Star Sign: Scorpio
Place of Birth: Surrey
LCL debut: 18/08/19 vs London Bees
Previous clubs: Millwall Lionesses and Arsenal Academy
No one else knows this but...
I love having gerkins in burgers.
Ylenia Priest: ‘I didn’t have many role models in women’s football so for me to be one to little girls’ is amazing’
Written by Club Journalist Cassie Coombes
Meet Ylenia Priest: The London City Lionesses co-captain talks about her earliest memories of football, role models, ambitions, and *nearly* becoming an ice skater.
At the age of nineteen Ylenia – or Lenny as she is known by her teammates – has already made an impact on women’s football after being unveiled as co-captain of London City Lionesses earlier this year. Despite the armband, the young defender is unfazed by her added responsibility and remains more focused than ever to: “keep working and pushing everyone in the right direction.”
When reminiscing about her earliest memories of football, one moment sticks out firmly in Priest’s mind.
“I remember the FA Cup final against West Ham. Liverpool won it and that was a big memory. I just loved the passion of it and the camaraderie. That made me a Liverpool fan and I just loved football from then.”
Inspired by her team’s heroics, Priest began her journey by joining a local girls’ team. After demonstrating her potential, the defender was given the opportunity to trial for Millwall. Two years at Millwall was then followed by a stint at north London side Arsenal, where she enjoyed success in the FA youth cup. Priest was then offered the chance to return to Millwall to pursue first team football.
“I went there [Millwall] expecting to be the rookie, looking up to these other centre-backs, but they ended up getting injured and I ended up being the main centre-back which was crazy. I played every game in that season, which I wasn’t expecting.”
The opportunity to play first team football at the age of seventeen was an experience which certainly accelerated the defender’s development. Reflecting on her time at Millwall, she acknowledges the integral part it played in her journey.
“I learnt so much in such as short space of time playing against the likes of Manchester United. Your decision making has to be that much sharper.”
Since joining London City Lionesses following its creation in 2019, Priest has relished the opportunity to play for the women’s side and is full of praise for the unique values that underpin the club.
“When you’re at other clubs, the men always come first. You get the hand-me-downs, whether that’s staff or kit or facilities.
“Here all the attention is just on us. Everything the club does is for us. We are the main focus.”
Yet, as Priest admits, her sporting journey could have looked markedly different as football was not a sport that was encouraged from an early age.
“My parents never pushed me into it,” she reflects. “They tried to get me into things like ice skating. That’s not for me,” she says, smiling.
London City Lionesses will be thankful that Priest opted for a career on the pitch over one on the ice. The youngster has already made five league starts this season and has demonstrated the leadership qualities that granted her the role of co-captain.
Despite Priest’s impressive journey into professional football, it has not been without its share of challenges. Playing football at a high level while still in education required a delicate balance between performing on the pitch and in school; an expectation that she admits left her, “having to balance two lives.” Arguably, the hardest part of leading a ‘double life’ came from the scrutiny of her peers.
“We were a very young team, losing quite a lot and I was in year 12. By then that was the first team so everyone could see the scores,” she remembers. “I would go in on a Monday morning and would be thinking, ‘oh god what am I going to get today’ from the boys who didn’t know much about women’s football.”
With the benefit of hindsight, we can now see that the challenge of balancing football and education was worthwhile for Priest. At the age of nineteen, she is now co-captain of an FA Championship side - an impressive feat for any individual, irrespective of age. When asked if she considered herself a role model to younger girls, the defender was quick to confess that she had not given it much thought, although the idea was one which excites her.
“I don’t think about it much. For me growing up, I didn’t have many role models in women’s football, so for me to be one to little girls’ is amazing.”
Priest also talks with maturity about the reality of trying to forge a career in women’s football. Her advice for young girls is clear.
“The main thing I think is to keep enjoying it,” she says. “Just enjoy it for as long as you can and enjoy working hard and doing the extra bits. You should never see football as a job.”
Priest’s emphasis on working hard is the product of her own impressive work ethic. When asked about her future ambitions, the young defender remains grounded and acknowledges the hard work that is still required to reach her goals.
“Playing in the super league and playing internationally is a big goal of mine. It has always been a goal but even more so now with how far it’s going.
“As a player, I keep reminding myself about where I am in my career and that I’m not the finished product yet.”
With the future still very much ahead of her, Priest will be working hard to ensure her recent successes are just the start of a long and successful career in women’s football.