Denise Duffy (DD) grabbed an EXCLUSIVE 1:1 chat with Milly Clegg (MC), Wellington Phoenix’s 17-year-old starlet (15/3/23).
Above: Milly Clegg in action for Wellington Phoenix this season. Photo: stuff.co.nz.
DD: So just tell us about little Milly. How you became the footballer you are. Where did it all start?
MC: So I started when I was five. My brother first got into it. He’s a year older than me. So he was playing football for our primary school. And then I kind of got jealous and I always wanted to play, so I joined as well. The next year I was in a little school team. I played in that for a few years.
And then I joined Ellerslie, the school team was kind of connected with Ellerslie, but then I joined Ellerslie and I played boys for maybe six years. Then around that time, I also moved to MAGS (Mount Albert Grammar School) for high school. So I was playing football there.
Also around that time, I moved to Bucklands Beach AFC where I played in a boys’ team for two or three years. And that was really good for me. Like I really enjoyed my time there. I feel like I developed a lot and I had a great coach. And yeah, it was a great time for me at Bucklands Beach.
Then last year I moved to Auckland United in the women’s team, and I played there for a few games. And then I joined FFDP (Future Ferns Domestic Program) kind of just in preparation for the World Cup, the under-20s, and under-17s.
In between the under-20s, I played a bit for Auckland United again, just to get some games and we ended up playing in the Kate Sheppard Final. So that was really cool. And yeah, just playing a few games then. And then did the U17s World Cup and then straight down to the Phoenix. So that’s everything.
DD: If you had to list a handful of people who do you think are those who were most helpful in your development?
MC: I would definitely say my parents, for sure. The amount of hours that they’ve spent with me taking me to games and even like going in goal when I’m shooting. I’ve got a goal in my backyard, most people would have nice backyards but we have holes in the hedge everywhere. They just spend so much time helping me and just giving me advice. They are always there for me, driving me places, helping me train, and everything like that. So that’s super amazing. And like, I love them so much.
And then I would say my coach at Bucklands Beach, he was like, amazing for me. I feel like I learned a lot from him in terms of footballing. And then kind of just all my coaches. I feel like I’ve learnt a lot from each and every one of them. I’ve learned so many tools from everything that I’ve taken into my game and even outside of my game. That’s been amazing. And even my grandparents and my friends. They’re always there for me and I love them so much.
DD: That’s wonderful. A teenager that appreciates their parents and their grandparents is great. You’re 17? What’s it been like being a student and a footballer?
MC: I would say I found it a lot more challenging last year with the busy year. I was away for quite a lot of that year so that was quite challenging. My teachers were really amazing and they helped me a lot in navigating that. I did my exams here in Wellington. So obviously, their support was really helpful. It’s kind of been pretty chilled at the moment because we’re just finishing school holidays. So I haven’t had to do much school at the moment. But I’m just starting up now. And it’s probably gonna get a bit more challenging.
DD: So let’s talk about football. Tell us about your football style. Can you come up with three words to describe who you are as a footballer?
I feel like I would probably say tempo and speed. I try to play at a high pace, maybe that’s from playing with boys, so I kind of had to play fast. But yeah, probably speed. I feel like I’m quite direct. Like I always want to try and go to goal, maybe that’s a good thing or a bad thing sometimes. And I would say maybe physical or just always an eye for a goal like I’ll always be like somewhere in the attacking third like wanting to score like always be in and around there. Hopefully.
DD: Those are great qualities. A friend of mine described you as New Zealand’s Rose Lavelle.
MC: That’s a real big compliment! That’s so nice.
DD: It’s probably because you use both feet and you’re quick to the goal. So who do you look up to in the women’s game?
MC: I would say a huge one is Sam Kerr. I feel like me being a striker, she’s obviously one of the best in the world. Just looking at her, she always tries to find a way to score. Often it comes off. So like she’s just a great idol to have in the women’s game. And like even that she’s so close to us from Ozzy. it’s just like a great role model to look up to, I would say, so yeah, she’s probably a big one for me.
DD: What kind of type of contract do you have right now? Can you just explain that a little bit?
I’m on an amateur contract right now. That just means that I preserve my amateur status, which means I would be able to go to an American college if I choose to. So I chose to sign that just because I have no idea what I wanted to do, like, especially after a big year. I just didn’t know whether I still wanted to do that. I was just a bit frazzled. I just wanted to make sure I preserve that option, just in case I did want to go there one day. So that was the thinking behind that.
DD: So can you tell us just a little bit more of your thinking around that now? That was sort of four, five months ago? Anything change with that?
To be honest, not completely, I’ve kind of just been, like full focus on the Phoenix and just enjoying my time here. So I haven’t fully thought about it much at all. I’m happy that I did make that decision because obviously, it takes a lot more time than I thought. I probably thought I would have figured it out by now. But no, I haven’t.
