Rachel Daly: "If you've got a dream and you work at it every single day, good things will happen."

Rachel Daly
(Image credit: adidas)

A mere six months after the Lionesses went head-to-head with Spain in the World Cup final, I'm on a Zoom call with left-back Rachel Daly. The adidas athlete has spent the day shooting in near-freezing conditions and, despite several layers, is, in a word, cold.

It's hard to know where to start with the footballer, who's had something of a renaissance in the Lionesses team. While she played every single match for England in Tokyo's 2020 Olympic Games, it's no secret that she had to fight for her place in the squad. It's hard to see why, though - she has a roster of accolades under her belt, including being one of the only female England players to win the Golden Boot and scooping top scorer of the Women's Super League (WSL) 2022 season (she was a mere goal short of smashing the record for the most goals ever). 

We haven't got long and she's a busy woman - I'm tasked with catching up on her current training, career successes and advice for those keen to follow in her footsteps in just 30 minutes. That said, the Aston Villa footballer is quick, to the point, and happy to reflect on the rollercoaster that's been her last few years. Chatting candidly about her close friendship with fellow teammates Millie Bright and Mary Earps, MC UK Guest Editors in July to coincide with the World Cup, she grins as I mention Millie's recent engagement. "I'm so pleased for her. It's going to be a good wedding," she shares.

For more on life through Rachel Daly's eyes - keep scrolling. 

Rachel Daly on winning the Euro's, World Cup heartbreak and pursuing your dreams

There's so much I want to talk to the Lioness about in the time we've got, but I kick off with the most obvious talk point - their World Cup heartbreak. In 2022, the Lionesses made history by becoming the first ever England team to win the Euros (a day Daly wryly describes as "euphoric" and, understandably, her career highlight to date). To state the impact of this win is near impossible, but among hundreds of other accolades, there's now set to be a new Lionesses tube line named in their honour.

Fast forward to 2023, and the team used the same dynamic skillset, steadfast determination and good spirit to earn themselves a place in the World Cup final - the first time for an England squad since our one-time 1966 win. But heartbreakingly it wasn't to be, with Spain stealing a goal in the 29th minute and the win in the process. Having covered the World Cup extensively, a piece of my heart broke watching that final. I've never been so invested in a team, and I've never been so invested in a match. So what did it feel like, as one of the athletes on the pitch, to have the dream snatched away at the very last minute? "Obviously it was heartbreaking - it still hurts," she reflects. "But it was also just one of those things - and what an experience to be a part of a World Cup Final. It's what every footballer dreams of doing."

Finding pride in the defeat

Six months down the line, she shares that her overriding emotion is pride - pride in their performance, pride in their progress, but also pride in the ability to compete in that tournament, at that time, with that team. "Being with that group of girls, the staff and the other people involved was the biggest honour. We didn't win, but there was a lot of positive to come out of it," she shares.

Competing on the other side of the world, thousands of miles away from family and friends, was no mean feat - although she shares that the families who did fly over to support really came together to boost team morale. Sadly, Rachel's own Mum has a fear of flying so couldn't make it across to support. "Obviously it's hard. You're a million miles away from home and you don't see your family. I would rather have had it in England," she jokes.

Joining them in their living quarters were their management, physios, and some Australian locals - one TikTok posted by goalkeeper Earps gained viral traction after it showed some of the Lionesses on a casual lunch walk next to a family of kangaroos. "The day we showed up and there was a kangaroo literally on my balcony, I was like, 'What in the world?'," she laughs. "We were literally in cabins in the middle of nowhere - I felt like I was in the jungle." Daly admits that the spiders were quite something, too - "They wanted to give us the bush experience, I swear," she smiles. "I was like, 'Can I move to that five-star hotel next door, please? Because I'm not into the spiders.'"

Pair jetlag with homesickness and quarters far away from home, you can see how it's harder for any foreign team to compete at their best level in a tournament like this. One thing's for sure, though - it's pretty unanimously agreed that the Lionesses did just that, defying all odds to make it to the final and so, so nearly scooping the win.


♬ original sound - Rachel Daly

Changing the face of football

So, how does a world-famous athlete optimise her body for performance? Lots of training, obviously, an undeniable natural skill, and a next-level desire to win. And poached eggs, toast and baked beans, of course, her go-to pre-match breakfast. She also aims for as much sleep as possible (though, she admits she's "a terrible sleeper," normally getting around five hours of sleep a night). If you're ever in need of a pre-workout playlist, Daly plays the same four songs before every match - River Deep, Mountain High by Celine Dion, When I'm Gone by Eminem, Unstoppable by Sia, and The Champion by Carrie Underwood and Ludacris.

What does it feel like being one of the changemakers who's so quickly been thrust into the limelight, especially after years of underfunding and sub-standard coverage of the women's game? "For players like myself, Mary, and Millie - that age group of players - we've grown up not having much interest in the women's game," she reflects candidly. "So to see how much it's developed and be a part of a team that inspires the next generation is a huge honour."

Rachel Daly

Rachel with the the new adidas Predator 24's.

