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My interest in football started very young

I was a useful participant supporting my fellow team mates on the pitch. We all loved the game of football. The east side of London produced sports men who were great influences of the game from teams like West Ham United, Leyton Orient FC, and Dagenham & Redbridge (in their prime).  That is what is was back then “women in football” (and we were not even as fit-looking like the heroines of today). I and many others back then were dubious in the dressing room (probably because there were no decent bathing or shower facilities for women) and also from the spectator’s point of view, there were no real support coming from the stands.   For most of the time the women back then were playing for charity and the FA saw football as being unsuitable for women. That is why other sports had to taken on board like athletics, rugby, netball, cricket, and tennis.  The alarm bells rang loudly though when managerial enthusiasts and the FA witnessed England’s women first international outing when they beat their Slovenia opponents 10-0. It was then the Football Association began to administer a new Women’s Premier League with three divisions.  The cliche might be to say that the “rest is history”, however the women’s footballing history goes far back as 1895.  My disadvantage was my height (that is why I had a great admiration for Peter Beardsley (Newcastle) who had a height disadvantage along with a tremendous goal scoring tally – the mum’s and dad watching wanted me score goals every other week like Maradona (Argentina);  I saw myself more as a midfielder and I also played in midfield.

I always tend to get emotional as the autumn and winter season draws closer

That is another thing to think about as a woman; looking after your well being. My mother hated me playing in the rain.  I do admire and respect the game today especially now with shared facilities alongside the senior men’s team, and likewise the same sponsorship. Yes, of course, we must talk about finances. Money in sport, especially in the women’s game, opens many doors – including the option to give up full-time employment, find a partner and get married, have children and still carrying with playing football like their male counterparts.

Tapped on the shoulder with the whisper of “what is this all about?”

I was not going to play for England or even get recognised. I did not care that no one knew me, or I did not get recognised, or that  no one was paying any attention — the current success of the women’s game has allowed me and many others including those from the historic Doncaster Belles to march on wards. The women’s game it seems would not be the same without options.  When I played football back in the 80’s and during school, I just played sport.  Today, women play the game.

Women are playing the game, creating new history, and achieving huge results

There is a vast amount of money invested in football, and the lucrative lifestyle to go with it. Would this have suited me?  It is not wise to look back with envy because during my time in football the men’s game was very competitive along with a fanatical fan base both at club level and nationally.  As a woman who played football a long ago – what I can bring to the association for today?  Well, there is the raising awareness flag in favour of safeguarding, also saying ‘no’ to racism, and sharing as much as I can around mental health awareness. The aim of this awareness and much more will help prevent a women’s potential in football from shining brightly because of individuals who make the choice to look through the lens of negativity. I am not being naive or ignorant because I know that in the midst of this, women have to play their part too.

Jennifer Valentine-Miller is also an Independent Sports Chaplain and the Director of Healing Relations PR Ltd.

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