Strolling through the lush, bright and tranquil surroundings of Sheffield's Botanical Gardens, Ellie Roebuck could not feel more at home. Savouring the familiar sights of her beloved city, the peaceful but vibrant backdrop matches her personality perfectly: serene, yet striking, demure, yet dazzling, reserved, yet remarkable.
As we saunter through the spectacular setting, a youthful Roebuck recalls tales of her career, and shares her hopes for the future. At the time, she is just 19-years-old, gently breaking into first-team football and harbouring hopes of a regular spot between the sticks for both Club and country.
Today, aged just 21, she stands proudly as one of the world's best goalkeepers and one of ten City representatives in Team Great Britain's Olympic women's football squad for the Tokyo Games. Hailing from an industrial city which has already forged Olympic gold medallists in the form of track and field athletes Jessica Ennis-Hill and Lord Sebastian Coe, plus sailor Paul Goodison, there were plenty of role models for this Sheffield-born sportswoman to look up to in the hope of following in their footsteps.
“I’m massively proud to come from Sheffield. Somehow, no matter how long you go away for, it’s always the same when you come back.”
A product of her beloved Sheffield United's Academy, Roebuck's footballing adventure had started in her schooldays. While she enjoyed playing outfield, it was her teammates' hesitation to don the gloves that sparked her early career as a goalkeeper. She 'took the hit' and to step up and become guardian of the goal.
A fine shot-stopper, she is also calm under pressure and composed in possession. Her talents and potential caught City's attention during her final season at the Blades' Centre of Excellence and the teenager headed across the Pennines, eager to take her game to the next level.
She joined Nick Cushing's title-chasing squad in 2015, raw but ready for the challenge ahead. Lining up alongside and competing against some of the world's greatest players - serial winners and established internationals, including legendary England number one Karen Bardsley - it was a glorious opportunity to learn from the best and Roebuck took the chance with both hands, although it took some time to adapt...
“The girls made me feel really welcome – they’re a great group to be with – but because I came in off the back of the 2015 World Cup in Canada and had watched them on TV, I was a bit starstruck! That took me a while to get over – training and playing alongside those people. That was the weirdest thing! I can never get my head around the fact I’m now considered one of those people!”
Signing her first professional contract with the Club as an 18-year-old, having made the step up from the Development Squad, Roebuck was thrust into the limelight. City's desire of nurture homegrown talent shone through once more in an historic double-winning campaign.
Named on the bench throughout the 2016 season, the youngster made her competitive debut in the final game of our FA Women's Super League title-winning term, replacing Bardsley and preserving a precious point to ensure the Champions' completed our unforgettable league season undefeated.
Watching her mentor Bardsley lift the Women's FA Cup at Wembley in May 2017 only served to fuel Roebuck's hunger and the following months would see the starlet properly introduce herself onto the big stage - on the domestic and European fronts.
Shortly after signing her first pro deal, the teenager was thrown into the deep end when City and Chelsea locked horns in a crunch, top-of-the-table clash in February 2018 - called upon to step into the breach for the injured Bardsley early on.
With captain Steph Houghton also forced off through injury, Roebuck's task intensified but the shot-stopper produced a display beyond her years to thwart the much-fancied hosts and preserve a valuable clean sheet - a fine stop to deny Drew Spence a late winner a memorable highlight.
Having hit the headlines, Roebuck's stock continued to rise and although she couldn't help City to silverware, her breakthrough season saw the teenager carve a name for herself as one of the brightest young talents in the English game.
Her efforts were rewarded as she earned deserved acclaim on the international stage too. After representing her country at youth level - helping England to a bronze medal at the Under-20 World Cup, alongside Georgia Stanway - she gained her first senior call-up in October 2018 and is now a regular inclusion in the Lionesses' star-studded squads.
Since then, she has won seven caps for her country, pushing the more experienced names above her to perform at their best - and domestically, she has excelled.
Clocking 17 appearances in City's cup double-winning 2018/19 campaign, she gained more valuable experience. An unfortunate injury to Bardsley at the 2019 World Cup ruled the legendary shot-stopper out of the forthcoming season but fortunately, Roebuck was ready to shine.
A match-winning display in our historic Manchester Derby opener provided plenty of cause for optimism that Roebuck could fill the gloves of her mentor and the 'keeper would continue to impress, tallying 16 clean sheets in the FA WSL before the season was curtailed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The achievement was rewarded with the inaugural Golden Glove gong.
The continuation of the 2019/20 Women's FA Cup would see the youngster fulfil her lifelong dream of winning the trophy at Wembley, as City defeated Everton after extra-time in the 50th Final - Roebuck producing a string of excellent saves throughout.
Her efforts yielded deserved acclaim at the end of the calendar year with a prestigious nomination in the shortlist for 'The Best' FIFA Women’s Goalkeeper - an accomplishment she could not believe, but one that fuelled her motivation even more.
She penned a new, three-year deal with City in February 2021 - a strong statement of her faith in the Club's plans for her personal development. While goalkeepers thrive on their ability to guard the goal - showcasing their best performances in their busier games - Roebuck still believes she can reach her potential at the Academy Stadium.
“When you come to a Club as good as Manchester City, your game switches up a bit. You have to be a lot more focused… you might only have one or two moments. You've got to be ready for that and that's something that I struggled with at the start because for me, I'd always been focused by saving the shots but now I have to turn that focus and just make sure I'm ready for when the moment comes.”
In tribute to Jessica Ennis-Hill's 2012 gold medal success, a postbox in her hometown of Sheffield was painted gold.
Will the Steel City forge gold again?
Time will tell but one thing is certain...
Roebuck is ready to deliver.
By Caroline Oatway