Millie Daviss, 20, first joined Norwich City three seasons ago. Since then, she’s carved an impressive record for herself in the club, becoming the vice-captain last season, and going on to replace the leaving captain at the season’s end. It didn’t hurt that she was voted the player’s player of the season last year as well and unlike the headline may suggest, she plays in midfield.
But turn back the clock and it becomes apparent that it’s been a much longer journey than merely her three-year run with Norwich City, starting from the time when many of us were kicking a beaten-up ball around a school playground at lunch break.
“I’ve always loved [football] really,” she tells me. “My dad is a big Norwich fan as well so that steered me towards football. I used to go and watch Norwich games. I just really enjoy it, and I’ve always had that kind of passion for the sport.”
Daviss started playing for a professional team when she was 16, joining Lowestoft Town, “and then I got asked to join Norwich, three seasons ago now.”
For the entirety of Daviss’ time at university she’s been playing for the team, but as a PE student the inclusion of professional sport in her weekly timetable isn’t too much of a clash.
“I feel a lot more organised than I did last year, so it’s going quite well at the moment,” she says.
Even so, the time spent training can be a lot to manage, particularly when you have to juggle the schedules of multiple teams.
“I’m doing a lot at the moment. I also play for the UEA women’s team on occasions. Norwich [City] trains twice a week. Match day is usually on a Sunday, sometimes on a Wednesday. And then obviously you’ve got lectures and everything in between that, things that need to be handed in on time.
“You’ve also got the [UEA] women’s training, matches are always on a Wednesday, and then you have their training twice a week.
“I’m also futsal captain at UEA. So yeah, I’m juggling quite a lot.”
But in spite of her dedication to the sport, Norwich has had a less than amazing start to the 2019-2020 season so far. The team managed only two wins, 4-2 against Basildon in their first game of the season back in August, and 6-2 against Kent at the end of September.
Daviss believes a shake-up of the team is largely responsible, and looks forward to seeing more positive results as the team grows in confidence and cohesion over the coming months.
“I feel like we got a lot of new players come in and I think now we’ve settled and we’re gelling together it makes it a lot easier to play,” she says.
“You know how people are going to play. I know it sounds silly but you know what kind of passes they want to their feet and you just know how to play with each other once you’ve played a few more games together.
“I think our problem at the start of the season was people were on holiday. There was no set squad, especially for the first team. Players were coming up and they weren’t quite sure how we played. But now we’ve got a set squad. Rules have been put in. If you’re not here then you will play for the reserves.
“We just need the commitment and I think we’re getting that from the girls, which is really good. So hopefully we’ll figure it out.”
Her optimism for the team’s future is expressed clearly in her confidence for their upcoming match against Cambridge United, which was held later that day.
“We had a training session last night and I think spirits are high. Confidence levels are also high, so that’s always good. Yeah, we’ve just got to go out and absolutely smash it tonight.”
The result of that game was a 2-2 draw. Whilst it may not have been the win the Norwich Women’s captain was hoping for, it wasn’t a loss. Optimism is a trait important to Daviss as a captain. Speaking about her role, she says, “I’m quite a positive person and I think that helps the younger girls a lot.”
It’s one of the things she feels separates her from previous captains, helping make new players feel more at home and making sure the team feels comfortable in each other’s company.
“I’d say I’m quite inclusive. There used to be social groups for the young ones and the senior players and a kind of middle group but now I think we’re very conjoined.”
Daviss has been all over the country with the club, playing in stadiums ranging from Felixstowe against rivals Ipswich to Leyton Orient at Brisbane Road as well as several venues in London. A personal highlight of hers was a one-off match at the MK Dons’ home ground.
“It’s quite newly built, and the changing rooms are really nice,” she says. “It was a one off, but MK Dons was probably the best part.”
One ground she’s not a fan of is Denham United’s. “The pitch is always a boggy pitch, no matter what the weather, there’s just constantly potholes and stuff. I don’t know how they’re even allowed to play on it. There’s a farm around it, and our spectators were horses as well… yeah, that’s probably the worst one.”
