The photo that sets the scene perfectly.
A small ginger-haired girl wearing my brother’s hand-me-down shorts standing in the middle of a football pitch filled with boys.
Eagerly waiting to put into practice the things I had learned in the garden, all be it not very patiently as I knew what I wanted, and I wasn’t afraid to barge a few boys out of the way to get there.
Back then, blissfully unaware of the dim reality of my dream to become ‘the female David Beckham’.
At the age of nine, I was finally able to be part of a girls’ team. It became clear to me pretty quickly that my dream might not be possible. Having seen the way my older brother was treated in the game; we weren’t receiving the same treatment.
From training on dog-poo-ridden council playing fields to having to pay for kit because we couldn’t get a sponsor, this wasn’t the same experience I was getting even as a 6-year-old girl on a boys’ team.
Regardless, I carried on playing just down to my love of the game. I couldn’t get enough. But it soon came the deciding point for most young girls…GCSE’s.
By the time girl’s reach the age of 16 in the UK less than 15% of us continue playing, as most of us are forced to make the decision between education and sport.
Although today, there are far more opportunities for women that combine the two…you have to look at the incentives of perusing a sporting career for a woman.
At this point in my life, I had just signed for Southend United Ladies and received the captain’s armband. I had never really looked into the prospects of a professional footballing career as a woman, I was no longer the 6-year-old girl that was allowed to dream of being ‘the female David Beckham’.
A moment of weakness let the girl inside of me peak at the figures and taunt with the idea of putting my all into the thing I had always loved most.
What I was confronted with…
“THE AVERAGE PAY FOR A PROFESSIONAL PLAYER IS ABOUT £25,000 AND YOU HAVE TO BE PLAYING FOR A TOP 4 CLUB TO GET THAT”
“YOU HAVE TO PUT IN HOURS OF TRAINING A WEEK BUT YOU CAN’T PLAY IN THE CLUBS STADIUM”
“YOU’LL RECEIVE SEXIST COMMENTS ON YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA SO BEST TO KEEP IT QUIET”
Just to give a few examples…
Naturally, I was taken back. I’d spent the last ten years of my life training, committed to a sport and I couldn’t, even though I wanted to so badly, even consider it as a career. I was a bright young lady who knew I could go into a city job and eventually earn £30,000+, so despite my undying love for the game I decided that it wasn’t going to be the path I would take.
The thing is, I only got to a semi-pro level and I don’t think I would’ve made it any further. But, what about the girls who are unbelievably talented?
Along the way, I have met many girls and women that are so hardworking and genuinely brilliant but chose to take a different route in life.
How do you expect girls and women to fully commit themselves to football as a career when the pay and treatment is so poor?
At the end of the day, football is a short career it cruelly relies on fitness and other factors that will inevitably cause you to have to stop.
People ridicule women’s football tapes online and blame the quality of the game for its progression. How can you expect progression if thousands of talented individuals are forced to make a logical decision between a stable well-paying career and a short poor paying one?
So, to the 6-year-old dreamer I was, I wish I could bring you better news but we’re not there yet. Instead of becoming ‘the female David Beckham’ I have chosen a career in journalism to hopefully do my bit to increase media coverage of female sport.
I do definitely have hope. Growing up seeing all the changes, even having a properly established women’s super league is a massive step in the right direction.
In my opinion, one of the most limiting factors for the progression and quality of the game is that there needs to be more incentive for women to fully commit.
It’s scary enough as it is to dive into a ‘manly sport’ and in the ‘girl boss’ world we’re living in women need financial security too.
By Ashleigh Holland