In the latest of our series of interviews with Impetus’ sponsored players for 2022/23, Mia Hyland of fifth-tier London and South-East Premier side Saltdean United spoke to Ben Gilby about her footballing journey, and why she feels Saltdean United is the right club to challenge herself and grow her game (27/10/22).
Above: Mia Hyland wins a battle for Saltdean United. Photo: Simon Roe Photography.
Mia Hyland has had a deep love of the game since the earliest of ages as she grew up in Kent.
The Saltdean United player takes up the story: “I started playing football when I was five years old as part of a setup called cover coaching. I believe for the first few months I was the only girl playing against boys as not many girls played around that age at that time.
“When I hit six years old I was still playing against boys and a few girls until my family decided to set up a youth girls’ football team in the local area. I played there for about five years until I decided that it was time for me to play in a club that would really consolidate my footballing knowledge and progress my technique at Gillingham Centre of Excellence.
“During this time I also represented East Sussex County where I challenged myself to play in different areas to what I usually do because I value being versatile and expanding my knowledge of the game. I was part of the Gillingham centre for roughly four years and played a few games for the women’s first team, but when I hit 16, I decided that I wanted to look further to really push myself into the women’s game and so I left to play for Lewes Womens where I represented both the first and development team.
“I continued to play there for three years whilst growing and maturing under many influential coaches and playing alongside experienced women. When I turned 19, I left Lewes and went to study at university where from my second year I captained our women’s team and led a successful two-year league-winning team being promoted within the BUCS (university) leagues.
In my last year at university, I decided that I wanted to play football outside of my university team and so I signed with Hastings United women’s first team and played there for one season. It was there I gained many benefits like being paid to play and also playing alongside women I played with at Lewes. However, as it was tier six football, I knew I could give more and so in the summer, I joined Saltdean United which was a step up in the tiers.
“When I look back at all the clubs I’ve played for and represented it truly does make you think about the future and where you can be and where football can take you. I’ve been unlucky this year in the sense that I’ve sustained my first proper injury and been out for five weeks which is something I’ve never experienced within any of my previous clubs but it only makes me work harder to get back fitter.”
Mia fully recognises that she would not be where she is now in the game without the support of her family and her early coaches.
“My mum and dad, more dad particularly, influenced me playing a lot. They’ve always been very honest with me and my sister about us playing football and driving us all up and down the country to do what we love, so I’m very grateful to them for pushing me to do what I love to do.
“I’d also say my assistant coach at Gillingham, Cori Daniels, a former Arsenal, and Charlton Athletic women’s defender massively influenced my journey. I never forget the coaching, the motivation to work hard, and the influence she had on me to want to go further in my football journey. It was that year she gave me the best advice and I went on to be top goal scorer, players player, and coaches player of the year that season and she just inspired me to keep being that player I am now.”
As a youngster growing up, whilst her friends were inspired by the likes of David Beckham or Wayne Rooney, Mia’s idols were from the women’s game. “As a youngster, I was always encouraged to watch the men’s game as the women’s game ‘wasn’t important,’ or ‘they just aren’t as good as the men’. I was running round screaming that I wanted to be like Jill Scott or Fara Williams! To me, all the female footballers in the early 2000s England team were idols because they always fought to strive to show women can equally be as great as the men could and it’s even more remarkable to see the foundations and legacy built that has set up the fantastic women’s squad for England this year.”
In terms of how she would describe herself as a player, Mia said: “As a young player I’ve always been that one that runs around, gets in the way, and likes to get on the ball, be a nuisance and never let a tackle go past me! However, as I’ve grown I feel like I’m very composed and also believe in fairness and sportsmanship. But I must admit I also can have some arrogance about myself from time to time because there’s nothing more important for a player to know their confidence and talent.”
As Mia highlighted earlier in the conversation, she recently suffered her first major injury and identifies that as the most challenging period she’s had as a player.
“The injury I sustained to my ankle this year has been hard being out for five weeks – it’s my first proper injury. It’s hard personally because when the one thing you love to do is taken away for a brief time, it’s a shock to the system. I’m still getting back into it slowly, starting to get some minutes in the tank whilst recovering properly so only time will tell when it’s fully healed.”
Mia’s spell at Lewes gave her a first-hand look at the Sussex club’s unique set-up and sense of equality. She gave us examples of what life was like at The Dripping Pan.
“I was fortunate enough to play at Lewes when they first introduced the women’s pay to the team. I was 16/17 and was called up to the first team at that point. I was being a part of the setup that had been so supported for not just those current players but for future players was something incredible.
“Lewes very much are well known for their set up, and the amount of international representation they have and how far they’ve come from. I think previously when I was at the club where they had an option of a development squad it was very good for young players to learn in that environment which was always good I think, but I do believe the development setup has gone now which is a shame for women wanting a chance to experience Championship football, but the first team seems to have a lot of success and their set up works for them and it’s nice to see the Lewes results reflecting that positively.”
Focusing on her current club, Mia is full of praise for the club she is now part of at Saltdean United. “The club is very dedicated to progressing women’s football from setting up youth teams to fighting for new stadiums for all the women’s teams to play in. They’re a club that backs their players and gives them the facilities to grow and recover. It’s nice to be a part of a team that manages your well-being as well as the club’s successes, which is very rare in some teams.”
Whilst Saltdean had a challenging campaign last season, they remained in the London & SE Premier and Mia has high hopes for a better 2022/23 for the club.
“We have started off very strong and are looking to stay well within the top half of the league table. Of course, within any league, there are many well-known faces, players coaches who have stepped down from tiers three and four and who will be a challenge. But this year hopefully with many new faces to Saltdean and new coaches we will be more successful than last year.
“My aim personally is to step up my game massively and get fitter from three years worth of university football. What I want mainly is to push myself and challenge myself against teams that will push me to work harder. All in all, the aims are to get results as there is nothing greater than a winning side and I love being a part of a team that wants that and works hard to get that as this is definitely something I always strive for.”