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Breaking news alert: Boots is a partner of the women’s national teams of England, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, Scotland and Wales for the next three years! To mark this perfect match, we caught up with the game’s top players, so get ready to meet some inspiring role models…
e’ll give you one chance to guess the biggest female team sport in the UK. Yep, with nearly 3 million players, it’s, drum roll please… football! Surprised to hear the beautiful game is such a hit with women? Well, listen up! Sure, it’s an amazing sport involving immense skill and athleticism, but we’re also discovering just how much of an uplift it has on female confidence. A Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) study of more than 4,000 females in England, Spain, Denmark, Germany, Poland and Turkey found that 80% of teenage footballers displayed more confident behaviour. And nearly 60% said it helped them overcome a lack of self-confidence.
Then, of course, there’s the phenomenal achievements of the female players, with Team GB reaching the Olympic Quarter Finals in 2012; the English side winning the international SheBelieves Cup in the USA this March; and England and Scotland qualifying for the FIFA Women’s World Cup in the summer. And we mustn’t forget the seven players (and counting) who’ve been awarded MBEs for services to sport.
With Boots’ ethos of supporting and empowering women to feel good about themselves, a partnership with women’s football is a match (pun intended) made in heaven. So to celebrate this union, we grabbed time with players from all five nations involved – England, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Read on to learn about the amazing life skills football has given them (it’s more than nifty footwork, trust us); why being part of a team has changed their lives for the better; and even how make-up gives them a confidence boost to help them win matches. Inspired is not a strong enough word for how you’ll feel.
Team England captain/Manchester City
Did you know? Steph was the first female player to feature on the cover of the football magazine Shoot.
What’s your take on the mistaken belief that you can’t be feminine and play football? Ten or 15 years ago, many of us faced that, in terms of hearing, ‘It’s a man’s sport, you shouldn’t be playing,’ or ‘You look manly.’ Now, though, people can see that we’re athletes, and that we train hard in order to be athletic and as fit as we can possibly be.
Many young girls say they don’t play sport due to being self-conscious about their bodies. What’s your advice? Try to block out what you think other people are thinking – because you genuinely don’t know. And in my experience, the great feeling of doing exercise in any form outweighs anything that anyone could potentially say to you.
Do you think women’s football is being taken more seriously now? Yes – you not only see female players doing what they love, but they’re also challenging perceptions every day. When I first started playing football, you’d never hear about it – you wouldn’t even know that England were playing! Whereas when we won the SheBelieves Cup this March, it was all over the news and everybody has been congratulating us.
Team Northern Ireland/Everton
Did you know? In 2016, Simone set a world record for the fastest international women’s goal!
How do your teammates boost you? One great example is last year, when I was out for six months with a stress fracture. My teammates were there every day saying, ‘Simone, it’ll get better, keep putting the work in now and you’ll reap the rewards when you come back.’ It’s lonely when you’re injured, but having the girls’ support helped push me through.
Best advice you’ve been given? When I was 15, my coach Alfie Wylie said, ‘Your mind is like a parachute – it always works best when it’s open.’ This has stuck with me, and you can relate it to any aspect of life.
What’s the most empowering thing about playing football? Being part of a group of people who share the same goals, and all working together to try to achieve them. Women pushing themselves, stretching boundaries, and breaking down the barriers and stereotypes that we’re constantly faced with.
Team Wales/Seattle Reign/Olympique Lyonnais (on loan)
Did you know? In 2017, Jess became the first Welsh player (female or male) to earn 100 caps for the national team.
What’s the greatest thing that football has taught you? To be completely at ease with incredible highs and incredible lows. That’s huge, because life throws those things at you all the time, whether from a family, friends, work or personal perspective.
You’ve said that you’d like to be a role model for young people from the LGBTQ+ community. Being a high-profile footballer must help? Yeah, and that’s the decision I made when I started to come out publicly. I don’t want [young people] to feel alone, not understanding and not knowing where to go. I don’t want them to make the same mistakes I made. I’d like them to know there are people out there who care, who can help and will listen.
Do you have any pre-match rituals that help you feel your best? I always have a shower, shave my legs, put on my make-up (natural, not OTT) and make sure my brows are threaded and tinted – there’s a standard that they should be! If I feel good, I play good. Most players will say the same thing.
Team Republic of Ireland captain/Arsenal
Did you know? Katie became captain of the Republic of Ireland team at just 21 years old!
The best things football has taught you? Confidence, leadership skills and how to work as a team. It’s also taught me to fight for what I believe in and never give up. And I want more young girls to believe in themselves, to pursue their goals, and not care what other people think.
Top life advice? My dad always said, ‘Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.’ Preparation is key in football – and in life. It’s fuelling your body properly and recovering well; it’s those small details that lead to big outcomes. Having that consistency is important, and keeping positive is key.
Has positive thinking got you where you are today? When people would ask, ‘What do you want to do?’ and I’d say, ‘I want to be a footballer,’ they’d laugh and say, ‘Only the guys play football, they’re on the big money.’ I was like, ‘I will be a footballer and show you.’ It’s a nice feeling to know that I’ve pictured the dream and achieved it!
