The Future of England’s Midfield? A Profile on Melisa Filis
By George Nolan
Melisa Filis, 19, is an England youth international and professional footballer, currently plying her trade for West Ham Women in the Women’s Super League. She details her footballing youth, challenges and aspirations within the game.
On a blustery Bedfordshire afternoon, a small girl is pacing up and down the touchline in her wellies, splashing and weaving through the muddy puddles with a football glued to her feet. She’s here ‘supporting’ her older brother play football but is so engrossed in a world of her own, swerving past imaginary obstacles and opposition. Of all the people playing football on the field that afternoon, very few would have envisaged this young girl to be the standout player of the bunch, but that is exactly what Melisa Filis was.
Instagram - @mel_filis
These were the earliest memories of the England youth international and West Ham Women’s midfielder, who simply stated that she ‘just wanted to get involved’. Melisa possessed this innate desire to make it in football, she recalls watching her brother’s games believing that she ‘could get involved and play’, despite the physical and age discrepancies. Her brother Joe, credits this to her natural inclination to do the hard yards, saying that wherever Melisa goes, she’s the ‘hardest worker in the room’.
“I was always quite confident when I was young as well, even when I joined my first boys team, I just felt that because I was a girl, it didn’t mean I wasn’t going to be just as good or one of the better ones on the team.”
And stood out she did, so much so that around age 12, she was noticed by MK Dons and began training with them, eventually staying for 3 years. In this time, Melisa continued to play with boys and she cites it as an important part of her development.
“When I was playing at MK, I was playing and training with the boys twice a week and I done that until 15-16 which was massively important, because (you learn) about physicality, speed of play and all that.”
These experiences led Melisa to be invited to her first England camps and she pinpoints her early England experiences as the moment in which she realised a future in football just might be attainable.
“When I went to my first England camp, which was U15s, so I was 14 years old, they were very very strict and it was the most professional environment I’d been in since I started playing at age 6. So when I hit that age and I was in and around the best players for my age group in the country, the coaching staff made it really clear that there was a pathway there, obviously it was still early on. But they would be mapping everything out to us, showing us what we could do, bringing in pro players to speak to us. So at that point, I knew it was possible and once I was getting consistently recalled to England camps, I realised that the opportunity was there”
It was at these England camps and gaining youth caps for England U17s, playing alongside the best her age had to offer, being coached by the best youth coaches, that Melisa was able to further hone and refine her craft and evolve as a player. She describes these moments in her career as ‘a switch in her head being flicked’ which made her even more focused and dedicated after seeing how far her work had taken her, and where it may potentially lead her to.
Her international endeavours gained her ‘exposure’, which gave her a solid foundation to work from when going into trial situations with elite academies.
“I was going into loads of trial situations with more status behind my name, so even though I was coming from MK, which wasn’t the biggest club, having all that England experience attached to me was helpful as it would at least get me in the door, and then once you’re in to be looked at, it’s up to you to do the rest”.
Her performances for England U17s, for whom she hit 16 goals in 15 appearances for, captured the interest of the Chelsea youth setup and Melisa wilfully jumped at the chance to prove herself in a more advanced club environment, building upon her early education at MK Dons. She credits the training at Chelsea as ‘the best’ she experienced in her youth career.
One year later and Melisa was on the move again, this time across London to join Arsenal ahead of the 18/19 season, With Arsenal, Melisa got to experience both the highs and lows of football, learning about some of the ‘sad realities’ of the industry. Six months after joining, on January 27th 2019, Melisa was making her Women’s Super League (WSL) debut at only 16 years and 181 days old, one of the youngest to appear in the top flight of the women’s game in England, against Reading Women. If that accolade wasn’t impressive enough, she assisted Katie McCabe just twenty seconds after entering the game to seal a 3-0 win for the Gunners.
However, despite the ‘buzz’ she felt on the day it happened, it’s a memory in retrospect that Melisa looks back on philosophically, stating that it was the ‘sad reality of being a young player, providing moments like that but never quite getting the look in because there’s seniors ahead in the pecking order who have experience and have proved their
quality over many years’.
The following season, Melisa would hit her first senior hattrick in a 9-0 league cup victory over London Bees, a team she would soon become well acquainted with. As upon the conclusion of the 19/20 season, Melisa’s spell with Arsenal had come to a close and she would then link up with The Bees in the Championship ahead of the 20/21 campaign.
She described this period of her career as ‘the biggest test of her life’ as she came to terms with dropping down a division, in addition to the team enduring an arduous campaign, in which they finished bottom of the Championship in 11th place, with only 11 points from 20 games.
“When I signed for the Bees for the one year, I got my head around quite early about what I was getting into, because I knew from the first couple training sessions what the standard was like. There were definitely points throughout the season, especially in January when West Ham came in for me but Bees blocked the transfer, that I was under a lot of stress mentally and of course I was worried because West Ham were very honest saying that ‘we want you now and there’s no guarantee its gonna happen in the summer’. So yeah, it was definitely one of the hardest times mentally that I’ve gone through football-wise, especially as I was at an age where I wasn’t sure if I’d have security, I needed to start earning money soon, so I was really gambling on having WSL offers in the summer”
Thankfully for Melisa, West Ham’s interest in her did not wane and she signed a two year deal with the Hammers going into the 21/22 season. I asked whether she was concerned about the adaptation from a struggling Championship side to a side which has aspirations of a top half WSL finish, but there was none as there was no time to think about it as ‘it was just straight to work’.
“I done my absolute best to keep my own standards in that season with Bees, when I joined (West Ham), it wasn’t too difficult to slip back into that environment. During the off-season (without a club) I just had to make sure I was technically sharp and fit so that I was ready to hit the ground running in pre-season. But yeah, when I went in (to West Ham), it almost felt like second nature and it made me realise that I knew where I belonged, because that whole year at Bees I knew I wasn’t supposed to be there but it didn’t mean that I could just sack it off, I knew what I had to do to keep myself at the level I was already at and improve, even though it was difficult”
Melisa’s self-belief and hard work paid dividends as she was rewarded with her first start in the 21/22 WSL season opener against Brighton, and has since appeared in all seven of the Hammers’ fixtures this season, three of which being starts. She attributes this to her strong pre-season which lead to ‘positive’ talks with the staff and manager Olli Harder in which they wanted to be ‘patient’ with her and manage her minutes but also stressed that she had the ability to play in the WSL, a process that Melisa asserts her ‘trust’ in.
Despite her fledgling career only now starting to generate some pace, I still wished to ask what Melisa wanted to achieve in the game, after all the years of work she’d already put in.
“I want to become a full international, go to World Cups, Euros, represent my country as often as I possibly can. And yeah I want to be up there with the best in the world and one day get recognised for that, obviously it’s only an individual award but if I set the bar that high, then even if I don’t hit that, I’ll be in and around that level. I’ve always felt like I had this inner belief, that not even with on-pitch qualities but also my mentality where I can put myself in a position and just say, why not?”
And with that mindset, why can’t she?