Sussex Born & Bred: Ellie Hack
In our latest Sussex Born & Bred interview, we spoke with former Brighton & Hove Albion, and current Lewes defender, Ellie Hack.
Many players will say that they grew up in a football mad household, and for Lewes centre-back Ellie Hack, 20, that certainly was the case.
“From as early as I can remember, I’ve been heading footballs,” reminisces Hack, “we’d be down the park every day, all of us, me, dad, and my brothers.
“And to be honest, I think the main reason I became a defender was because, when we’d all play together, the boys wouldn’t let me have the ball, unless I was able to get it off them!”
Born in Worthing, Hack’s footballing upbringing is thanks in no small part to her father, Stuart Hack, who made over 200 appearances for Lewes
It could be said to be unsurprising, therefore, that Ellie found herself joining her first team at the age of six, in the form of the girl’s team Littlehampton Devils.
However, her first taste of competitive football didn’t exactly go to plan.
“My first memory playing for them was a tournament, my very first one, and for some reason I remember asking to go in goal, because I think I wanted to be a goalkeeper?
“So, I went in goal, and we lost our first game 5-0, and I was crying in the car on the way home saying I’d never go in goal again!
“I then went to play for East Preston, where my dad was coaching, because I really wanted to play for a boys’ team.
“At that point my dad was also being helped a lot by Richie Selleck who I remember always brought so much energy.”
Next up on Hack’s grassroots journey came Rustington Otters.
“That was definitely where I played most of my grassroots football,” remembers Hack, “and I just remember the boys being so protective over me - I had nine bodyguards there!”
However, whilst the young Hack would have been content to continue playing with the boys and getting her grassroots footballing education, her next chapter on the pitch lay elsewhere.
Soon the talented young defender would catch the eye of Brighton & Hove Albion.
“I had a school teacher at Littlehampton Academy, Kim Whitcombe, who at the time played for Brighton,” said Hack, “which was great because we would just talk about football all the time.
“And one day she invited a scout to come to one of our school games. Luckily, she didn’t tell me, so I was able to just relax and play my game.
“It wasn’t until after the match I knew anything about it, when the scout came up and invited me to come along for a trial.
“I really didn’t want to go, because I didn’t want to play girls football, but thankfully mum and dad convinced me to go and try it out.
“Almost as soon as we started, I remember thinking ‘wow okay these girls can actually play’.”
“Some time went by, and then one day I remember being upstairs and hearing a scream from my mum, so I ran down and saw her standing there screaming at me telling me I’ve got in!”
Yet whilst Hack had got in, she still had to overcome the dreaded first day.
“I think I had mum drop me off two hours early, because I was so terrified of being late, so I remember just sitting in the car for ages, with mum just trying her best to calm my nerves.
“When we started and I got out on the pitch, I was overthinking every touch, but soon I started to meet the other girls and settle into my game and started to love it.
“One of the first friends I remember making was Sophie Isted. She was the first one to come up to me and from that point she was always my centre-half partner.”
Of course, being part of the Brighton set up meant that Hack was now learning from the pro’s she’d been watching out on the pitch.
“Jay Blackie was the first coach I had, and it was great having her to look up to,” said Hack.
“Me and a few of the other girls would go and watch the first-team and see her play as much as we could. She was such a great role model to have.”
But being part of academy football, didn’t just teach Hack how to improve her game on the pitch.
“I was learning so much more than I thought I would,” said Hack, “Of course learning the tactical side of the game and how to read the game came into it.
“But I was also learning how to do a proper warm-up and cool-down, along with what I couldn’t eat off the pitch, which sound simple, but was all such an eye opener for me at 13.”
Yet whilst Hack was getting into the swing of things with Brighton, the young centre-back was also starting to garner fans slightly further afield, in this case, the England Schools set-up.
“So that season I joined Brighton, I was also lucky enough to be playing for the Sussex Schools team,” said Hack, “and it was my manager there, Sophie Perry, who put me forward for the England Schools team.
“The first year I tried out, got in, but was told that I actually shouldn’t have tried out because I was still too young! So I came back a year later and got in.”
For Hack, there’s little debate as to the highlight from her time with England Schools, as her Under-15s team triumphed in the Bod Docherty Cup, an annual home nations tournament.
