A 4-year-old girl told us (myself, male relatives and their, mostly male, friends) that she wants to work in football when she grows up. It melted my heart, I know how badly I wanted that when I was younger. Unfortunately, the men started laughing and ridiculed the young girl’s dream. Heart breaking. This led to tears and a conversation no one should have with a four-year-old; a conversation where you explain she can become whatever she wants to when she grows up, just like her older brother, and that women can do the same thing men can, because until then she never even considered she couldn’t do the same things as her brother. (“Can I play for Arsenal like Ramsey?” – “No, that’s a men’s team, but if you are good enough you can play for the Arsenal Ladies just like Alex Scott.” – “I want to be (Jordan) Nobbs”).
Like every young girl I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up, though this changed every other week. I went from wanting to join the Marine Corps, like my dad, to wanting to become the next Ashley Cole, to wanting to be a vet, then a lawyer, a star rugby player, a world champion kickboxing… the list is endless really. Unlike many young girls my family never told me I couldn’t become any of these things, they allowed me to dream and encouraged me to train hard and study harder. Despite my family’s encouragements the outside world wasn’t as friendly and didn’t hesitate to crush my dreams by telling me only boys could do that.
Thankfully I take after my father and I’m ridiculously stubborn, so when I was eight I replied to one of my aunts, who’d said I couldn’t do something, to watch me prove her wrong (I was playing football and rugby and I had just joined a kickboxing group at that time, I thought I was unstoppable). Anyway, the Arsenal Ladies were already there when I grew up and films such as Bend It Like Beckham and She’s The Man were part of my teenage years. This may seem like a small detail, but seeing women play football/rugby in front of an actual audience was what inspired me. It was exactly what I needed to train harder and to never give up. The same for female politicians, leading actresses, singers, CEO’s etc. Just one woman making it to the top can make all the difference. Slowly I started to realise I could become whatever I wanted to be when I grew up, as long as I worked hard.
I grew up playing football/rugby and I was kickboxing too, I was one of the very few girls who did any of these three sports so I was mainly training with boys. Soon all the things people told me I couldn’t do were forgotten, because I could keep up with the boys and when I was old enough I applied for the army and completed infantry training, unfortunately I had to quit because of personal circumstances. Throughout these years I have been called every name in the book and I’ve heard so many sexist remarks and comments that I think I can say I’ve heard them all. It was hard to stay motivated when you feel the whole world’s laughing at you and no one is taking you seriously. Eventually I gave up my dream of working in any professional sport because, frankly, it wasn’t worth all the crap.
Eva Carneiro being appointed as physio of Chelsea’s first team inspired me to apply for jobs within men’s sports, something I’d always wanted to do but was too insecure and scared to actually do. Now I’m in my early twenties, I was one of the first and am still one of the few female managers and event organisers at my company for six years now and just last summer I started working as a sports psychologist, with clients who work in football, athletics, American football and rugby. I may not play for Arsenal’s first team, nor am I a Marine, and thank God I don’t play rugby for Ireland’s men’s team, but I am making a difference, I am successful, and all that while working in a “men’s world”. And maybe, if I’m very lucky, I can inspire one young girl, who’s been told she can’t do something because she’s a girl, to do whatever she wants to do and become damn good at it too.