‘I love what I do. The places I travel, the people I’m with – having that good, positive, honest energy around all the time pushes and challenges me. I wouldn’t change it for the world’
Team England/Manchester City
Did you know? When Jill was semi-professional, she played for Everton and England while holding down two part-time jobs.
The best thing about being part of a team? It really boosts you. I used to do a lot of running, and at one point I had to choose between that and playing football. I chose this, because you can’t beat the togetherness and team spirit when you win.
Who’s your role model? David Beckham. I remember getting his autograph when I was a kid (he stayed after a game to sign stuff). He inspired me to also try to be a good role model off the pitch, and to take time to talk to people. I was lucky enough to meet him again a couple of years ago – it’s the only time I’ve been star-struck! I was like my 10-year-old self. I thought, ‘I’m 30, I need to contain myself!’
What advice would you give to your younger self? There will be tough times, but keep going. It’ll definitely be worth it for what you’ll go on to experience – both playing in massive football games and also the truly inspirational friends you’ll meet along the way.
Team Scotland captain/Utah Royals FC
Did you know? Rachel delayed going professional so she could finish her accountancy qualifications.
What’s the biggest thing football has helped you learn about yourself? I wasn’t always very good at handling the emotional side of things, and I could be very defensive. A few years back, I was going through a tough time personally and I’d find myself being negative, discouraging or just down, generally. I realised how detrimental that can be. Recently, I’ve learned that allowing your emotions to show is important, as well as being kind and positive.
What’s your advice on how to overcome disappointments? In life, you’re going to make mistakes. You don’t need to hide from them. One of the best things you can do is be honest and upfront, forgive others and forgive yourself for those moments, and move on.
How do you feel about make-up on the pitch? At my current club, the Utah Royals, you have to turn up for all games in business/casual wear. I think it’s fun to get ready and do my hair and make-up, so I turn up to play and feel really good. It’s amazing how feeling good – however you perceive that – can affect your performance.
‘Football has taught me to have self-belief and inner strength. It’s important to know your self-worth in life, not just football’
Did you know? Millie has an equestrian background, and when she left school she was a full-time groom until her football career took priority.
What’s your advice for any woman or girl who’s struggling with body-confidence issues? Everyone’s individual. It’s like when people compare women’s football with men’s football – it’s impossible to do. So why judge yourself against another person? You’re who you are for a reason. If we were all the same, it would be a boring world.
The best thing football has given you? Mental strength; to never give up on yourself. People will always voice their opinions, but the only person who can determine what you want to get out of life is you.
In the past, you’ve alluded to having mental-health struggles? Regardless of what you do in life, people underestimate mental health. I always bottled things up, but Emma [Hayes, Chelsea manager] eventually got things out of me and made me see Tim, the psychologist at Chelsea. I realised that you’re stronger for speaking out, acting on issues and taking control of them, not locking them away.
6.30am If I’m in training, this is when I get up to drive to the training ground for 7.45am.
8am At the club, the first thing I do is a little workout, with stretches, lunges and exercises using glute bands.
8.30am I have breakfast with the team (usually eggs and salmon on toast), then, if I need physio, I might have a 30-minute slot.
10am We have a half-an-hour team meeting, led by our manager, Nick Cushing, to discuss tactics. This will link into the day’s training session.
10.30am We hit the training pitch for two hours, starting with a warm-up and some sort of passing drill, then possession and games, either small-sided or 11 vs 11.
12.30pm Lunch is usually some sort of protein, such as chicken or fish, with salad or vegetables and carbs – rice or potatoes.
2pm If we have more training in the afternoon, we’re back in the gym first for a weights session or workouts to help prevent injury, including bar squats, lunges and hamstring exercises. At the end of every period we do a core-activation workout [i.e. inner ab muscles] to help with strength and stability when we’re running around on the football pitch.
3.30-4pm I’ll finish about now, unless I have to stay behind for a couple of hours to fulfil responsibilities, such as doing an interview on camera. As captain, I have more media duties; I really enjoy it because I like trying to inspire people.
4.30pm I’ll arrive home and might put my feet up – sometimes it’s best just to do nothing! Or my husband Stephen [Darby, former Liverpool, Bradford and Bolton defender] and I will go to the shops for a coffee, or do some clothes shopping. I play at weekends and at the moment I only get Tuesdays off, but with free time in the afternoon, it all balances out.
6.30pm Stephen is a good cook, and we take it in turns to make dinner, which we usually eat at about 7pm. Generally, it’s the same kind of meal – protein, vegetables and carbs – but fajitas are my favourite, so I’ll try to squeeze them in somewhere during the week!
7.30pm We’ll watch a football match or series on TV.
10pm I like to go to bed at about this time, because I’m up quite early. I try to get about eight hours’ sleep. I think that’s enough to be able to train and play well.
Interviews Gemma Calvert Compiled by Danielle Hine Photography Getty Images, Seb Daly/Sportsfile, Shutterstock, Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile