England Under-20 star Lilli Maple has made the bravest decision of her young career, so far.
Instead of sitting tight at Women’s Super League 2 side Millwall Lionesses, she’s made a small step downwards – to join Crystal Palace of the Women’s Premier League.
“It was a massive decision for me,” she said.
“It was very hard. I’ve been at Millwall since I was 17, they gave me my debut in the WSL, they gave me a chance to get into the England set-up.
“All I knew was Millwall – but for me, I felt this was the right decision.”
And signing for Palace was also a straightforward choice. She had initially thought she might take some time to find the club best suited to her ambitions – but in the end, it did not take long at all.
“The girls at Palace were just so welcoming,” Maple added.
“They said, ‘You have to join. This is the best and toughest league – you’ll come out having proved yourself, and you’ll enjoy it.’
“That was amazing. That’s all I want – I want to improve, and to enjoy my football.”
Maple is not the only player with WSL experience choosing to switch to the WPL. With the summer season stretched out for the best part of nine months, games are infrequent, and for young players wanting to catch the eye, they’re simply not getting enough match practice.
“I needed a change to improve myself,” she admitted.
“I wasn’t going to grow as a player or a person. It’s too irregular. It creates irregularity in the team – managers want to change things, and if you’re not in the side, England can’t watch you, and it’s all a bit of a pain, really.”
Maple is returning to university next week – she studies Sports Coaching at the University of East London, where she’s also an integral part of their football team.
She’s looking forward to aligning her club football with her university football – running across the winter and finishing in spring, rather than playing through the summer.
“I haven’t really got used to the summer league,” she confessed.
“I’ve missed the winter season a lot. I’m really excited about that!”
*Carrie Dunn is SHOOT’s Women’s Football correspondent. Her book ‘The Roar of the Lionesses: Women’s Football in England’ is out now – available in all good bookshops.*