Interview: Vyan Sampson

During this lockdown period I’ve had the chance to catch up with London City LionessesVyan Sampson. She talked about who her inspirations were when she was growing up and an inspiring story about an injury. London City Lionesses were a newly formed team this season and Vyan joined them on loan from WSL side West Ham United. The outcome of the 2019/20 Championship season meant that Aston Villa would be promoted and Liverpool would be relegated into the Championship next season. In their first season as a Championship club London Lionesses placed fourth in the league with 26 points.

Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I am 23 (24 in July) and from south-east London, Lewisham to be exact. I am a centre back or holding midfielder preferably but can do a job anywhere. I support Arsenal.

Who was your biggest footballing inspiration growing up?
My female footballing inspiration was Rachel Yankey. I was drawn to her the first time I saw her play and she was one of the few black female footballers I could look up to. My male footballing inspiration was Thierry Henry. I used to be a striker when I was younger and he was just a joy to watch. He ran the Prem with ease.

In 2015 you signed for Arsenal, how did they help you to develop as a player?
I came through the Arsenal Centre of Excellence so a lot of things I learnt at youth level was modelled off the first team so to be able to take those things into senior football helped me massively. The style of play suited me and my attributes as I love having the ball at my feet and playing in a team that dominates possession.

What made you want to leave Arsenal and sign for West Ham? What attracted you to the club?
They lost faith in me due to my injury troubles and I knew I wasn’t done with football. I wanted to be in an environment that would help me get back on the pitch and be healthy. I was training at West Ham for a while and instantly I felt really positive about the team and the staff gave me a lot of confidence to be back out on the pitch so it made the decision to sign there really easy.

Photos: Edward Payne and @vvsampson

What’s been your biggest set back so far in your career and how did you overcome it?
In 2014 I had to have surgery on my knee to rectify a mobile meniscus, something the surgeon assumed was genetic. I was experiencing knee locking from around the age of 7 but didn’t really know what it was. The locking was getting more frequent the older I got so after a more thorough investigation when I was 17 the issue was found and I was operated on. The recovery from that was hard as it wasn’t a very common issue dealt with especially as a sports person so the recovery methods to get back playing were still not well known. Long story short I spent the best part of 4 years trying to get back to full fitness. I had another surgery in 2017 to help with another issue I developed as a result of the physio methods used and that set me on my current path.

How have you been finding the difference of playing in the WSL to playing in the Championship
Personally I felt a big difference. For example, the pace of the game and the tactical changes involved game to game. I didn’t improve so much this season in terms of the things I could learn in game but more so in my qualities off the pitch as well as my leadership.

London City Lionesses are a newly formed team, how do you think you and the team have settled into the Championship?
The team have settled in fine. Most of the girls have played in WSL 2 or had experience in WSL 1 before so the first season at London City was nothing different in terms of the football. We didn’t get maximum points from a lot of big games and that is where we lost out rather than collective inexperienced in the league.

You represented England at Under 17 and Under 19 level. What was that experience like?
It was an eye-opening experience for me. Meeting and playing with girls all over the country. The different playing styles coming together. It was hard at times as you would have to adapt the way you play to suit the coaches philosophy. That is the nature of football though so it was good for me to experience that at a young age.

How have you kept yourself entertained during lockdown?
Lockdown has been ok for me. I get up in the morning do the workout I need to do then chill for the rest of the day. Training itself has been ok but it gets boring after a while doing it alone especially the football stuff.

I’ve been riding my bike a lot all over the city which is nice because it’ so quiet and the air is a lot clearer.

Which player have you learnt the most from so far in your career?
Rachel Yankey, She was my idol growing up and luckily I got to meet her and play with her. I would say she had a big influence on me as a player, she taught me a lot personally about both football and life. She’s very humble and has a lot to give to the game. I’m grateful to be able to call her a friend.

Who’s the most underrated player you’ve played with or against?
I would have to say Drew Spence. Drew’s a very good all-rounder and doesn’t get enough credit for her abilities. She’s started over the years in a very good Chelsea team and should be playing for England. She gets goals, can pick a pass and works hard for her team. It’s very crazy that she doesn’t have many call ups.

If you could pick a 5-a-side team of players you’ve played with, who would you pick and why?
Jade Bailey (Liverpool), Freda Ayisi (London City Lionesses), Gemma Davidson (Tottenham), Rebecca Spencer (Tottenham) and myself. We could play rush goalie as well with Bec’s as her footwork is amazing. It’s a team of composed ballers.

Do you have any pre-match rituals or superstitions?
I don’t have any superstitions!

This interview was conducted before West Ham United announced that Vyan’s contract would not be renewed. I am in no doubt that her phone will be blowing up with offers with plenty of exciting opportunities and we are excited to see what the future holds for Vyan.