Differences in the way nations and football associations deal with having mothers in their teams
Tomorrow brings a new start, or should I say re-start to our training at Reading in preparation for the second half of our WSL 2 campaign.
I am excited to get going again having had a good two week break which has included some quality time with my family when we took to the shores of Devon for a week and then returning to a few individual running sessions before meeting up with the team again.
I have always found the mid season break a tricky one to get my head around as for some teams it is exactly what is needed after a hectic first half of the season but similarly it can impact on positive momentum that a team may have gained in their opening fixtures. I’m hoping for us that we will have used the break wisely, regenerated ourselves both physically and mentally, and will be ready to crack on from where we left off. We have been on an incredible run of late and we hope to continue that come July.
Personally, the fixture break came at a good time for me. Having waited patiently for my chance, I got my opportunity to start and played two 90 minutes in a row and played pretty well. I was feeling fit and sharp and in the Everton game especially, the team was really starting to come together and show what we are about. Then we went up to Doncaster and won 3-0 which was fantastic. It was another gritty team performance and really set out a marker to the rest of the league. For me, though, it was tinged with frustration as after about 7 or 8 minutes I was running towards goal when their defender (fairly) won the ball from me and I rolled my ankle. As soon as I did it I knew I was struggling and although I tried to play on, it was obvious I couldn’t finish the game and so I came off just after half time. I was gutted. The ankle healed pretty well and I managed to play a part in the last two games before the break with the help of a bit of strapping but it has been good for me to be able to rest it properly without worrying about trying to be ready for any games.
The break has also allowed me to get stuck into watching the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada. Obviously I would rather be there myself with the Wales squad but while that wasn’t to be this year, seeing the football on show in Canada has left us itching to make the next major competition in 2017.
It has been a great spectacle so far with the odd shock result and the big teams starting to come good when it matters. It is brilliant to see one of our own, Fran Kirby, setting the world alight with her talents and as I write this, she will be hoping to inspire England to their first knock out success in history against Norway tonight. It will be a good game to watch, not least because it is two of the heavy weights of the tournament coming together but also from a Welsh perspective to see how Norway set up and play as we are due to face them in the next Euro qualifying campaign.
One thing that has come up in the press is how different nations and football associations deal with having mothers in their teams – something that is obviously very close to my heart. A lot has been made of Katie Chapman’s return to the squad having had a long absence due to this very issue. I thought back then how different it is from one team to the next, and it seems it is still a problem for some players.
Even before I had Emily, I was always a firm believer that to get the most out of your team, you need the players to be happy both on and off the field. That means doing all you can to take away any worries or issues surrounding them to enable them to solely focus on the job in hand – in this case, winning the World Cup. Now, as a mother, to me that would mean knowing that my daughter is safe, being looked after and being somewhere that I can be in contact with her. It hasn’t become too much of an issue yet, but I have already had the conversation with Jayne (my Wales manager) and she is fully behind me and has promised to try and make it work in whichever way suits us. At the moment, with Emily being so young, I decided it was best to leave her at home with my husband and my family whilst on camps, but as she gets older, it may be that she comes with me and we have a nanny or a babysitter with us. I don’t know how it will work just yet but the fact that she has offered her support and is thinking of her players as people and not just footballers is of huge comfort to me. It seems that not all organisations are the same.
It is a sad fact that a woman having a child should impact on her football career. It’s a given that you will miss games and have to recover properly both during pregnancy and after the birth, but if you are fit enough and good enough to return to a team, then having a child shouldn’t have to be an obstacle. In a meeting with a former manager of mine at the end of a season, she actually said to me that she had “heard a rumour” that I was hoping to start a family and used it as a reason to possibly not extend or renew my contract. I understand she wants a team that she will have for the whole season but you can’t predict injuries and so I don’t think she should have used a rumour of a potential future pregnancy against me. No other employer could decline you a contract in case you got pregnant. It was my personal business and who knew when it might happen, or not? I couldn’t put my football career on hold just in case, especially as I knew that when or if I did have a baby, I always wanted to return to playing.
The USWNT have it spot on in my eyes, and have done for years. They have nannies in the squad to look after all of the players children and you can see how the players appreciate that. Norway also adopt a similar mentality. Their director of football said about one player who had her son around her that “it increases her wellbeing and performance on the pitch”. The Japanese agree, saying that having children with their mother whilst on international duty allows them to concentrate on their game but also – and just as importantly in my eyes – it is “enhancing and activating women’s football in Japan by showing hope and a reassuring picture of the future to female players”. This point is something that I would love to do in this country. I want to be able to inspire girls that want to play football that no matter what aims they have as players or people, that even if they have plans to start a family, they can still achieve all they want and have the support whilst doing so. I am involved in the judging for the McDonald’s Football Mum of the Year and it would be great if in the future, mum’s who actually play football themselves will be amongst the winners!
Club: Reading Women FC
I started my career as an 8 year old at Watford Town Girls – which later became Watford Ladies FC. I was there until I left the club at the age of 22 having helped the team to promotion into the national Premier League for the first time in the club’s history. I went on to captain the club and leading the all time goalscoring records before moving onto Arsenal Ladies in January 2009. At arsenal I won the Premier League title twice and also reached the FA Women’s Cup Final on two occasions, winning it once in 2009. I also made several appearances in the Champions League for Arsenal in the 2009/2010 season. In the summer of 2010 I left Arsenal to join Chelsea Ladies in time for the inaugural Women’s Super League season, starting in 2011. I was at the club for three season, reaching another FA Cup Final – and scoring the opening goal in 2012 but ultimately losing out on penalties against Birmingham. Having spent three years at Chelsea, the time came where I felt I needed to move on and start a new challenge. With my former team mate and captain for both Wales and Arsenal, Jayne Ludlow, taking over at Reading, this is where I felt my new challenge lay. I joined Reading in November 2013 all set for the first Women’s Super League 2 season in 2014. As it happens, I didn’t actually make a league appearance for the Royals until March 2015 – just two FA Cup games – as I took a break from football to start a family. I have since had a baby girl (Emily) who is now my biggest fan and attends most of our home games in her very own Reading Kit!
Internationally, I made my senior Wales debut in September 2008 and have amassed 60 caps and scored 33 goals. My ultimate aim, and that of the team, is for us to qualify for our first major tournament and our eyes are set firmly on the European Finals in 2017 with qualifying beginning in Norway later this year.