But for Daviss being a part of Norwich Women isn’t only about boggy fields and results. She also takes notice of what the club is doing for the community. One thing Daviss is proud of is the club’s recent push to raise breast cancer awareness. “Our secretary and our chairman and our vice chairman and people like that on the committee work really hard to try and get things out on social media, promote things that are happening,” she says.
Daviss believes that sport offers a great opportunity to address current issues. “I think sport is a really good vehicle to use to bring up these issues and make them get publicised.” She cites the example of Colin Kaepernick, the former professional American quarterback who knelt down during the national anthem in protest against police brutality and racism.
“He’s now not playing because he’s standing up for his own kind of beliefs and his own rights, and it’s all through sport that that’s happened.
“He’s sent a massive message to the whole community and yeah I think that sport can be a really good vehicle for stuff like that.”
I ask whether it’s appropriate for organisations to ban political protest, or discourage athletes from making political statements. Daviss tells me, “I feel like they should be able to express their opinions. That’s just from a personal view. But I know, like, lots of sponsors will probably be like, ‘look, if you express this kind of opinion it looks bad on us’ or if that’s not the opinion they want to put across.
“So it’s quite a struggle I think for athletes, especially those who want to advocate for something but I think they should be allowed because they’re still individuals.
“Although they’re sportspeople they’ve still got families, they’ve still got a life that they want to live kind of thing and they’re not just a footballer, they’re not just a tennis player, they’re not just a basketball player, they’re like real life individuals that have feelings, emotions and opinions.”
One instance that highlighted for her the different faces of sports stars was when Norwich Men’s striker Teemu Pukki dropped in at the Norwich City shop, where she works on Saturdays.
“He actually came in, and he was so laid back, chatting and being really friendly. On the pitch he’s very straight-faced. Kind of, ‘I’ve got this to do. I need to score lots of goals.’ On the pitch people can get portrayed in a different manner than what they actually are.”
The Men’s home ground is Carrow Road, a venue Daviss hopes she’ll be able to play at.
“We’ve never actually played on Carrow Road before,” she says. “All of us would absolutely love to do that. We’ve played at various other stadiums… but we’ve never actually played at our home.”
Yet she is hopeful that will soon change.
“They’ve also had Norfolk County FA Cup finals on there as well. And Norwich City Women won it like five years in a row… We’re now back in it this season, well we were last season but we didn’t do very well. So this season we’re back in it to play at Carrow Road… hopefully.”
Norwich City Women use Plantation Park at Blofield as their home ground, sharing it with Norwich United.
Regarding the different treatment of the men’s and women’s teams, Daviss said, “I study sport culture and society as one of my modules at UEA, and we had a project to do yesterday and I feel like a lot of sports are classed as masculine.
“So you’ve got football, basketball, and rugby, for example, and those kind of sports, they’ve always been male sports… but in athletics I don’t really know how to explain it, but I just feel like that’s more feminine than football, because there’s non-contact… but I do feel like football is portrayed as quite masculine. And I personally don’t really like that, just because it’s how I am.”
But she firmly believes that change is in the air for the Norwich Women team.
“There’s a lot of work behind the scenes at the moment, and I think we will get our chance this season [to play at Carrow Road], whether that be a league game or not a league game.”
“The men’s team, they are very supportive of us, and we don’t realise that enough I don’t think. It’s just a completely different game I think, physically and mentally.
“Obviously, the men’s game have so much more media coverage and, you know, they’ve got all the money… but we’re working on it. It is getting bigger and better.”
And in a broader sense she believes sport for women is becoming a more popular and accessible dream.
“Barclay’s have now funded the women’s super league. So they’re bringing money into the leagues. I’m sure it will drop down into the lower leagues as well somehow.
“But people are becoming a lot more aware of it… it’s definitely getting a lot better. And you can see it. Because we’re playing in it, and there’s so much more on social media now about it and there’s stuff in the news about it.
“Obviously you had the Lionesses do really well at the World Cup, and all the other tournaments they’ve competed in. It’s definitely taking the right turn.”