“That whole tournament was just unreal,” remembers Hack, “we were on such a high, winning every game, not conceding and scoring for fun, so the energy was really good around the team.
“It was great to have that first experience of going away to a camp and meeting so many new people.”
Back at Brighton, Hack was continuing her progression through the academy, with her hard work eventually being rewarded in the 2018/19 season.
“That season was a really special one for me,” said Hack, “because it was at this point that I first began training with the first-team.
“At first it was definitely a shock to the system training with them, from the physicality to just the way they’d fizz passes into you, but it was a great experience which I learnt a lot from.”
At 16-years-old Hack was training with Women’s Super League (WSL) level players, so was she now starting to think that football could become something more than just her passion?
“To be honest, as much as I’ve loved football, even as a kid, I never said I wanted to be a professional footballer,” said Hack.
“I’m not sure if it was because I didn’t think it could come true, but it just wasn’t something I’d thought about.
“I still just wanted to play for enjoyment, so my focus was mostly on making sure I got the marks at school and college.”
But of course, whilst the normality of classroom stress was shared with many her age, Hack was soon experiencing a very different kind of stress when England came to call.
“It was unreal to get that call from England,” said Hack, “it’s such an honour to represent your county at any level, and my family were just so proud.
“My instant reaction was one of excitement and then nerves, because I just didn’t want to mess up the opportunity.”
Yet Hack needn’t have worried, with her debut against Moldova coming on as a substitute to score in a 7-0 win.
“It was great to get on in that game and just get all the nerves out of the way,” said Hack, “as soon as I got on and the whistle went, it just became another game.
“To come on and get my goal, and for us to win in the way that we did, I don’t think the debut could have gone any better.
“And I was lucky enough that a few of my family were able to come over and see me play.
“For me, that’s definitely one of the highlights of my career so far; to score and see them in the crowd going crazy and the happiness that it brought them, it just made it for me.”
Back on home soil, another debut was soon to be on the cards for Hack, in the form of a Continental Cup Quarter-Final clash against Manchester City, on 10 January 2019.
“I really didn’t expect to be in the squad,” said Hack, “and it was such a strange experience, because I wasn’t 18 yet, so I wasn’t able to share a room with anyone, which didn’t exactly help with the nerves!
“Because if you have a teammate with you, that's someone to chat to and take your mind off things. But even though I was in the squad, I wasn’t expecting to play.”
But with 52 minutes on the clock, Hack was called into action. And despite City winning 7-1, it didn’t take the shine of a special night in her career.
Indeed, Hack wouldn’t have to wait long for her full debut, just over a week later, once again against Manchester City, this time in the WSL.
“I don’t think I knew I was starting until the night before,” said Hack, “but with every game, I’ve always got my dad’s voice in my head, reminding me that it’s always just another game of football.”
A 3-0 defeat followed, but for Hack the experience of the game was invaluable.
“I’m so happy I had that game, because I learned so much about myself,” said Hack.
“I didn’t have the best start to the game, but I felt like I went on to play well in the rest of the game.
“I remember being on the bus back home, and having Aileen Whelan, a player that I really looked up to, coming over to me and saying I did a good job.
“She didn’t have to say anything, but that small gesture really meant a lot.”
The rest of the season saw Hack continuing to train with the academy and the first team, making a few more cameo appearances in games for the Albion.
But as the domestic season was wrapping up, for Hack, that meant attention turned back to the international scene, specifically the 2019 UEFA Under-17s Euro’s in Bulgaria.
“I’d been training and working hard, and had been in and around the team, but going into the tournament I really wasn’t sure if I’d be part of that squad of 20,” said Hack.
But despite a calf injury leading up to the camp, Hack was on the plane and going to her first major tournament.
However, a ‘group of death’ awaited her and the rest of the team, featuring Germany (eventual Champions), the Netherlands (runners-up) and Austria.
“Going into the tournament, there was definitely a feeling that we’d put in all the work possible leading up to the first game,” said Hack.
“We’d all been taking 10 penalties each at every training session, and whilst the draw wasn’t ideal, we’d prepared well enough to be able to test each of those teams.
“Of course, the result was we went out at the group stage, but we went out on six points, and by just three goals on goal difference, which is just unheard of!
