me I didn’t take the younger age groups as serious as I should have but as the age groups went on I really did go away from camps telling myself ‘Kirst you really do need to work on your overall fitness and you’re not just there to socialise’ and that’s what I believe I done which helped me keep gaining future selections.

Do you have any re-match rituals/superstitions?
I have GOT to eat this Kellogg’s granola which has chocolate pieces in for every pre-match meal. Also really strange some might think but this season I have gone and bought 3 small crystals which are in my match day bag and they represent different things but they’ve been lucky for me so far so they’re staying in there.

What advice would you give to young keepers who want to make it pro?
I would say not only work on the things you think goalkeepers are supposed to do. So these days to be the ‘modern-day goalkeeper’ you have to have good feet and range of distribution. I don’t think this gets practised enough by female goalkeepers so this would be my piece of advice along with you will have to make sacrifices in your teenage years if you do want to become the best but it’s so worth it.

If you had to pick a 5 a side team based on players you have played with who would you pick and why?
So I’m going to be dead biased and say myself. Then I would have Millie Bright because I know she’s not just a defender, she scores decent goals too. Then I’d have Chantelle Boye-Hlorkah and Beth England up top because they’re just goal machines with every part of their body. And then I’d probably be greedy and have Lauren Hemp in there too just for even more goals and she’s the fastest player out there. (I don’t plan to do much defending in this five a side team).

Photo: @Lauren_Hemp

What would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?
Probably reaching the semi-final of the FA Cup with Everton against Arsenal although we lost on pens, reaching the semi-final of the Euros at under 17s VS with England.

When you feel low and down what is it that picks you up and keeps you going?
I like to speak about how I am feeling so I would probably send a few voice notes via WhatsApp to a few friends just explaining how I am feeling and ask for their advice. I would also go on a nice long walk with my dog. If it’s really football related so fr example if I’d just conceded a really bad goal, I will watch it a few times and then I will watch some of my best saves which my agent made for me. I always like to finish on a positive so I can get the bad memories out of my head.

What do you hope to achieve by the end of your career?
I would like to be an established International goalkeeper whether that be for England or Scotland. I’d of loved to of won a few league titles at this point too and I’d also like to win a Champions League final that would just be unbelievable!

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