Interview: Lewes FC Womens’ & New Zealand International Katie Rood

Fresh from the Cup of Nations in Melbourne, Katie Rood is back at Lewes and ready to help maintain their FA Women’s Championship status in a very competitive league.  On loan from Bristol City, Rood is getting in more playing time in order to secure a place in the New Zealand National Team (the “Football Ferns”) for the fast-approaching Fifa Women’s World Cup in France this June.

An advocate for social & global issues including feminism, equality, veganism & climate change, Rood has a strong social media following and regularly posts videos on Youtube & Instagram charting her career progress and personal journey.

Can you tell us a little bit about where you grew up?
I grew up in the Northern most city of New Zealand, a place called Whangarei. In my (totally unbiased..) opinion, it’s one of the most underrated parts of the country. It has so much lush green native forests to explore and no matter where you are, you’re never more than a 40 minute drive from about 10 of the best beaches on the planet. I grew up just 3km from the city centre but we had 6 acres with a huge garden, a stream through the back, a paddock full of animals and so much to explore! I really can’t imagine a better place to grow up in.

How did you get into football?
My Grandad was a Sunderland fan so I knew a little bit about it but it wasn’t until I was about 8 and my best friend at the time was from Liverpool, her mum was the coach of the team so I decided to give it a go too.

At what age did playing professionally become a potential reality?
When I was 19 I came over to play for Lincoln. At that time I realised that I still had a lot to improve on and I knew that it wasn’t possible for me to be a professional, predominantly because of a lack of finances in the game. It’s been a goal of mine since then but I thought that I would have to be a regular starter in the New Zealand squad before I could get a good contract. It wasn’t until 2017 when I realised there were other pathways to explore.

New Zealand celebrate winning the Women's Nations Cup & Qualifying for the World Cup. Photo credit: Shane Wenzlick

What has been the standout moment in your football career so far?
After years of pushing to make the NZ team, I finally got my first start recently in our World Cup Qualifiers. I scored my first goal in this game too which was an awesome feeling! That whole tournament was incredible. We played in New Caledonia, an island paradise in the Pacific. I played 4 out of the 5 games and scored 4 goals too. It was so enjoyable and a real highlight for me.

What’s the biggest difference in football between NZ & the UK?
It’s professional here and not at home. At home we train twice a week (3x if lucky) and play on a Sunday. It’s a pretty casual affair at club level, but it’s also really competitive. Anyone who takes it seriously enough will likely be training with the NZ coaches throughout the week and play in an u16 boys league. That’s the best way to adjust to a potential full-time contract overseas.

How’re you feeling about & what’re your ambitions for the World Cup?
I think that the World Cup this year is going to be the biggest event in women’s football history and has the potential to set alight the female empowerment movement globally. I think it will wake many people up to the casual sexism that festers in society when people can see first-hand, maybe for the first time, what women are capable of on the football pitch. I think young girls are going to be glued to the tv’s across the globe thinking ‘I can do that!’ It’s going to be such a special event and I am doing my best to ensure that I get to play my part in it, both on and off the pitch.

Are you missing any NZ comforts?
Yeah, the beach! New Zealand summers are like nothing else. It’s a little hard when it’s dreary and cold here and everyone back home is posting about their summer adventures!

Rood on duty with the Ferns. Photo credit: photosport

Lewes FC –  what’re your thoughts on the club, new challenge & equal pay situation?
I’m really happy to be here as I feel like it’s the perfect fit for me right now. It’s fantastic to be a part of a club that is using its influence to help drive social change and I’m hoping to play my part in that both on and off the pitch. It’s always hard packing up your life and moving into the unknown but they have made me feel so welcome here and it’s starting to feel like home.

What’re the team’s targets for the second half of the season?
It’s been a transitional/learning year for the team coming up to the Championship and getting a new coach a month or so ago. The aim for the rest of the season is really to nail down the way that Fran (Alonso, 1st team manager) wants us to play so the team can hit the ground running next season. To get the wins along the way playing the way we know we are capable of will be ideal.

How were your experiences at your previous clubs too?
I’ve been really fortunate to find myself in some very professional environments at both Juventus and Bristol. I still pinch myself every day when I’m waking up to go to ‘work’ which involves putting my boots on and playing football with my mates. Although there are always challenges to overcome and grow from, I’m beyond grateful to be able to do what I do.

Rood scoring the 3rd goal against Crystal Palace on 21st Feb 2019. Photo credit James Boyes.

