Last weekend, Liverpool’s first female ambassador Natasha Dowie watched on from a private box at the Emirates as her former — and, in a lot of ways, current — team defeated Arsenal 1-0 in front of a record Women’s Super League (WSL) crowd of more than 54,000.
Liverpool Women’s all-time top scorer enjoyed a club career spanning two decades and six countries. It began at Watford in 2004 and ended fittingly with Liverpool, a decade on from her first spell when she won two WSL titles in 2013 and 2014.
The former England striker, who can boast a 119th-minute FA Cup final winner for Everton against Arsenal in 2010 alongside a league title double with Liverpool, announced her retirement from football last month at the age of 35.
Having rejoined Liverpool on loan from Reading at the turn of the year, Dowie felt in great shape and had wanted to continue this season.
“If Liverpool offered me another year I would have considered carrying on,” Dowie tells The Athletic. “But that wasn’t the case — and that’s fine.
“They’re looking to bring in younger blood, which I completely understand. When that offer wasn’t on the table I thought, ‘Something will have to really excite me if I’m going to carry on playing’ — and then I sat down with Susan Black (Liverpool’s director of communications).”
It was during that conversation that Black asked Dowie if she would be interested in becoming Liverpool’s first female ambassador.
“It was a bit of a game-changer. I thought, ‘I can’t turn that down’.”
Offers from clubs in England and abroad were rejected by Dowie. She felt settled on a return to Merseyside with a unique offer, after years of travel that included spells at Melbourne Victory, AC Milan, Boston Breakers, Swedish side Linkoping and Norwegian side Valerenga.
Dowie is keen for her new role to be as hands-on as possible and not limited to just matchday meet and greets. Dowie is keen to use her knowledge of the women’s game to ensure Liverpool continue to close the gap on Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City and Manchester United.
Her time spent with the LFC Foundation, the club’s charity, will also ramp up — as will her work as both pundit and co-commentator for the club’s in-house media channel, LFCTV.
Dowie has made valuable connections at the club. In the summer, when she knew her playing career was coming to an end, Dowie reached out to Liverpool men’s academy director Alex Inglethorpe on LinkedIn.
“I didn’t even know if he knew who I was,” she says. “But he said he had followed my career, which is really nice.”
After a successful chat at the men’s training ground, Inglethorpe invited Dowie, who earned her UEFA A coaching licence this year, to begin attending under-18s boys’ training sessions as a mentor. It was a role traditionally reserved for ex-men’s team players such as Steve McManaman and Robbie Fowler.
“Within the first week, Alex said, ‘It’s been a breath of fresh air having you in’. He said I was a ball of enthusiasm. They (the academy players) have been asking me a lot of questions about my career, where I’ve played and what I’ve done.”
Dowie has enjoyed her work with the under-18s team managed by Marc Bridge-Wilkinson. It is something she now combines with weekly coaching sessions with Liverpool Feds — a club formed in 1991 who play in the FA Women’s National League North.
“When you’re a pro athlete, you forget why you started, where you started and why you play the game,” Dowie says. “It wasn’t because you got paid or for all the social media and limelight. It’s actually because you love the game.
“These girls are playing in tier three (one step below the Championship and two below Liverpool in the WSL). They are still not getting paid, still can’t afford to get buses to games, training at 8.30 at night on a 4G pitch, which really shouldn’t be the case — it should be better.
“More support needs to be given to grassroots clubs. The Feds are now competing with Newcastle United, who are paying their players to play and have that money from the men’s team. There’s a lot of work to do below the top two leagues, which hopefully I can help with as well.”
But Dowie is championing change at the grassroots and elite levels.
“I’ve openly spoken out about it in the past, that the club needed to do more because we won the league back to back. Then clubs like Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United came in and invested so much.”
As others advanced, Liverpool’s WSL throne crumbled.
In June 2020, their decline culminated in relegation from the WSL in the same month that the men’s team won the Premier League. It was widely considered a stain on Fenway Sports Group’s ownership — and something it has worked to correct in the three years following.
“I was so sad when I saw the team get relegated. That was probably one of the lowest points,” says Dowie, who was playing abroad around that time.
Their return to the WSL last season and seventh-place finish was a signal of the progress made.
One recent boost has been the repurchase of Melwood, Liverpool men’s training base of 70 years that was sold by the club in 2019. After being overlooked during that sale process, Melwood is now the permanent home of Liverpool Women. Before this summer, manager Matt Beard’s team had been training at League Two side Tranmere Rovers’ Solar Campus facility on the Wirral.
“This is going to attract players,” Dowie says. “Players will want to come and play for Liverpool full stop — but to then see where they will be training now, that’s huge.
“The steps we’ve taken this year are really positive. Within the next three to five years, I want to see Liverpool Women competing at the top again, where we have been and where we should be.”
(Top photo: Nick Taylor/Liverpool FC/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)