Four years ago, aged 15, Emily Ramsey was being forced to prepare for life after Manchester United. Now she wears the No 1 shirt for the club she had no future at.
The goalkeeper and lifelong United fan joined them aged eight, having played for a local boys’ side at six, but with her 16th birthday looming the end of the love affair with her team was in sight – and not because she was not good enough.
United were two years from launching a women’s team and though they had a youth setup, they had continued to publicly distance themselves from talk of a change in approach. It meant Ramsey, like a host of players who had played their way through United’s centre of excellence, had to begin talking to other clubs.
She ended up at Liverpool. “I remember my dad saying he wasn’t going to get a scarf or a shirt,” Ramsey says with a laugh. “He always came down and obviously wanted me to win but it was weird. But at that point, I had no options. If I wanted to get good game-time then I’m going to have to go to one of the clubs I don’t particularly want to play for in terms of rivalries.”
Ramsey became understudy to the former England goalkeeper Siobhan Chamberlain. In defence was the former England centre-back Casey Stoney.
Ramsey says it was “the best move for me at that time”, because she got to stay at home, but it also helped ensure she would return to United.
With Stoney recruited to build a team from scratch in June 2018, Liverpool were raided and seven players moved to United, including Chamberlain and Ramsey.
Ramsey sits behind the England goalkeeper Mary Earps in the pecking order at United, who recruited her after Chamberlain announced her pregnancy, departure and then retirement, but being handed the No 1 shirt at the start of the season shows that Stoney sees Ramsey as a core part of the future.
On Wednesday Ramsey had hoped to get her second start of the season, at Everton in United’s second Continental Cup tie, but the match was postponed less than eight hours before kick-off because of a safety concern at the stadium. In her first start, a bruising 3-1 defeat by Liverpool, Ramsey did little wrong and was not at fault for the Championship side’s goals.
She is proud she has “come the whole way up the ladder” and loves the fact that she and other academy graduates now back at United are able to be the inspiration for girls in the academy in the way players such as Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood are for the boys.“It’s great,” she says. “When I was younger Millie Turner, [Everton’s] Gabby George, there were so many players in the WSL that had come through the pathway at United and then were off playing with other teams.
“We were creating some of the best young players in England and now they’re coming straight in to bolster us.
“It’s what the club’s all about: the class of 92 … we’re all about the hunger and talent. It’s something that I see as being really important to being a United team.
“They know the United way, how we want to play and the values of the team. It makes that transition so much easier and it means teams in the future will have the United DNA we want in the players. That’s always something that I wanted and it’s always something that I admired of the men [when I was] growing up, watching them and seeing local players that lived near me. It gives you that extra fire in your belly.”
United “feels like a second home” but Ramsey’s journey has not all been of the fairytale variety. Whereas other young keepers such as Manchester City’s Ellie Roebuck, Sandy MacIver of Everton and Birmingham’s Hannah Hampton have, through a combination of fortunate timing and injury to others, secured enough game-time to prove they are worthy of being first choices, Ramsey has had to be patient.
An elbow injury in training before last season meant she did not make an appearance until December. In January she signed a new deal before joining Sheffield United on loan but made only two appearances before the season was prematurely concluded.
The contract and having, in Stoney, a manager who “always had my back and has always had a plan for me” have ensured Ramsey is not disheartened or distracted by the development of others. The environment among United’s keepers is fiercely competitive.
“We have a really good little goalkeepers’ union,” she says. “We always celebrate and support each other if we’re training well. We always try and bring each other up if we’re not having a good session. It’s not nasty. It’s not difficult to be in. It’s a great environment. If I’m training well, that makes Fran [Bentley] and Mary train better. If they’re training well, it makes me train better.
“I might not be playing, but I still have to mentally be prepared to come on in the first minute because it could happen, and then I need to make sure that the goalkeeper that is playing is prepared to the best as can be. I can’t let my personal feelings of not playing or wanting to be playing affect that, because at the end of the day, it’s for the team.
“If I’m not in that mindset, then ultimately it will affect the rest of the team and could affect the outcome of the game.”