This is a special Adobe Women’s FA Cup fourth round tie for so many people, including Lucy Copeland. One of three current scholars at the forefront of the University of Derby Football Journalism’s partnership with Derby County Football Club Women’s, the 20-year-old started her senior career with Leicester City Women before signing for the Ewes when starting her undergraduate course in the summer of 2021.
Copeland is entering the final six months of the unique course and excited both at watching her two senior clubs battle for a place in the last 16, at Mickleover Sports on Sunday afternoon, and where her career might lead after she graduates.
On Tuesday (January 16), Adidas launch their marketing campaign for the new Predator boots which is spearheaded by the face of Alessia Russo, the England and Arsenal forward – and Copeland’s feet. The talented wing-back, who hails from Burton, has been using her football skills to work as a ‘body double’ model for some of the biggest brands in the sport.
Copeland gets to meet the Lionesses for whom she deputises in the adverts and has been so fascinated by the intricacies of the campaigns that she plans to use her degree and football education to make a living from this arm of the marketing trade.
“Alessia Russo was as nice a person as you could wish to meet,” Copeland says. “She really made an effort to speak to us, asking who we played for and what we hoped to go on and achieve.
“Normally I rehearse with the crew and production team the day before the shoot. Then the professional player comes on the set for the days of filming and I show them what I’ve been doing, that they’ll then look to replicate. Often my feet end up being used in the final cut and the adverts just show the player’s upper half. It’s a dream come true to be working with the biggest brands and female athletes in the world.”
“I remember showing Keira Walsh how to replicate a bicycle kick for the camera and she said, ‘I’m not sure I can do that’. She was really nice as well.”
Copeland, who made her Ewes first-team debut in a cup tie against Burton Albion two seasons ago, has also been involved in campaigns for Nike, Stella McCartney, Under Armour, Dyson, Cadbury and Arsenal. There was a surreal moment in December 2022 when, immediately after the men’s World Cup final, she was featured in the first advert ITV played, as part of Under Armour’s ‘grind now, glory later’ campaign. She gets the gigs through Andy Ansah’s agency, Sports on Screen.
So what’s it like, meeting the stars who inspired her to pitch for a playing career? “It’s unreal, especially when I first started doing it,” she says. “I couldn’t believe it: I’m there, chatting to Leah Williamson, in a park. I had to pinch myself. I’ve got a bit more used to it now, but it’s great.”
Copeland’s studies and modelling have taken precedence this season, during a spell of on-going health issues that have limited her football. But she has been grateful for this three-year spell with Derby County Women: she was top scoring for the Development team in the first half of 2021/22 before spending the second half of the season with Sheffield FC Women, to gain experience of playing in the FA Women’s Premier League northern division, and returned to train and play with the Under-21s last season.
Regular observers of the University 1st XI are often wowed by the audacious dribbling skills that brought her to the agency’s attention. “We’ve had a really great team spirit over the past couple of seasons, and Mark Russell, our manager (also one of Sam Griffiths’ coaches here), has really helped me. It’s been really nice on a Wednesday afternoon to go out there and really enjoy playing.”
There have been offers to go and work overseas and Copeland is relishing combining her marketing career with playing after graduation. She would recommend to any young player to consider a dual career by going to university. “Try and find something you’re passionate about at a good uni where they also have a good football set-up,” she recommends. “Then you can keep a foot in both doors, studying and playing.”
Copeland is the sixth scholar on the Football Journalism course – Eleanor Humphrey plays for the Devs, while Ella Hilliard is part of the first-team squad – and this year the scholarship will broaden out to all subjects (see derby.ac.uk/open-days).
Copeland has most enjoyed her PR modules on the Football Journalism course, taught by programme leader Chris Hall, who previously worked for The FA. “He brought people into the classroom who showed us how to plan a campaign, so it’s real-life experience of what it’s like in the workplace. I’d love to make a career out of it: how to market a product, being on set, contacting the agents, booking the talent, planning the whole thing. Now I’m excited to see where this might all lead.”
This article also appears in the Derby County Women’s matchday programme. By Peter Lansley, senior lecturer, Football Journalism, University of Derby