Casey Stoney is on a crusade. To be fair, Casey Stoney is usually on a crusade of some description, be it leading Arsenal to yet another FA Cup triumph, or championing (unsuccessfully, as it happens) Great Britain women’s right to have a football team at the Olympic Games in Rio. This time the crusade is closer to home; in fact, it emanates from the home: the increasingly important role of Mums in Football.
As the mother of young twins, she can relate to the impact having children has had on her career; as a daughter she can recognise, and appreciate, the part played by her own mother as she battled to play a game once considered unladylike.
“My mum had a massive impact on my career,” says Stoney, the Arsenal defender with more than a century of England caps to her name. “She was the one encouraging me when doors were being shut in my face, literally.
“Mums are so important in football and vital for grassroots clubs. They aren’t washing kit and cutting up oranges at half-time anymore, they are coaching and managing, they are secretaries, they are the frontrunners of clubs.
“That should be recognised. Women are now an integral part of football and that is huge, not just for girls but also for boys who grow up seeing that men and women are the same and are capable of doing the same.”
Recognition has arrived in the shape of the McDonalds Football Mum of the Year award and Stoney is on the judging panel. She says: “The award shows that we are changing the perspective of those traditional gender roles.”
The birth of Teddy and Tilly in November 2014 to partner Megan Harris, the former Lincoln Ladies player, has given Stoney a different perspective on her own life and shifted her focus more than a few degrees.
“Children enhance your life,” says the 34 year old. “They are the best thing that ever happened to me. Before it was just football. But now I have perspective. They don’t care if I win or lose. They aren’t angry with me. They are still smiling when I walk through the door.
“They have given me a greater work-life balance. We are all at risk of doing so much work, we lose sight of life and lose sight of the important things. I am driven every day, but now I have two extra reasons to be successful, to give them the best possible future I can.
“Of course, it comes with its difficulties and challenges. Juggling work commitments and childcare is difficult, especially when you’re away so much. Being away for the World Cup for six weeks when the twins were just seven months old was very hard.
“And, of course, to be a footballer you have to be in the best shape possible. So I have had to get used to functioning on less sleep. The kids are up at 6-7am and I have no choice. They won’t wait for me.
“We need more support for mums who are athletes. Governing bodies have to ask if they give athletes enough. Look how well Jess Ennis-Hill did after coming back. Research shows that women come back stronger after having children. Why not embrace that?”
Stoney counts herself lucky to have a very supportive partner. She came out openly in 2014 following the positive reaction to diver Tom Daley revealing he was gay and in a happy relationship. And she believes it is crucial to be open and honest with her children. “They are only 20 months old but they know they have two mums,” she says.
“Once they are old enough to understand we will explain where they came from, they will know exactly what is going on. Everything will be out in the open. It is so important we are honest and they know they are loved and wanted.
“Being a good mum is about creating a loving environment whatever background you’re from and no matter how much money you have. It’s about creating an environment of love, care, empathy and sensitivity and being there for them. That is something I am passionate about. I’m not naive, I know I am in a relationship which may be hard for them at some points, but they will always know they will come home to a loving place and be cared for.”
What is more, Stoney believes she is playing the best football of a long career that has run concurrently with the upward trajectory of the women’s game. It has certainly come a long way since she won her first England cap in 2000. So far, in fact, that when she won her fourth FA Cup final in May, it was at the home of English football.
“I know it’s a cliché, but it really was a dream come true,” she says of Arsenal’s 1-0 win over Chelsea at Wembley. “I’ve been to so many cup finals, and watched the men walk up those steps to raise the cup. I savoured every step. I never thought women’s football would be at that level in my career.”
Stoney wrote an article for The Mixed Zone last August in which she decried the decision of the Football Association not to send a team to the Olympic Games, recalling the importance of London 2012 in the development of the women’s game. Her passion and forthright views have not been dampened by the refusal of football’s hierarchy to change their minds.
“I think it’s awful,” she reiterates. “It’s such a shame. Women’s football needs a platform like the Olympic Games. London 2012 took us to a new level. The whole country was behind us. And then look at what we did at the World Cup last year. We excelled. We did more than was expected of us and we were the best team in Europe. I can’t stand it when politics gets in the way of football.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Laura Winter is a sports journalist, presenter and event host. She worked in sports communications for the International Rowing Federation for two years, before working and training as a journalist in Gloucestershire, covering a variety of sports including rugby, boxing, football, and triathlon. She then turned freelance at the end of 2014 and is part of the team who founded Voxwomen, a women’s cycling show that seeks to give the female elite peloton the coverage they deserve. Laura’s latest articles.