My journey in football started when I was around 10 years old. Due to there not being many girls’ teams around I was forced to play in a boys’ team which was technically ‘mixed’. At the time, playing in a boys’ team was more normal due to a lack of girls’ teams around so the prospect of playing with boys did not really scare me, it just made me excited that I could play football properly.
There was a challenge though with the whole facade that “girls can’t play football” and that I was an immediate weakness just because of my gender. As a result there was added pressure on myself to make even less mistakes because I felt like I had to prove myself and I did not want to think about how the other boys would react or feel if they saw the girl making an error. There were multiple occasions where I would have boys sit behind my goal and laugh at me for being “the girl in goal”. This could have easily been a point in my life where I stopped wanting to play but instead, I used it as a motivation for me to prove them wrong.
I finally joined a girls’ team when I was 12. I spent the next 3-4 years with this team where I enjoyed a really successful few years, winning our league multiple times, multiple tournament victories and multiple county cup triumphs. During these years, I also stepped into the county environment and I was selected for a training camp with Wales U19s at the age of 16.
Once I turned 16, I joined WSL team Yeovil Ladies where I spent the next 2 years of my career. The second year of being there saw me go into my first year of college in Bridgwater meaning I had to move out and live in an accommodation whilst training every day. Moving out at 16 was a big change for me, and there was one point where I did not want to do it. I was fearful of being home sick and missing my friends at school, but I ended up embracing the new environment more than my parents or I would have ever expected it.
In my first year I never got homesick once! I still missed my friends, but I was enjoying the new independence and due to making lots of new friends at accommodation – I was always up to something and rarely on my own, so it became very easy. Alongside this, it massively helped that I went home practically every weekend due to not having any games so I was able to still see my parents and friends every week, so I was not thrown in the deep end of not coming home for prolonged periods of time straight away. Being at Yeovil was when I first experienced academy football and played the likes of Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal etc. I also had 2 first team bench appearances against Arsenal and Everton Women.
After my first year of college, I decided I wanted to move on from Yeovil which saw me eventually end up where I am now which is West Ham. Soon after playing with the U21s, I was called up to the Wales U19s squad for the Euro Qualifiers where I enjoyed 10 days in Northern Ireland competing against Norway, Northern Ireland and Moldova. Following this tournament, I had another call up to the first team after which, I completed the rest of the season with the U21s before COVID-19 hit and our season unfortunately had to be null and void.
If we skip to present day, I am currently a first year at UEL and in my second year with West Ham, I came out of college with 3 distinction stars in my BTEC and have just completed my first term on Sports and Exercise Science where I achieved firsts across all my modules. I am now on loan at Dulwich Hamlet Women where I am looking to gain experience within the women’s game and also looking to develop massively as a player.
When I look at the modern women’s game now, it definitely has come a long way since I first started playing. First of all I think in a way we have benefitted from less exposure. The women’s game has a lot less dramatics, much less diving and dialogue on the pitch itself is definitely less violent. However, the recent WSL deal with Sky Sports is a really exciting one and one which I hope will start to give the game the exposure it needs to be more successful. Hopefully over the next few years, the game will grow exponentially and we will hopefully see more equity between the men and women’s game.
Furthermore, if I think back to when I was young, there were few women’s teams around my local area and across the country, there were not many professional academy setups, this is why the county route for girls was so prevalent. Nowadays however, that has changed, for instance, West Ham have the West Ham Foundation where they coach and bring up young girls through their ranks which a lot more highly affiliated clubs are now doing.
If I was born in that generation, I think the pressure on me would have definitely been higher because I would be having been in a more professional setup playing alongside other girls. However, there are so many positives that come from academies and a more stable pathway from grassroots for young girls will do wonders not only in terms of ability but also to provide the belief that football can be more than a hobby.
Looking back now, I am glad I got to just enjoy football as a fun hobby before joining Yeovil academy because when you are so young, I think enjoyment is the most important thing and putting a child into a serious environment straight away may deter them more than it nurtures them which is why I am thankful to have had my time in the boys team as well as the early girls team I played for in my career.
By Mia North