Chelsea’s Erin Cuthbert: ‘I had to get up at five and be out of the house at six’

Erin Cuthbert’s dad, Steve, won’t let her win. Not kicking balls against a wall as a kid, nor playing golf now. “He always wants absolutely to beat me,” the Chelsea forward says with a laugh. “He said: ‘There’s going to be a day where you beat me and it’s going to be on merit.’ It’s the same with golf now. I’m working on my golf game. I’m going to try and beat him. Maybe next year.”

The 23-year-old pauses when asked whether that, and battling in boys’ teams, is where the terrier-like work rate and drive that have helped make her a fan favourite come from, or whether it has always been part of her.

“A little bit of both,” she says, before Chelsea face Arsenal in the 2020-21 FA Cup final on Sunday. “We talk about nature and nurture. It’s in my nature to never give up. Growing up in Scotland there weren’t a lot of professional players at the time. A couple – Kim Little had done it, hopefully I’ve followed along her path a little bit – but a lot of people don’t get out of my area [Irvine]. My area isn’t the poshest area, there’s a lot of poverty, it’s a rough area of Scotland, but I was lucky enough to have a family who always supported me and always took me everywhere that I needed to be.”

Her dad coached her too, at local boys’ clubs, and “was pretty brutal with me at times”, she adds with a grin. She played on girls’ teams as well: “I played Saturday and Sunday no problem.”

Playing with boys toughened her up and would create a fierce loyalty. “When I went to Crosshouse Boys Club and played 11-a-sides, when one of the boys in the other team kicked me, one of the boys on my team would want to go right through them, which I absolutely loved,” she says.

Erin Cuthbert taking on Tetyana Kitayeva during Scotland’s World Cup qualifier against Ukraine last Friday.
Erin Cuthbert taking on Tetyana Kitayeva during Scotland’s World Cup qualifier against Ukraine last Friday. Photograph: Andrew Milligan/PA

At Crosshouse she delivered revenge after a coach at a former team had told her she wasn’t physical or strong enough to play 11-a-side with boys. “That was a little bit of rejection. I said I wanted to go somewhere where I was valued. I went to Crosshouse and won the league, won all the titles and it was so sweet to beat them.”

From Crosshouse she joined the team she supported, Rangers, playing with boys and girls in the elite centre before the club launched a girls’ academy and she began working her way through the youth teams before making her senior debut at 15.

“I was part of the national performance group with the national team too,” she says. “I would go to the gym at seven in the morning, and it was an hour away so I had to get up at five and be out of the house at six, do my gym session with the national team players, then I would have a shower, be at uni for nine, be at uni all day and then train with Glasgow City in the evening. It was quite a drain on me because I worked on Saturdays to try and get myself some money to pay for my bloomin’ petrol.”

The move to Scotland’s premier side, Glasgow City, came in 2015 and a year later Chelsea signed her, reward for all the hard work. At 23, she has made 145 appearances for the club.

“I came down for a trial and by the time I got back to the airport – Emma [Hayes, the manager] dropped me off – I got into the Wagamama at Heathrow and there was a contract waiting for me in my emails,” she says.

Last season Cuthbert spent more time on the bench, with Hayes citing her among a group of four who struggled after the pandemic-stunted season.

“When you keep training and training and you’re not playing it’s really difficult,” Cuthbert says. “There was no escape … I had no way of separating my work and my life because there was no life at that time for anyone. So I did struggle.”

Erin Cuthbert runs at Manchester City during Chelsea’s win last month.
Erin Cuthbert runs at Manchester City during Chelsea’s win last month. Photograph: Paul Roots/SPP/REX/Shutterstock

Not being able to see family or socialise was difficult. “Also, there were a few things medically wrong with me at that time that meant I wasn’t able to perform at the highest level. I never will feel sorry for myself. I just needed to suck it up and get on with it. I made sure that this summer I enjoyed it to my fullest. I was following Scotland around at the Euros. I saw my beautiful country; I’d never had the opportunity to do that before.”

A full pre-season, after ankle injuries in previous breaks, helped. This year she got to go back to Rangers for a friendly too. “The amount of people that had Cuthbert 22 on the back of Chelsea shirts was honestly unbelievable.”

Now she has a new level of confidence. “Whenever I get the ball, I feel like I can do something,” she says. “Maybe last season, that’s where I went wrong. Because that’s not how I felt. I felt like every time I got the ball I had to pass to somebody else.”

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In Chelsea’s 4-0 defeat of Manchester City drew Hayes’s praise for “taking one for the team” and sticking to City’s Lauren Hemp.

“It’s it’s not ideal being shifted about different positions. I’ll be honest with that; Emma knows how I feel about that,” says Cuthbert. “But Emma also understands that I’m a versatile player and I can play different positions. Being a young player, being able to play all these different positions can only help you. But at some point you’re going to have to nail one down. I don’t want to just be doing all these positions, I want to be a specialist in one. But I’ll do whatever job I need to do for the team.”

Get to know the players in England’s top-flight better with our WSL player in focus series. Read all our interviews here.


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