Shannon Sievwright balances her time between playing as a midfielder for Saints Women and working to inspire young people as Saints Foundation Inclusion Coordinator. We sat down to talk to her about club and community, roots and role models, and life outside of football.

Like another well-known Saint, Shannon is a Pompey girl turned honorary Sotonian. “As a child, I used to beg my dad to take me to Fratton Park. It was there I started playing – I spent five years there, absolutely loving it. My mum and dad would always come to the games.” Shannon’s early career saw her play for Hampshire U18s, represent her country at the World University Games, and eventually she defected to her club’s main rival aged 22. “I wanted something different in terms of club football. My signing coincided with Marieanne [Spacey-Cale] joining the club, so the set-up was really professional and the team was hungry to move up the leagues. I saw an opportunity to really develop myself as a player.”

Some of her best memories are of her early days at Southampton, when the club played down in Tier 6. “At the time we were playing in local park pitches – it kept you really grounded, and I enjoyed that.” From these humble beginnings, the meteoric success of the Women’s team feels like even more of an achievement. In the last month alone, the squad have topped the FA Women’s National League Southern Premier, scooped a cup victory, and secured progression to the FA Women’s Championship after a hard-fought play-off with Wolves. This last win was a particularly proud moment for Shannon. “That was an incredible experience, knowing how much you may have played a part in the club’s journey to get there.”

But alongside these footballing highlights, Shannon has found another passion in her work as Saints Foundation’s Inclusion Coordinator. She works to raise the aspirations of her participants and level the playing field for people who are often excluded from football, sport and their community. “I find it incredibly rewarding. I think it’s really important to open up opportunities for everyone, and build people’s confidence to be able to pursue something. So often we put barriers on ourselves and think ‘I can’t do that’, but I like to think that through programmes like SaintsAbility, we’ve encouraged people to step out of their comfort zone.”

Shannon’s mum is a former player herself, heralding from an era where female footballers had limited pathways and faced adversity at every corner. She’s been a key influence in Shannon’s player pathway. “It’s important to see people similar to yourself or someone you can relate to in sport and football, whether that’s playing, coaching or officiating. It’s especially important in home life, when you see them often, I had a really positive role model in my mum, so I hope that I’ve been a positive role model to people as well.

“For me, I always knew it was doable, because I had someone to look up to that done it, someone I saw every day and was a huge part of my life. That visibility is hugely important, particularly in lower income families or that live in inner cities, who can still progress on to elite-level sport environments – that shaped me a lot as a young woman, being surrounded by positive influences, because where I grew up there wasn’t those role models.”

Through her work with the Premier League Changemakers programme, Shannon has been providing that important role model figure to girls aged 14 to 18 and inspiring them towards female leadership positions. Speaking back in January, participant Jess applauded the involvement of Shannon and several other Saints Women players in the programme. “As good as it is to see the male footballers, as a girl you need the female aspect of it to realise; I am different, but these girls can do it, so why can’t I?”

When it comes to her inspirations, Shannon has a few classic answers – her mum, her dad, Steven Gerrard – but has a few less conventional role models too. “More recently, I’ve found role models in the participants I engage with. They inspire me to be a better person. For example, the Premier League Changemakers participants, they push and encourage me to be a better person.”

Reflecting on the impact she’s made on her club and her community, Shannon hopes to have spread enthusiasm – using her positivity to energise those around her, whether that be her teammates or her participants. “I hope I’ve spread my optimism and enthusiasm, because I’m quite a positive person. I hope I’ve been a positive role model, both in the young women I work with and with the RTC academy players. But also I hope I’ve had an impact in providing people with opportunities that then go on to have a positive impact on the rest of their lives.”