“But I learnt so much about tournament football from the experience, such as recovery game to game, and the fine margins that it takes to come away with the win.
“You get tested in camps, and because of that, I’ve always said with the England girls, you share the good times and the bad together, which brings you all so close together.”
Whilst England’s time in Bulgaria was short lived, the tournament had further heightened Hack’s own reputation, and had instilled in her the desire to keep testing herself with regular football.
The 2019/20 season with Brighton saw her continue to represent the academy team, making 15 appearances for the side, along with a start for the senior team in a 5-0 win over London Bees in the Continental Cup.
Yet, as the season came to an end, and the 2020/21 campaign loomed over the horizon, Hack knew she needed more game time.
Enter Lewes FC.
“I was really excited to head out on loan to Lewes,” said Hack, “I’d heard a lot about the values of the club and what they stand for, and they were things that really aligned with me.
“I’d been at Brighton for around six years at this point, so I was in need of a change of clubs.
“Joining in the middle of COVID-19 didn’t make it the most normal of moves, however I already knew goalkeeper Laura Hartley from Brighton, so it was nice to have a friendly face to help me settle in.”
Hack’s loan to Lewes proved to be the perfect match, with the defender playing Championship football week-in-week-out; but how was it adjusting to a very different style of football?
“Those first games, I definitely got bashed up in the air a good few times,” said Hack.
“The Championship is such a competitive league. You have to fight for every point, and anyone can beat anyone.
“The games I’d played for Brighton had given me a bit of experience, but it was still a shock, especially the physical side of things.”
Yet the loan move didn’t just introduce Hack to a more physical league; a new kind of pressure was now having to be dealt with.
“I’d always had pressure to perform, but at Brighton it was either for the youth team, or as the young player,” said Hack, “whereas now I was in a team as an equal and being depended on for points.
“But playing regularly meant I learnt how to win and how to manage games, which is something you can only learn by playing more.”
That first season on loan saw the Rooks finish fifth in the table, and for Hack, make the move permanent in the summer.
“I’ll be honest after a couple of weeks I knew this was a special club,” said Hack, “everything from the girls, the staff, the whole environment was just somewhere I knew I wanted to be a part of.
“So I was really excited to make the move permanent, because this is a club with big aspirations, and they’re aspirations that I share with them.”
Yet despite having a full season with the club under her belt, due to the pandemic, Hack still hadn’t been able to play in front of the Lewes faithful at the Dripping Pan.
“I’d kept hearing about this amazing Dripping Pan atmosphere, so when the first home game of the new season came around, I couldn’t wait,” said Hack.
“I remember there being a brass band, drummers, and I think even a choir tuned up! The atmosphere was really incredible and it’s honestly like having a twelfth player out there with us."
Hack’s first season as a permanent member of the Lewes roster saw her remain as a mainstay of the backline, as the side continued in their battle to finish in the top half of the table.
But what would Hack say was her highlight from that season?
“The last game of that season, against Liverpool at home, definitely stands out,” said Hack.
“They’d already won the league at this point, but it was a sell-out crowd and there was such a good spirit around the place that day, and we went on to beat them 2-1 to finish the year.”
This season has seen Lewes look to keep building on the momentum from the last campaign.
Yet following a busy summer transfer window and the arrival of new manager Scott Booth, the club are currently seventh in the table.
“It’s definitely been a season of a lot of change,” said Hack, “but I feel like we’re definitely buying into the way Scott wants us to play, and all the new players have adapted so quickly to the Lewes way.”
“The table says one thing, but at one point we’d only lost two games in ten, so we know what we’re capable of.”
“Personally, this season is one where I really want to continue to develop my leadership skills.
“I’ve been so lucky to play with the likes of Rhian Cleverly, and the way she leads us is something I’m always looking to learn from.”
And as for the next generation of young girls looking to follow in Hack’s footsteps, what advice would she offer them?
“The most important thing is to always believe in yourself,” said Hack.
“Over the years I’ve sometimes struggled to keep that confidence and belief in myself, but it’s so important to try and keep it, because when you have it, that’s when you play at your best.”
Indeed, with Hack embodying the determined and hard-working spirit around the Dripping Pan this season, there are few who’d bet against the centre-back making it to the top.
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