Q&A with Albion striker Aileen Whelan

The PFA Fans' Player of the Month for February discusses life on and off the pitch.

By Bruce Talbot • 26 March 2020

By Kyle Hemsley
Aileen Whelan was top scorer for Albion in the 2019-20 WSL campaign.

Firstly, congratulations on being named PFA Fans’ Player of the Month for February. How much does that acknowledgment from fans across the country mean to you?

I felt very fortunate to even be nominated alongside some very talented and experienced players. So, I was very grateful that people voted for me and to win this award.

You’ve been in great form recently in front of goal, how much of a confidence boost is it for yourself and the team to be finding the net more regularly?

For me, I always want to be scoring or assisting so it feels great to be able to do this for the team. We had been struggling to win games in the first half of the season, possibly because of a lack of confidence in front of goal and, in the league position we are in, every goal counts. Defensively we have had to put in so much effort to hold on to our wins in the first half of the season. Since Christmas our performances have improved dramatically, and we are playing some very good football. 

It’s now been over two years since you joined Brighton, how much of an influence has [head coach] Hope Powell been on your career, and the chance to learn from one of the greats of the game?

Hope has been and always will bring a fountain of knowledge and experience to Brighton. She has given me the freedom to express myself on the pitch and allowed me to find confidence in my performances again. Both Hope and [assistant head coach] Amy Merricks support me and demand more of me each time I play which encourages me to get better week by week. The technical knowledge they bring is very good and the finer details they both input into training sessions has made us all better individually and as a team.

By Paul Hazlewood
Albion head coach Hope Powell.

What would you class as the highlight of your season so far?

Reaching the quarter-finals of the FA Cup is brilliant and having [eventually] the opportunity to progress to the semis if we beat Birmingham City.

And what is the standout moment of your career to date?

Playing in the first FA Cup final at Wembley has to be up there among my best achievements. Winning a gold medal and scoring in the final of the World University Games as well.

Can you tell me a bit more about how you got into football when you were younger? How much of an influence were your parents and family?

Lots of my family were footballers - my dad, uncle and cousins - so I was brought up around football. For as long as I can remember I wanted to play football and it was my mum and dad who made sure this happened. My dad helped set up Rugby Town Girls when I was younger and provided opportunities for girls to play. He was my coach for a very long time and has had a huge influence on my career. My parents drove me everywhere and paid all my subs just so I could enjoy playing, and I will be forever grateful to them. They still come to most games that are local to them and always have done.

Brighton are a club that does a lot in the community. How important do you think it is to provide that inclusive atmosphere and to give something back to the people in the local area?

I am a huge supporter of Albion in the Community. The work they do to support and include people in all walks of life is admirable. I am very passionate about equality and inclusion and AITC ensure people in Brighton and the surrounding areas have opportunities to enjoy football just like I did. The men and women’s team support this and we get to meet some of those who are involved at our games. It really is a great part of the club.

By Kyle Hemsey
Aileen Whelan in action for Albion.

Outside football you work as a play therapist. Can you tell me a bit more about what that involves and how you got into it?

I have always worked with children in a childcare capacity and wanted to be able to support children with additional needs and mental health difficulties. This spurred me to attain a masters’ degree at university in child psychology and train as a play therapist. I work with children that present difficulties in behaviours, social interaction, cognitions, emotions etc. I use a variety of play tools so children display their difficulties instead of talking about them. Sometimes children don’t know how to articulate their difficulties and toys/play tools can break down that barrier. I find it fascinating how powerful play is for children and to see them develop confidence.

Are there other things from the job that you can incorporate into the football environment such as dealing with mental health and similar issues?

There are lots of things: communication, leadership, problem solving, listening. I apply knowledge I have in mental health to help my team mates if they ask for my support and to keep team morale strong.

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