Ella Toone: My nan thinks she's famous because of my YouTube videos
There is a momentary look of confusion on Ella Toone’s face when, mid-phone call, her grandmother says she has told “that numpty up the corner” to “go away”, then the England international sniggers as it dawns on her that ‘Nan’ is referring to being interrupted by an Amazon Alexa.
This conversation, captured on Toone’s YouTube vlog, provides a brilliant glimpse of the Manchester United midfielder’s personality. More of her character comes through as she talks to Telegraph Sport on a video call while waiting to board a train from London to Manchester. “I like to moan quite a lot, especially when I’m on a Tube in London,” she says at one point.
It is hard to tell exactly how genuine Toone's contempt for the capital’s public transport network is, but she is certainly serious when she insists that, regardless of how much fame comes her way through success with England, “I’ll never forget my roots”.
“I’ve never changed and I never will,” says Toone, who shot to stardom during last year’s European Championship, where she scored the opening goal at Wembley as England beat Germany in the final. “The type of people that I have around me, they’ll never let me change who I am. The summer was unbelievable but I’m still the same person now as I was 10 years ago.”
Something has altered within Toone’s match-day routine, however. A long-standing tradition in the women’s game, and one of the Women’s Super League’s strongest unique-selling points, is that players typically spend significant time chatting to supporters pitchside after games, win or lose.
That was easier for players to do when the WSL was averaging crowds of just under 2,000 last term, but now that figure is around 7,000 and Manchester United have seen 30,196 at a WSL game at Old Trafford – where they will return on Saturday to host West Ham – Toone is trying to find other ways to engage with supporters.
It is why she decided to start vlogging, setting up her own YouTube channel last December. Her growing subscriber base – 27,800 – is, for the time being, dwarfed by the 268,800 who follow her on TikTok and the 447k on Instagram, but it is evident that YouTube is where her focus lies. Her channel comprises an unusual mix of phone calls with her nan and days out with England stars such as Phil Foden and Alessia Russo.
“Off the back of the Euros the women’s game has grown so much, and you can see the numbers we get in stadiums now, so it’s not sustainable to physically go around and sign everyone’s tops and get pictures with everyone,” Toone says. “As much as we all want to, it’s not the same anymore.
“For me it was [a question of] ‘how can I connect with fans off the pitch and in a different way?’ and vlogging has helped me do that. Growing up it was hard because there weren’t a lot of role models in women’s football, so now that I’m in that position where I can be that role model and I can use my platform to help inspire young girls and boys, it’s what I want to do.
“I feel like a lot of people can relate to me, away from the pitch, which is really nice. It’s just me being me. Nothing’s ever fake. My nan now thinks she’s famous off the back of it and everyone is asking about her.”
Toone’s loyalty to Manchester is apparent; Manchester-born rapper Aitch is her dream vlog guest and she signed a contract extension last November that will keep her at United until 2026. Her affection for Tyldesley specifically is also unmistakable throughout the conversation and there is now a mural of her on the exterior wall of a pub in her hometown.
The image depicts Toone celebrating in her England kit during that historic Euros victory, but the Lionesses want more glory this summer as they travel to Australia for the Women’s World Cup in July.
“We now have a big target on our backs and everyone wants to beat us, so it’s going to be even harder, but we’ll take that in our stride. That’s what we thrive off, we thrive off that pressure,” Toone says. “We’re really confident as a group, we’ve got so much talent in the squad, and we’ve got so many players coming through who bring something different as well. We’ll just keep doing what we’re doing, keep our heads down and work hard, but we’ll have to play some good football out there.”
Toone and her Lionesses team-mates have another ambition, which focuses on ensuring all girls have the chance to chase their sporting dreams from a young age.
Earlier this month, the Government promised to support the team’s call for girls to be given equal access to sport in schools and Toone says: “It’s always been about trying to inspire the next generation, especially young girls, and show them they can do it, they can play football.
“It just shows the character of the group, that straight after winning the Euros it was, ‘What next? What can we do to help and use our platform?’, and obviously we wrote that [open] letter and finally the Government’s on board with it, and we’re all so happy that that’s happened.
“But this is just the start, we’ll keep trying to push for what we think is right. We got what we wanted but we will not stop pushing for what we think is right.”
Much like Toone’s nan’s rather persistent Alexa, the Lionesses are a team determined to speak up and be heard.