LWM Web header Test

FOOTBALL

THOUGHTFUL. PASSIONATE. CREATIVE.

Born in Bow, the Lioness’s journey from East London to the Emirates may not be far in terms of mileage, but her story is not measured in distance alone. The Gunner tells Pitch what lights her fuse. 

WORDS: Kieran Longworth 

Lotte's favourite song. Dreams by Fleetwood Mac. The perfect partner for this fascinating feature. Enjoy x

Sat inside a cold press building at Arsenal’s state-of-the-art training centre – looking out at frozen pitches and lifeless shrubbery – the glitz and the glam of professional football is somehow missing from this January morning in London Colney.

Lotte Wubben-Moy is just a 30-minute drive from where she grew up in the East End. It’s a part of the capital the 25-year-old still calls home. 

“You need to switch off sometimes,” the ball-playing centre-back says. “Being so close to home makes it easy. And the people I surround myself with tend not to take too much interest in football.”

“My dad’s Dutch and my mum’s English so obviously they both know what’s going on, like anyone else, but they’re by no means controlled by it. Like most kids in the Netherlands, cycling came first. I think that removed any pressure to perform.” 

Claire Moy and Antonius Wubben did however know about art. Her dad is a furniture maker and designer – he came over from Holland with only a backpack when he was 25 – and her mum works in the fashion industry. Creativity exists as a birth-given right in the Wubben-Moy household. By all accounts.

For many, the relationship between football and the creative world might not be an obvious marriage, but for the Lioness, the two go hand in hand. “If I wasn’t outside playing Kerby with my friends, we would spend hours at the kitchen table drawing the day away,” she says.

“Even now, I find joy in drafting ideas and sketches for my blog. I call it ‘The Lotte Little Things’ which feels appropriate, my writing doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s fun.”

Her artistry was recently buoyed by a 10-day winter break. And despite the well-earned rest, the right-footed central defender is keen to carry on her good form. She was announced the WSL Player of The Month in December – after the Gunners’ 4-1 win against table-toppers Chelsea last month – so it’s easy to see why. 

East London, she believes, “is the home of street football. I had my own creative world growing up. And I’m reminded of that every time I go home. Football is also an art form. It’s a space where you can create, express yourself and be free. When you make a pass, when you take a shot, you are the owner of that creation. And no one can take that away from you.”

She reminisces about being shouted at by angry neighbours for pelting balls against walls, and sometimes cars, eventually settling on ‘the cage’ as the place that shaped her. 

“The pitch was sunken into the ground and framed by a tall green fence. That concrete floor was my Emirates. It was a grim surface. But the beauty of football was still there. Broken floodlights and the bloody knees came with the territory.

 

 

“As a lifelong Gooner, I’d try to emulate Casey Stoney – another ball-playing centre-back – and Rachel Yankey. They possessed the London flair that I recognised on the football pitches at school, only this time it was on the turf of Highbury and the Emirates.

“I was just one of the kids playing football. No one cared that I was a girl. Just that I could play, and I wasn’t half bad at it. Football can cross boundaries like that, it creates common ground where similarities may be otherwise harder to come by.

“The way football intersects communities like that makes it so influential. So special. The game becomes your language.”

As far as her actual football goes, she is not the gnarled-up no-nonsense centre-back that you might expect from someone growing up playing on concrete. Far from it. 

The defender’s path to the professional game saw her Arsenal debut arrive at just 16 years old. And that’s despite trialling (and falling short) twice at the Centre of Excellence. 

Aged 18, Wubben-Moy took the “extremely hard” decision to leave after 13 appearances to play at the University of North Carolina for the Tar Heels. She says Anson Dorrance persuaded her, “he was the architect of the first US World Cup win in 1991. That just shows the levels over there. Leaving the professional game to play in the college system was no step-down. It was relentless.”

The centre-back references Barça and Spain linchpin Carles Puyol as the archetype of her game. And standing at five-foot-eight – as the Spaniard did on his way to six La Liga Titles – roaming forwards from the back, her manifestations couldn’t be closer to the truth.   

Watching her play, she is a conductor for the Gunners. An artist of sorts. Pulling the strings for those who sit in front of her.

“I have a license to express myself, it’s the Arsenal way,” she says. Having never fallen fowl to a red card, she’s an ever-present feature in manager Jonas Eidevall’s plans to win the league. And at the time of writing, the Gunners are poised just three points behind four-time defending champions, Chelsea. 

With as much said about her own abilities as she feels comfortable, the 25-year-old returns to speak about the game’s wider influence again. “Street football in London is resourceful. It is passionate. I try to bring that to the pitch. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, or what you’re about. The only question is: can you hold your own? Alright, we’ll see. Let’s play.

“Everyone has their own story. There is a nostalgia that helps understand where people come from when talking about football. Yes, there are a lot of barriers. But all you need is a ball and a pair of jumpers, and you can tear them down.

“Even for those that have already grown up, the psychological and societal benefits to playing are massive. The more we can keep people fit, the more we can find enjoyment in football, the more we will find enjoyment in life.

“My drive to training takes me past Hackney Marshes, its traditionally the proving ground for much of the Premier League’s best talent. You think of David Beckham and John Terry coming through there, it’s well storied land.

“I am noticing a revolution now, seven or eight years ago those fields were just full of boys. But now when I drive by, I see girls everywhere.”

Her observations are backed by numbers. A Sport England Active report published in December 2022 found that 777,000 girls play football in Blighty. Remarkably, that number represents an increase of over 100,000 from when the same survey was carried out in 2018. No doubt thanks, in part, to England’s Euro 2022 triumph.

The Lioness continues: “Women’s football is a wonderfully inclusive place, it’s a place where people feel at home. With that, there comes a comfort and an ability to be yourself. Players articulate themselves off the field and share more than any men’s player can.

“Football is a business yes. But the sport has two sides to it. We have to be careful not to put men’s and women’s football into the same bubble. For the positives and negatives of both sides.”

She considers that a product of the environments we are brought up in. The environments that we play in. Even. “I walk down into the canteen here and I have 25 sisters. Not colleagues.

“The by-products of being a professional female footballer are becoming more lucrative year on year.” Even still, male footballers in England get paid nearly 17,000 per cent more than their female counterparts.

“You can see the other side of that, with the pressures of professional life,” she adds, clearly ‘in it’ for the love of the game. “It’s all about finding the right balance. You don’t want to drive young girls away from football, having done all the hard work in making it accessible in the first place.”

Lotte emphasises the importance of studying the history of her sport. One year after more than 50,000 turned up to watch Dick, Kerr Ladies play St Helens, a ban was introduced to women’s football in 1921. “You look at that and see half a century where our game hasn’t been able to flourish.

“We haven’t been able to dream. We’ve been told ‘no’ so many times, that you invariably have to check yourself. But you look now, and the WSL is visible, it’s marketed everywhere. If we had that 10 years ago we’d be a damn sight further along.

“We are now at a point where the possibilities can go far beyond where most people imagine. That’s the beauty of where we’re going. That’s the beauty of football.

“With a club like Arsenal, it’s on a plate for us, it takes a village. And we truly have that. You’re looking at an Emirates stadium sold out, that doesn’t happen overnight.” As a marker for success, that’s 59,042 pairs of eyes watching their aforementioned victory against the Blues in December.

That latest achievement arrives after a series of consistently high attendances over the past two seasons. Selling out for their Champions League semi-final against Wolfsburg last May being the first. A game Arsenal lost, denying them of a first Champions League Final since 2007. 

Wubben-Moy reminisces about those 90-minutes with a surprisingly positive glow: “After all the hardships, all the setbacks, all the adversity, it just felt like we could do anything. Those landmarks are worth celebrating, I’ve never had more fun playing football in my life.

“We are part of change; we have a responsibility that comes with that. The way you hold yourself, carry yourself, and the way you speak is vital,” she stresses, and with that passing comment, it becomes apparent that the 25-year-old takes her position as a role model more seriously than most. 

“Growing up, and still living in East London you see a lot of deprivation, there are a lot of kids that don’t have anything more than the roof they live under. I’m constantly reminding myself of the privilege that I have. That guides a lot of my mentality and my want to do more. My desire to give back.

“Being a part of this club is like being a cog in a gigantic wheel, and it is turning. Turning in the right direction. Arsenal is active in Islington, Camden, and Hackney. It’s where Arsenal Women was born, and very much part of our DNA.” As a lifetime supporter of the Gunners, for her, that statement rings truer than most.

Her primary school teaching assistant, Paul Cox, was someone who gave up his time to help create a girl’s football team. “He recognised girls who wanted to play, and they didn’t have any opportunity to do so. That isn’t world-altering by any stretch, but it changed my life.”

Lotte now takes up the baton to help those communities. The contract she signed in April 2022 extended her influence far beyond football. Writing her principles in ink, she proposed that the club commit to running a programme in her name. 

 

Lotte Wubben-Moy shows her creative side off the field – in an England camp – with camera in hand. 

 

‘Time to Explore’ gives back to young girls. With creativity at the forefront of the campaign: literature, illustration, climate change, spoken word, and poetry make up its identity. Supported, in part, by football.

“Most of the kids have never been on a tube before. That goes to show the demographic we’re working with. Even just getting them to the Emirates feels like a point of significance.

“I wanted to share more about what makes me who I am. A lot of kids going to school can be standoffish about these creative topics. But using the vehicle of football to excite them – to get them involved in something they might not have experienced before – makes the whole project tick.

After helping England win the Euros, Wubben-Moy also led calls for all young girls to be allowed to play football at school. Now one year on from writing her letter to the government, the defender looks back at her journey since putting pen to paper.

“We were driving back from Trafalgar Square after sharing the trophy parade with thousands of fans. And I said to Leah (Williamson) that we need to create something concrete that will cement our legacy. You win the Euros. So what? It’s what you do with that privilege that really counts.

“We had Baroness Sue Campbell on board which was just so inspirational. Everyone can be excited about selling out stadiums, and of course I was too, but you have to be aware that many young fans didn’t have the opportunity to be their hero’s.”

Further still, the footballer set about devising a way for supporters to get involved collaboratively, even from the comfort of their own homes. Her solution was a colouring book, one that kids could fill out at their dinner table, or when following games on TV. 

“What excited me the most was that I know I would have loved something like that as a young girl,” she says on the project. “And if I’m just doing it for young Lotte, then that’s reason enough.”

The resulting book, Our Euros Your Colours, was followed by another iteration after the World Cup: Our Cup Your World. This time, the book revolved around breakfast – a nod to the early starting times of games for English viewers.

Admitting that she was bitterly disappointed to not feature in England’s eventual World Cup Final defeat to Spain last August, the defender maintains that her role off the field was one of equal importance. 

“Football can be so intangible at times; it just lives on the pitch. I want to focus on the tangible side of it, how people can hold on to it, and how it can stay with them for days, months and years to come.”

“Just being a Londoner makes me want to do it. The more influential people we have, the better the place will be. It’s hard to put into words because getting involved is just an instinct. But it fuels my days, and selfishly it gives me energy.

“The number of relationships I have gained through football, through sport, and in life, is beautiful. We can all be better, and we can do more, and I hope that fuels other people. There is so much more to life than just the mundane.”

With that philosophical conclusion, our conversation closes with a quick look ahead at what’s to come. “Winning the league is at the forefront of everyone’s mind here. Being a key part of that is my goal. Off the field, it’s an ever-growing ambition of mine to do more: helping, seeing, and building better communities. That’s how we can positively impact this planet.”

With the previously frozen pitches now thawed, our thoughtful and passionate creative now heads to training. Her lasting impact is one of inspiration. One of optimism. And one of change.

In Lotte’s eyes, there is no question. “Art is about being open-minded, being open to exploration and doing things differently. Often in sport, you’re put into a box, and the art of helping is very much the opposite of that. It’s less about being rebellious and more about working together and changing people’s minds and ideologies. Art and football are the most obvious vehicles for that change."

 

Stories of Modern Sport

...

Rocking The Rings

Paul Simpson offers up some unforgettable moments that transcended The Games.

Read Now
...

To Tommy

An infamous death, a career as one of Britain's greatest ever road racers, and a personality to match.

Read Now
...

A Bluffer's Guide to Le Tour

A chequered history but a glorious past, Pitch tightens the brakes on cycling’s most revered race.

Read Now

“Pitch is such an excellent title, and I think it's a great addition to the sports press. What I like about it is that it covers all sport, which is great, there was a gap in the market for that, for an all-round title. Excellent design too, the cover is beautiful. ”

Fernando Augusto Pacheco - Presenter ‘The Stack’ by Monocle

Mailing list sign-up

Be part of the Pitch community. For more about the current, next and future issues, sign up for our mailing list.

Pitch Magazine c/o STENCIL,
Floor 3, Antenna, Beck Street, Nottingham NG1 1EQ
Staff