DD: You are at playing the professional level? So what it’s been, what has it been like transitioning from the Kate Sheppard Cup to the Wellington Phoenix and playing pro football?
MC: Yeah, it’s been really good. I’ve been really enjoying it. I feel like my experience at the U20’s was really helpful in terms of the standard. I would say, it’s a pretty similar standard, if not a bit better, obviously. But yeah, it’s been really good. I’ve been enjoying it. Obviously, it’s hard at times, like I wasn’t getting much game time at the start. Only starting to get a bit more now. So I’m really happy about that. And hopefully, I’ve been taking my chance to try and keep getting game time and things like that. Yeah, it’s been really good. I’ve been really enjoying it and I’ve really been learning a lot so it’s been amazing playing pro.
MC: Any highlights so far?
I would say probably my first goal was a big highlight, especially with the team winning 5-0. That was an amazing day and just one to remember forever really.
DD: What’s been the most difficult part of playing with the Wellington Phoenix?
MC: I would say probably just probably moving away from home at the start was quite tough. I hadn’t moved away from home before. So it was a bit tough, and especially paired with not getting as much game time at the start, that was quite challenging. But luckily, the people that I’m living with, they’re amazing. Like they’re my teammates and all the teammates and coaching staff are amazing. It was hard, but they made it a lot better, and obviously phone calling and things like that. It was quite easy to stay here and I’m loving it right now. So it’s been good, hard, but like, it’s really good.
DD: Who are your teammates you’re living with?
MC: So I’m living with Izzy Gomez, Mona (Te Reremoana Walker), Candy (Georgia Candy), Charlotte Lancaster and (Claudia) Cicco.
DD: So who’s the best cook?
Oh, I’d say Candy. She’s very good. She’s taking a few cooking lessons as well. So she’s pretty good.
DD: And who’s the neat freak?
MC: I’d say we’re pretty kind of, actually Cicco’s pretty neat freak. But not like, insane. Like, I would say, our flat it’s pretty clean most of the time. Actually not much to complain about.
DD: You know, tell us about being identified as a national team player at the various levels. When and how did that happen? What was that like?
MC: It happened pretty out of the blue really in 2019. I was very young. So I went to the Nationals Secondary School’s Tournament and I think I did quite well there. So Leon (Birnie) invited me to a camp after that. So that was my first involvement in that at all for under 17s. Then I got picked for the qualifying tournament. That was supposed to be the last World Cup cycle qualifying in Tahiti, but that got canceled twice, one for measles and one for COVID. And then eventually that cycle just kind of died out because the World Cup got cancelled.
And then the year before last year I was playing against the FFDP with the Bucklands Beach Boys team. And the coaches were Gemma (Lewis) and Nat (Natalie Lawrence) and they were the coaches for under 20s. So after that game, they invited me to the 20s camp in 2021. And then after kind of just being in those camps for 2021, then 2022 was the first time I was selected for a tour, which was really exciting. I went to Canberra for the under-20s. That was really fun, obviously amazing. Then had a few more tours with the U20’s for the two World Cups. So that was amazing. So lucky to be a part of both of those.
DD: You’re definitely an up-and-coming Fern. People are seeing great potential in you including a bunch of writers and tv commentators. What do you think has made you a topic of discussion for a senior call-up?
MC: I am not a hundred percent sure, to be honest. I don’t know, maybe the goals? I don’t know. Maybe the attacking mindset? I’m not 100% sure, but yeah, probably the goals. Obviously scoring at the World Cups was probably helpful for that and then scoring in the A-League was really helpful, but yeah.
DD: Then another, another slightly provocative one, but kind of fun. The opening match for the Football Ferns will be July 20th. In any capacity, will you be there?
MC: Oh, I have no clue. I have no idea. What anything, anyone’s thinking. So I don’t know. I’ll keep working hard and see what happens. I’ll try my best.
DD: Would you be there as a fan?
MC: Of course, I’ll be there as a fan. 100%.
DD: Who are you rooting for in this World Cup? If you had a few people that you are cheering for either as a fan or just someone that inspires you or someone that matters to you?
MC: Yeah, I would say I’m rooting for probably some of my friends. Like, I’m really rooting for them to do well, even my football friends and like football teammates, I’m really rooting for them to do well. Obviously, my parents, I want them to do well, enjoying life and things like that. Hopefully, we’re providing them a bit of joy. I don’t know, just kind of everyone in my life, I’d probably root for them to do well.
DD: Yeah, that’s beautiful. You come across as very positive. That’s pretty much all I have. Just a quick, fun, glimpse into who you are and who’s coming up through the ranks. A new face even for the Wellington Phoenix. I love how grateful you’ve been to your parents and to everyone involved in your journey.
MC: Thank you so much for the interview and thank you to the fans for cheering us on.