• The Villa Vision

Aston Villa's Nat Haigh talks Villa and playing in WSL!

“It’s where every female player aspires to ply their trade, so it is a real privilege to be able to say I am a WSL player”

When one thinks of sport and Cheltenham, the mind tends to jump to horses. As the home of jump racing, the town hosts numerous events and thousands of people over the year. But when looking at topflight football the mind can be left blank.

With the town’s club, Cheltenham Town FC, playing in League 2 (the country’s fourth tier) as well as their female counterparts playing in the fourth tier, the Premier League seems a distant dream.

Few know that Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Eric Dier hails from the Gloucestershire borough, but unbeknownst to most, the town has had another topflight footballer among its ranks.

Natalie Haigh, 27, originally of Wetherby (near Leeds) currently plies her trade with Women’s Super League club Aston Villa, and spent 4 years living in Cheltenham up until this season where she relocated to Birmingham in May to live her top flight dream.

“All I’ve ever wanted is to play football as a career."

“It is a real privilege to be able to say I am a WSL player”

Haigh was offered a one year contract after impressing on trial, having originally attended an open trial for two weeks and being invited back for a further six weeks during preseason. Villa manager Gemma Davies was impressed enough with the at the time Hartpury coach, whom she came to in 2017, and brought her on board to help the club storm to the Championship title.

Haigh recognises the impact life in Gloucestershire has had on her career, praising former employer Hartpury for their help and support during her first season at AVWFC.

“There are so many female players playing at a good level who are trying to juggle playing alongside full-time work

“They were great in terms of allowing me to be flexible with my hours. I was able to work from home one day a week, which allowed me to attend afternoon and evening training with Villa on one day, whilst training in the evening on two other occasions during the week.

“I was so lucky to be working at an institution such as Hartpury that promotes excellence in everything they do and are super supportive of both their students and staff members”

It was her time with the University and College that inspired her to take one more shot at her dream, saying that “Hartpury actually allowed and inspired me to give playing one more go."

Haigh originally came to the county to work as a Sport Development Officer at the University of Gloucestershire in 2015 alongside her studies for a MSc in Sports Coaching, her role developed into becoming a Football Development Officer and coach of UOG’s women’s football and futsal teams. She also played an integral role in the university becoming a Women’s High Performance Centre.

The former Leeds United defender also worked with the Gloucestershire FA as part of the girls’ Advanced Coaching Centre and the GFA Development Centre. Her time within the county’s football helped Haigh to build experience in women’s football at another angle, and all her positions helped to make her into the player she is today.

“All of these opportunities provided invaluable experience to work at different levels of the women & girls’ pathway

“All of these experiences really helped shape me in regards to the career I wanted to pursue

“I certainly wouldn’t be where I was now without all of these experiences combined”

Her time coaching within Gloucestershire has been integral in her development as a player, playing a key part in her ascension to the top flight.

“I was able to use my experiences as a coach to become more empathetic towards the coaches working with me as a player, trying to take every bit of information away from sessions as I could, questioning anything I wasn’t sure on and, ultimately, trying to work hard for them in the same way I would demand of the players I was coaching.

“There have been players I have worked with who have demonstrated characteristics I didn’t want to demonstrate as a player because I knew how frustrating and difficult they were to coach.”

Aston Villa Women currently sit in 11th, with two wins and six defeats from their opening 8 fixtures in the Women’s Super League. Haigh hopes to consolidate their place in the league and set the team up for a push to Europe in the next five years, but as she says, nothing can ever be expected in the WSL.

Article by: Ben Nichols

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