Who are your current, or past, Heroes or Heroines? And your current peers?

I grew up admiring Pink. She’s a total badass who uses her passion and influence to take a stand for what she believes in and empowers others in doing so. I was also fortunate enough to stumble across ‘The 99ers’ documentary on youtube( watch it here) when I was younger and that gave me a whole new perspective about the game and how fortunate I am to be able to play it. It also made me realise how important it is to ensure the next generation have it better than the current one.

In football: I am a huge fan of David Villa and what he was able to do for Spain, he always showed up in the big moments. That being said, Sam Kerr and Tobin Heath are probably my favourite players on the planet right now. I love how defenders just back right off them, knowing that they could be turned inside out in a moment. They’re great to watch.

You’re very engaging on social media. Why is it important to you to be encouraging, engaging and progressive on the social networks?
Social media has its flaws, it is a great way to expand your worldview. Social media such as youtube and Instagram helped me understand and connect with people who I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to. It opened up my world to different possibilities and I found a sense of community within it. I was really drawn to and encouraged by people sharing their truth and it helped expand mine. I know how valuable it has been to me and so I hope that I can help enlighten others by sharing my journey and thoughts too.

From a fans point of view, the accessibility to the clubs & players and their relationship to the supporters is what made me really notice the Women’s game a few years ago. The teams go above and beyond to speak to the fans and encourage the kids.

What’re your favourite things in the Women’s game and your preferred differences from what you’ve seen in the Men’s game? And what do you think can be improved upon too (in either game)?
I like how pure it is at the moment. Women aren’t playing for money or status because that didn’t (and still rarely does) exist when most of us set our hearts on playing this game we love. I feel as though a typical men’s game is a testosterone-fuelled affair from the players to the fans which can create quite an intense atmosphere. It’s a different vibe at a women’s game. It’s still competitive, exciting and can be somewhat feisty but I think this atmosphere can attract a different crowd and tap into a new audience/fan base. As you said, the accessibility to the clubs and players and their relationship to the supporters makes it a great platform to unite communities.

Rood signing with Lewes FC Women's Manager Fran Alonso. Credit Lewes FC

How does it differ being vegan in NZ to the UK? How long have you been vegan too?
I’m coming up to 4 years as a vegan now. It is certainly growing in NZ but it has already boomed here in the UK. Almost every restaurant or café I have been in over here has had a vegan option or a full-on vegan menu. It’s part of the mainstream here and it’s fantastic that businesses and organisations can see the value in providing options to people living a vegan lifestyle.

What’re your thoughts on veganism becoming more popular with professional athletes? What do you think is the next step for sports in that area too?
I think it’s a no-brainer. When I went vegan I didn’t know of any athletes who were vegan and I certainly hadn’t read any research on it. My motivation was both ethical and environmental and I thought that my health might deteriorate. Thankfully two weeks into it I realised that was a complete misconception as I had never felt better and my recovery rate was incredible. I was able to train harder and more often, it really was a game changer for me in terms of my health, fitness and lifestyle. Now athletes (and anyone!) have access to so many studies that show the benefits of this lifestyle on performance, overall health and mood (not to mention the prevention and reversal of some of cancers and diseases on a whole food plant based diet). Now there are hundreds of top elite athletes who share the same story; they grew up eating a ‘standard healthy diet’ and were able to really enhance their performances since going vegan.

What’re your other interests and passions outside of football?
I love to learn about life, the miracle of our existence and the planet that we find ourselves on. The interconnectedness of everything and everyone, it blows my mind! Learning more about life has lead me towards spirituality. For me that involves shaking bad habits, creating new ones, challenging myself and my beliefs constantly and just trying to do good in the world whenever and wherever possible. It’s the journey towards becoming the best version of myself so that I can better serve the world. I’m constantly learning.

What advice do you have for kids, or adults, looking to get into or that are just getting into the game?
I would encourage anyone to just give it a go regardless of their level. There’s so many possibilities in the world of football from playing socially to the elite level. I think it’s important for young players especially to realise that their biggest competition is themselves. Many people develop at different rates so you can’t really compare yourself to others around you, just focus on your own journey and ensure you’re doing all that you can to improve each day and be at your best for your team.

Be sure to follow Katie Rood on Instagram, Youtube & Twitter and keep up with Lewes FC Women and the New Zealand National team too!

Feature image credit: Rosy Matheson all others from Twitter unless specified otherwise.

Tom Hussey
tomrhussey@gmail.com