Women’s football captain Frances Steele: “The culture of the University football team is incredible”

Frances Steele at Wolfson

At just 26, medical student Frances Steele has already had an incredible career in football.

Frances Steele at Wolfson

After falling in love with the sport at five, the midfielder went on to play for Ipswich Town and Arsenal as a youth, before captaining the England team at U15 level.

Fran was clearly on an upward trajectory in the UK when, in 2015, she made the tough decision to move to America after she was accepted by Yale to study molecular, cellular, and developmental biology.

It was the start of an impressive balancing act between sport and academia, football and medicine. 

While studying her biology degree in Yale, Fran played for the university football team in front of packed-out stadium crowds. Now, back in the UK, she somehow balances her study as a medical student at Cambridge alongside playing for not one, but two football teams: the University First Team (Blues) and Cambridge City Blues in the FA Women’s National League (FAWNL).

That triple commitment might be unmanageable for some, but Fran says the challenge only fuels her more:

“Football is my relief from anything and everything,” she says. “I thrive off having a routine and being in a team environment. I believe this is why I am drawn to medicine as well; I want to work in a team and in an environment where you are constantly challenged and push yourself to the next level. In a way, I see many similarities between a career in medicine and playing football, as strange as that sounds.” 

“The culture of the University football team is incredible”

It would come as no surprise to anyone that Fran joined the University Football Team at the beginning of her very first year at the University.

“It was the best decision I have made and has definitely been the highlight of my experience at Cambridge,” she says.

“The culture of the University Football Team is incredible. The team is tight-knit, sociable and hard-working. Everyone is understanding of players’ commitments and studies, whilst pushing each other to achieve what we know we are capable of.”

Having played at an elite level, Fran is impressed with the quality of university football. 

“This year has been an incredibly successful season for us,” she says. “We have finished third in the Midlands Division 1A league and have reached the Final of the Aldi National Women’s Cup, which is on Wednesday [22 March 2023). I am incredibly proud of the team and we deserve every bit of success this year for our hard work.”

The culture of Cambridge University football is also sensitive to the challenges students face of trying to balance sports and studies, says Fran.  

“University football presents the stress of having to balance supervisions, exams and whatever other stresses a degree at Cambridge can offer. Every member of the team goes through these struggles, so at certain points in the term, it is apparent that we are fatigued. The team and coach are understanding and wary of this, which makes it a lot easier.

“Although we’ve all got tough academic schedules, the standard is extremely high, and we put in many hours on the pitch, in the gym and doing video analysis.” 


Focusing on the end goal

Despite her love for the game, Fran is clear that the end goal now is to become a doctor.

“If you’d have asked me ten years ago, I would have said that I wanted to be a footballer,” she says. “But now I want to be a doctor.”

Fran attends a medical school placement each day, which varies on rotation, alongside football training most evenings, matches on Wednesdays and Sundays, and double sessions of morning gym work and evening training on Thursdays and Fridays. 

“It is difficult to balance medicine with football and a social life, but it fuels me and keeps me motivated.”

The medical placements are tough, especially in the current hospital environment, but Fran’s passion and commitment for medicine . 

“Working in a hospital can be very difficult for several reasons, and I am aware that it will only get more difficult with increasing responsibility. However, medicine is something that I have always been incredibly passionate about since a young age.

“Before attending the United States for my undergraduate degree, I knew that medicine was the route I wanted to pursue in the future. Of course, it can be very challenging, especially when undertaking an accelerated medicine course.

“During these tough times, I remind myself what I would have given to be in the position I am in now if I hadn’t been accepted into medical school – and I am incredibly grateful to have the opportunity to study Medicine at the University of Cambridge.”

A happy home at Cambridge

Fran is very content to call Wolfson her home at Cambridge: a college she chose specifically because she was “told it was a very sociable, diverse college with mature students”. 

“Wolfson has been very welcoming since day one,” she says. “I admire the social atmosphere, tight-knit community, and friendliness of the staff. I have made some amazing friends here and would encourage anyone else to apply to Wolfson.” 

And while medicine is her priority while she’s here, Fran is clear that football will always be one of the loves of her life and is thrilled with how the women’s game is taking off in the UK and around the world.

“I’ll always be grateful for the places it’s taken me and the challenges it’s presented,” she says. “And it is incredible to see where the women’s game has progressed to since the Euros. It is truly inspiring and the players in that team can take full credit for that.”

As an England youth player, Fran played with some of the Euro winning team, including Euro winning captain, Leah Francis, who is still a friend: “I could have predicted their success from back then,” she says. “They are all role models, to say the least.” 

Ask any of Fran’s teammates and fellow sportspeople at Wolfson and beyond, and they will very quickly say she’s a role model too.

Where football and medicine meet?

So what does the future hold for Fran?

Football careers don’t frequently linger much longer than a player’s thirties, but there could be a time when Fran does manage to combine – rather than simply balance – medicine and football in some respect.

“I am particularly interested in Sports Medicine,” she says. “When I played for a team several years ago, we had a Sports Doctor who travelled to all of our games and training camps with us. I was always fascinated by the job, and since then have always aspired to have a job like that in the future. So that is where my interests currently lie.

“With that being said, you are exposed to many fields of medicine as a student and foundation doctor, so I can never be too sure if something else will catch my eye.”

Still, there’s a long way to go before the end of her football career. There’s the Varsity match coming up next month, and tomorrow [Wednesday 22 March] Fran will be leading the team out to play in the Aldi National Women’s Cup Final against Nottingham Trent University.

“We are excited to give it all tomorrow,” she says, “and leave everything on the pitch. We are playing against a top side who won the league but we are confident we can get the win and take home that trophy!"