(Image credit: adidas)

Embracing being a changemaker

One of her main goals is to encourage kids to find joy in sport and get into the game. "That's the platform we set out to have, so to actually be doing it really hits home with all of us as players," she goes on.

Next question: what still needs to happen in order to continue the positive change? While the Lionesses have no doubt put the wheels in motion to level the playing field, there's still work to be done. Even what male and female footballers get paid is still eye-wateringly different, with stats from Evoluted citing that male players get paid nearly 17,000% more than their female counterparts. While Daly doesn't comment on the gender pay gap, she is passionate about encouraging more girls into the sport at an early age. "I think it starts with PE - that's where you can learn the benefits of getting your workouts in and being active," she shares.

While a continued effort to make PE accessible to all genders is key, she also reckons investment in extracurriculars would make football the norm for thousands of young girls across the UK. Think about it - if there were plenty of fun, easy-to-sign-up-for, and all-gender welcoming football teams in your area, you're far more likely to want to go, right? "There needs to be more access routes for girls - whether it's grassroots clubs, professional teams, or academies, it's about highlighting that it's fun to play football and fun to be a sports person."


♬ original sound - Alex Howell

Following your dreams

While Daly is undoubtedly one of the most talented female footballers in the UK - and clearly had a supportive family and coach - the lack of access route when she was younger made her doubt whether she'd ever be able to make a living out of her passion. "I never, ever thought in my wildest dreams that I'd get paid to play football. To make a career out of it - it's crazy to me. It still blows my mind that I get to live my dream every single day and get paid for it."

She credits the growth of the game and the people before her - "players that sacrificed everything to not earn much, if any, money" - for being able to make a viable career out of football and pave the way for the next generation. (Kelly Smith is one of her biggest idols and she lights up talking about the fact she now gets to work alongside her).

Did she ever consider a career outside of the sport? Short answer, no. "It was one of those things where I was like, I'm playing regardless," she shares. "I'd play if I didn't get paid." She reflects on her time training in America - she attended St. John's University in New York from 2013 to 2015 - where, in her own words, she "wasn't earning anything". "At that point, I was 21 and thinking, "I'm living my dream. It'll work out in the end," she laments (and then laughs, as she says this isn't her outlook on most other things in life). "I knew I had to go through with it - but even when I played professionally in America, the first year, the wages were $5,000 a year - which, obviously, you can't live on."

She adds that moving to America from the small town of Harrogate on her own wasn't easy, but it did shape her into who she is today. "It was the most challenging experience, but one of the most worthwhile things I've ever done," she shares.

Tackling the challenges head on

Reflecting back to the highlight of her career - that Euros win - she's candid that while the talent in the team was "frightening", it was the head down, work hard mentality that pushed them all the way to the trophy. "I think deep down, everyone thought, 'This could be it'. But then by the end of it, it was just a massive sigh of relief - we couldn't believe we'd actually done it. We finally changed the way women's football is seen in England and made history on home soil."

Her advice for anyone reading this article keen to pursue a career where the odds might sometimes feel stacked against them? "Follow your dream," she smiles. "If you've got a dream and you work at it every single day, good things will happen. It's a tough place to be, and there are going to be ups and downs - in any career, you're going to face challenges and setbacks. But having that passion to want to achieve something and be a part of something big is important. Just go do everything you can to make it happen."

While she's internationally recognised, Daly also comes across as refreshingly down-to-earth, quick-witted, and almost sickeningly passionate about her profession. She's also a sucker for a good old sausage and egg sandwich ("I love them," she smiles) and watching her favourite movie, Happy Gilmore. While she wants to travel to Fiji soon, her favourite place in the world is Idaho in America. "It's a beautiful place," she shares. "So many mountains - in the summer, it's red hot, and in the winter it's snowing. It's like all seasons."

Unlike Earps, she can't pick anything up with her toes, but she is quite good at juggling - a skill she learnt in lockdown. If she had the chance, she'd only tell her younger self one thing: "Live in the moment more and stop worrying about everything."

What's next for the athlete? Short answer: she's not sure yet. "I don't know what's next, I really don't. It's a weird place to be." While she admits that she's been worrying about it a lot lately, she's trying not to focus too much on life after football and, rather, enjoy the final few years at the top of her game. "I just had this realisation one day where I thought, 'Don't worry about it now.' I want to enjoy the last however long I've got left of playing and not look back on it having spent two years worrying about what I was going to do next before it was even over." 

That said, she does tell me she's just about to start playing padel tennis ("I'm so excited"). Watch this space...

Ally Head
Senior Health, Sustainability and Relationships Editor

Ally Head is Marie Claire UK's Senior Health, Sustainability, and Relationships Editor, nine-time marathoner, and Boston Qualifying runner. Day-to-day, she works across site strategy, features, and e-commerce, reporting on the latest health updates, writing the must-read health and wellness content, and rounding up the genuinely sustainable and squat-proof gym leggings worth *adding to basket*. She's won a BSME for her sustainability work, regularly hosts panels and presents for events like the Sustainability Awards, and saw nine million total impressions on the January 2023 Wellness Issue she oversaw. Follow Ally on Instagram for more or get in touch.