Lionesses’ chance to leave lasting legacy

As the European Championship kicks off in Holland, with England among the favourites, Gail Emms discovers what one promising young footballer wants to happen in the future. Here is her blueprint for the Football Association

It can be an easy position as an ex-athlete to look on at the world of sport and have an opinion, now that you are not immersed in the bubble. By taking a step back, seeing the bigger picture, the fears for the future, it can be easy to rant, rage and blame others for what is unfolding. If I had to go through sport again, starting now, would it be any different? I might have had a chance at a different sport, though …

Fifty years ago, my mum was a football-mad teenager. Inspired by growing up in North London, and playing football against her older brothers, she was beginning to get very good. But the dream of becoming a professional in those days was an impossible one. She didn’t encourage me as she didn’t want me to go through the abuse that she did.

Fast forward to today, and the start of the English Lionesses’ Euro 2017 campaign in Holland. I spoke with Chloe Murray, a 15-year-old footballer at MK Dons Academy, to ask her views on the current state of women’s sport, and in particular football.

“I play football because it’s fun! I get to meet people with the same interests, to socialise with new people and make new friends. Football and sport helps to get rid of stress from school and it clears my mind.”

I’ve noticed recently that it’s the dads of daughters who are championing more opportunities for girls in sport, and Chloe’s case was no different.

“My dad got me into sport after a sports day at my primary school because of a race where I had to dribble a ball in and out of cones. My dad always shows off his football skills and says, ‘See this is what you should be practising and doing!” and I’m just like, “OK, Dad, you can stop now!”, but he just keeps doing these skills until I tackle him.”

Many teenagers drop out of sport as it is seen as uncool or the school doesn’t see it as a priority. Chloe’s response to her school sport experience took me by surprise.

“I feel there is still a sexist side to sport in school sport. In some schools, the boys have more fixtures than the girls. In one school, the boys have home fixtures and girls don’t because they do not have a smaller pitch for the girls to play on! Only recently they had a girls’ home match and only the year-seven girls’ team played. If I try and play football with the boys at school, I often get negative comments such as ‘She won’t be as good!’ or ‘She can go on the OTHER team!’ which can get me down. But I like proving them wrong.”

“My heroes are Alex Scott and Toni Duggan because they are successful. They make me think that I could be able to do the things they do one day. I think about 20 per cent of my school has heard of them, but I think they deserve more recognition than that as they have amazing talent. Also, they would have grown up playing when the sporting world was more sexist which is impressive! I think the reason people haven’t heard of them is because men’s football is on TV all the time and it is rare for the women’s matches to be on TV.”

When I asked Chloe what she thinks of the FA and how they treat women’s sport, and how they could take it forward, suddenly Chloe gets very passionate and feisty.

“The FA will see what amazing talent women have at the Euro 2017 Championship and they NEED to increase the budget for women’s football. The lack of funding means that the women don’t get the facilities or the coaches, so how is that fair compared to the men?

“I think sexism in sport will improve … but I think it will always be there. Although I am lucky to have grown up in a society that is more supportive of women’s sport, there will always be people who are not accepting of women in the sport industry and that is sad to think that some things will not change.

“Some people don’t understand how something they find funny or a ‘bit of banter’ could make someone lose confidence in them self. I have experienced this and did lose confidence. But what kept me going were my parents and my football coaches because they kept telling me that I WAS good enough. And I must have been doing something right … I’m in an academy team and play at a higher level than most people ever will. Football makes me feel confident.”

So what is the dream?

“My goal and ambition is to travel the world playing football. Sport is my passion and what I love to do. I don’t think there will be a time in my life when I am not interested in sport. I think the United States would be the place where I would want to go and play football the most because there is so much support for women’s football there. It’s more popular than the men’s game and more people want to watch women play. This is what a lot of the other girls in football want to do. If the FA wants to keep their young talent here, they need to increase the budget and offer women’s teams better facilities and create a pathway that is achievable and professional.”

And a final message to the Lionesses?

“And I just want to wish the Lionesses a massive GOOD LUCK in the Euro 2017 Championship!! Many people – especially me! – will be watching, cheering and screaming you on!”

I am so proud that Chloe has opportunities that my mum, and even myself, never had. Women’s football is becoming more and more popular, more professional, and more recognised. Yet there is still that underlying sexism that will never go away. Even though there are improvements, I fear women’s football will never get the full respect from men that it deserves? The Lionesses have a chance to show this country and Europe what they are about. Hear them roar!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gail Emms MBE is one of Britain’s most successful badminton players, best remembered for her silver medal in the mixed doubles at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. With partner Nathan Robertson, she won gold at the World Championships in 2006, the Commonwealth Games in the same year, and the European Championships in 2004. Gail was six times national mixed doubles champion and national ladies doubles champion five times. Since retiring after the Beijing Olympic Games, Gail has been a versatile sports presenter on a variety of television and radio programmes. She was awarded the MBE for services to badminton in 2009. She is the mother of two boys. Gail’s latest articles

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