Hibs star on SWPL transformation, lifelong fandom and Hearts clash

Shannon Leishman has racked up over 150 games for Hibs.Shannon Leishman has racked up over 150 games for Hibs.
Shannon Leishman has racked up over 150 games for Hibs. | SNS Group
‘It won’t just happen overnight, you have to work for it,’ says stalwart Leishman

Shannon Leishman has spent a large chunk of her life running about in a Hibs jersey. From being chased around the Famous Five Stand as a wee girl too young to appreciate the privilege/curse of being born into a Hibees family, to building a career with the first team, the wingback has come a long way. In a sporting sense, if not quite geographically.

And, even with 150-plus games under her belt, the 27-year-old is still applying the same principles that helped her take the giant leap from aspiring youth prospect to professional footballer. Hard work, obviously, has been central to her journey.

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Even as she prepares for tomorrow night’s SWPL derby clash with Hearts at Oriam, Leishman can still recall the conversations with coaches that prompted her to throw everything at making the grade with Hibs. Sometimes a spark is the only thing needed to set ambition alight.

That also applies, hopefully, to the growth of women’s football in Scotland. Where the example set by an increasing number of full-time clubs is intended to inspire the part-timers still finding their feet in the elite division.

Leishman, whose side gig with a supplier of football kit and equipment comes a very definite second to the prime objective of pushing Hibs up the table, said she’s seen clear development across the board, insisting: “I think, slowly but surely, we are getting there. I think we realise that us, Hearts, Celtic, Rangers and City, there is a lot of investment, time and thought put into these clubs. You notice the benefit of doing extra training, getting fitter, being together pretty much every day.

“You’re hoping this develops throughout the league, so it can reach the level of the WSL, which is a really competitive league, with every team training full-time.

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“You have to respect the teams within our league who don’t have that. Some teams, 95 per cent of their team probably work full-time jobs and then train at night.

“You have to thankful for the commitment they put in. Because, at the end of the day, they create this league. These players are what make the league.

“Some teams do take it for granted. But you look at the opposition some weeks knowing they are working full-time jobs; they are training until 10 at night.

“We have the luxury of coming in here from two o’clock and being away by six or seven. We spend that time together. Ultimately, that creates a bond within the squad.

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“You just hope we see more teams investing in the women’s game. I think we can only see the game going from strength to strength every season.”

Speak to enough elite athletes and you’ll find that, among a wide spread of personalities, every single one of them recognises their special status. They all experienced that one period in their life when it became obvious that they’d been blessed with enough talent to make a go of sport as a career.

Laughing when asked to describe that moment of realisation, Leishman said: “I think maybe when I spoke to Willie Kirk, was boss at the time, when I was maybe 14 or 15. Obviously he was the manager here at the time, and I think Chris Roberts was his assistant.

“He spoke to me and said: ‘I’m going to start bringing you up to the first team squad for training.’ I was one of a few from that squad who got that opportunity.

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“That’s when it initially clicked with me, knowing that they’ve been watching and that they’ve been impressed. To train within that environment was great.

“Just them speaking to me, telling me that the next season could be my season if I kept working hard, that is when it clicks. And you do realise that hard work is the key.

“Because talent is one thing. But it doesn’t just happen. It won’t just happen for you overnight, you’re a work in progress.

“When you go into that first team environment, you immediately see the difference in standards. But you do eventually click on and notice things other players do, things you can add to your game.”

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With help and words of wisdom from older players, Leishman adapted quickly enough. Being part of a team environment – one of the reasons she enjoys the part-time job with Football Nation, a company known to anyone who works in the game – has helped.

And, of course, there’s an added incentive for the girl from Musselburgh, who explained: “Growing up, you always think about playing for the team you support. To be playing every week, training every week at this facility, it’s amazing.

“My dad has been a Hibs fans since he was a wee boy. I’ve got an older brother and we’ve both been season ticket holders at Easter Road since a very young age, sat in the Famous Five Stand. Growing up, it was nothing but Hibs.

“My first game at Easter Road? I was probably five or six, very young, and my dad probably spent the game chasing me about the seats, to be honest!

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“We’ve won a fair few trophies, had a couple of Champions League experiences. They are key moments in your career, taking that extra jump and realising an ambition.

“The season before I was in the first team, they played Bayern Munich at Easter Road. I went from that one season, to actually playing in the competition the next. It felt like it changed overnight, just a flash and you were there.

“It’s a surreal experience. You watch the Champions League on the telly at night. Then you’re playing in the tournament. It’s so weird.”

Hearts at Oriam may not hold quite the glamour. But it’s still important, with Hibs three points behind their nearest rivals, Leishman saying: “Everyone knows what the derby is like. There is always that extra buzz when you’re facing your local rivals, not just on game day – it starts in training.”