Hibs Women goalkeeper Gabby English on Edinburgh derby, moving to Scotland, and inspiring the next generation
After swapping her homeland for Portugal and then finding a proposed move to Scotland held up by the coronavirus pandemic, facing Hearts in a record-breaking women’s derby at Easter Road should be a relatively straightforward experience for Hibs’ American goalkeeper Gabby English.
The Florida native finally joined up with her new team-mates in the Capital in July after signing a pre-contract at the start of the year – even if the plan was to be here sooner.
English had joined Boavista from Mississippi State University but she was eager to try Scotland after learning of Hibs' interest, only for the pandemic to hold up the move.
“My original plan was to come here last January and then Covid put a big dampener on the season. So I went back home and while I was there, I had the opportunity to play and train with my hometown club Orlando Pride,” the 24-year-old told the Evening News in an exclusive interview.
"Initially it was for two weeks, then two weeks turned into signing a short-term deal before going to Scotland.”
Hibs success ‘intriguing’
English was one of three American players to sign for Hibs Women ahead of the 2021 season with forward Alexa Coyle and defender Toni Malone completing the US trio.
"I was looking to play somewhere new, and I had heard of Hibs before,” English added.
"The amount of success their women's side has had was very intriguing. I mean, if you look at their stats, their wins, league cup wins, appearances in the Champions League.
"I was striving to make that next step in my career and I thought, what better place to go than Hibs?
"It’s been an easy transition on its own but there’s something to say for having people from your home area in a new place – it’s like a little bit of home is near you, even though we didn’t live close to each other in the States.”
Move to Scotland
There was plenty of advice about making the move to the Scottish Women’s Premier League, revealing that anyone she had played alongside or been coached by who had experience of the Scottish game wasted no time in encouraging her to seize the opportunity.
"Every single one told me, ‘Oh my gosh Gabby, you need to see Edinburgh, it’s the most beautiful city’ so when the football and location combine it’s like a dream.
"So I was in contact with Dean [Gibson, head coach]; I believed in his process, I believed in the team, I believed in the organisation so it sold itself.”
It was a whirlwind few months as English left Boavista after a short spell to return to the Sunshine State ahead of her proposed summer move to Hibs.
"Portugal was a great experience; I was living somewhere new and there was a little bit more of the language barrier but I definitely got by. Playing football abroad, we all are speaking the same language through sport but also it’s a chance to broaden your horizons and learn about people from different cultures,” she explained.
"American football is so big back home so being able to come to places where people really appreciate the craft of football and genuinely love their clubs… that’s something you can’t get back in the US.”
Learning from the best
Returning to Orlando may not have been part of the plan but English can’t speak highly enough of her short stint with the team as she joined a goalkeeping unit featuring women’s football icon and two-time World Cup winner Ashlyn Harris, and veteran Canadian No.1 Erin McLeod. There was no shortage of learning curves or support for English at the Exploria Stadium.
"I was training with some of the best in the world, learning what it takes to get to that top level,” English recalled.
“Each day I went in with an open mind just wanting to learn. Ashlyn Harris is a multiple World Cup winner and just an incredible human and goalkeeper, and Erin McLeod just won a gold medal in Tokyo and is so professional and they took me under their wing. They really prepared me to get to that next level.”
Football rivalries and big crowds
English is likely to start in tonight’s historic Edinburgh derby under the lights at Easter Road, with more than 6,000 spectators expected for what Hibs hope will be a turning point in the women’s game. She is eager to sample the atmosphere and compare it to her previous experience of football rivalries.
"Everybody talks about the weight of the game and how important and exciting it is. There's truly nothing like hometown rivalry so I'm really excited,” she continued.
"A little bit over 2000 is the biggest crowd I’ve ever played in front of so this beats the record.
"When I was playing at Mississippi State we would play Ole Miss [University of Mississippi] in the Magnolia Cup and that’s when it just means more.
"It’s such a fun environment and it almost has the weight of a championship game with the people, the atmosphere. I can’t even put it into words.”
Inspiring the next generation
English feels she hasn’t been in Scottish football long enough to make waves just yet but she does have one hope for tonight and the rest of the season.
"I think it’s so important for parents to get their kids, especially girls but boys as well, out to the games and inspire that next generation.
"I remember going to Orlando Pride games and thinking, ‘I want that to be me one day’ so tonight, I want a 10-year-old and 11-year-old sitting in that stand, turning to their parents and saying, ‘I want that to be me in ten years’.
"I think it's amazing what Hibs are doing to just inspire that next generation, and investing in our team and also investing in the future of the girls to come through and really get this club growing. And I want to help inspire that next generation too.”