To Women’s Football - Thank you
Thursday, 24 August 2023
Our writer Finley pens an open thank you to women's football in this frank and heartfelt piece.
via Lionesses - FA
So, whilst I feel the time is right to release this piece, I have no idea how long, short or even detailed this will be.
I feel like now, the time is right to acknowledge that last year, Women’s Football practically saved my life.
In 2022, the European Championship in England was a real watershed moment for Women’s Football, but for me personally it was a little more than that. It was the first time I’d become invested into Women’s Football and I absolutely loved the tournament. I celebrated the famous Georgia Stnaway winner against Spain in the Quarter Finals so loudly that I woke my neighbours children up, something which I hadn’t done in the men’s game since Lucas Moura and his famous hat trick against Ajax for my boyhood club, Tottenham Hotspur.
The tournament was my first way of feeling free, feeling connected to something since the COVID lockdowns, which I am sure dampened everyone’s mental health in some way, shape or form.
Following the culmination of a few things over the last few years, COVID being one, losing my Nan, and my Mum going through Chemotherapy during the pandemic, the last 4 years haven’t been that easy on me to say the very least.
After the tournament in 2022 I wrote my very first piece for On Her Side, summing up the achievements of the Lionesses which went down very well - at least that’s why I feel Charlotte has kept me on here at OHS!
The following month, I was given the chance to attend the Reading Women Media Day ahead of the 2022/2023 WSL Season. This opportunity came at pretty much the perfect time for me as I really was beginning to struggle, I had the chance to interview Kelly Chambers, the long time manager of Reading Women, and players Brooke Hendrix and Emma Harries.
The day itself was fantastic, even if I was having to write things up with one hand, the other fractured and set in a bright yellow cast the colour of Del Boy and Rodney’s Reliant Robin in Only Fools and Horses -yeah, that yellow!
Following said event, and the healing of my wrist, my piece from the Reading Media Day, also on this site was up! Once the football season had got underway, I was starting to feel a little better, but still, something wasn’t quite right and at the start of September I dropped as low as I had ever been before.
My inner demons were eating away at me all through summer. On the personal front I didn’t have a job when all four of my best mates, Ciaran, Dan, Brendan and Jordan did. It’s the age old thing of not comparing yourself to others, but when it’s a lifelong habit, it is a very difficult one to get out of.
I mention my mates names because of what I’m about to say next. I’d been feeling very low when Ciaran invited me over to his for the day, so I thought, yeah why not, it might help!
Now, for anyone that knows East London, by the EXCEL Centre there’s a bridge over the river that I needed to take to get towards Ciaran’s, place. As I went over that bridge… I feel sick even typing this, I looked down and thought to myself, “that would be a quick way to do it”… and excuse my French but that scared the s**t out of me.
Stupidly, and as a man doing what you're told to do by society, I pushed it to the back of my mind and didn’t utter a word to anyone that day about it. Quite possibly the worst thing I could’ve done.
For roughly a week after that visit I had constantly thought about what I said on the bridge. The Tuesday after will always make a significant date in my mind, Tuesday 13th September 2022, the day I asked for help.
It was just like any Tuesday in the football season. I went off to follow my local non-league team, Cheshunt FC away at Worthing, a coach journey from Herts to East Sussex which takes about an hour and a half to two hours, a coach trip that made me have some realisations.
On the way down, I texted Ciaran, "sorry it’s taken me so long to open up, but I need help.’
He then responded, “Didn’t you think I knew..” - that told me pretty much everything I needed to know. But that evening about to get a whole lot worse, in the sense that I finally knew something was really, really wrong.
Cheshunt went 2-0 up away at Worthing inside 18 minutes. Normally I’d run to celebrate with the players but I just couldn’t, it almost felt everything was a blur, it felt like everything was a whirlwind happening around me, but I wasn’t registering to any of it.
At half time I rang my Mum to finally tell her about what happened. Almost in floods of tears I said everything. I told her about what I felt on the bridge, I opened up about all what I was feeling, everything spilt out. Because I’m lucky to have parents as brilliant as mine, they offered to drive all the way to Worthing to pick me up… I declined and we lost 3-2… maybe I should’ve game home when they offered.
Getting all that out, allowed me to get on tablets and take up counselling, the former I am still taking each morning. Speaking to my Mum that night was the best decision I ever made.
About a month or so afterwards I went to my first Women’s game, England v USA at Wembley. The European Champions vs the then World Champions with my good friend Billie and her girlfriend, Kat. Three months after that defining night I was last at Wembley, it’s fair to say I’d been on a rollercoaster ride.
Once the game got underway, I was reminded why I’d fallen for Women’s Football, I should stop saying that mind, as it is just FOOTBALL, no matter who plays it, but that clash in October made me remember why I’d got this new found love for the game.
I felt comfortable at football, not on edge. I could talk to Billie and Kat about my mental state, my low downs rather than get glaring looks off people that typically go to men’s matches… something just felt different, something just felt right.
Watching Georgia Stanway score the winning penalty that night opened an outpouring of emotion in me, my favourite player in the Women’s game scoring the winning goal just felt like the icing on top of a very, very emotional cake.
Whilst writing for On Her Side since that famous European triumph, I have since been lucky enough to be invited to write for two other sites, Since71 and VAVEL WSL. Sites where I’ve met some absolutely wonderful people who’ve made me believe in myself and who’ve really helped me.
I’ll give Charlotte her flowers first, we know her as the founder of this site, but she is the most wonderful human who has given me so many opportunities. From that media day at Reading, to getting to go in the press box at the home of my club, Tottenham Hotspur on two occasions and writing about Her Game too, a campaign close to my heart. Charlotte is one of a kind and I know everyone else that contributes to OHS firmly believes so, too.
Then we have Since 71. When I asked Stuart to get involved with S71, I would’ve never imagined that I would have had the chance to cover the Conti Cup Final between Chelsea v Arsenal at Selhurst Park… we’ll leave out the long wait in the cold for Lia Walti and Rafaelle in the mixed zone after Arsenal’s triumph. Stu and the guys over there have also given me fantastic opportunities, all of which I’ll never forget.
Finally we have VAVEL. Having joined the WSL team on the site, they are an absolutely fantastic bunch. Robin, Max and Mia, the editors are sensational people who always know how to put an arm around people when they need help and advice with articles. Our World Cup coverage on VAVEL has been superb and it’s been something I’ve been able to use to get away from demons and down feelings. Of course, we have a plethora of outstanding writers at VAVEL too, Sion, Owen, Ryan, Aaron, Alex, Harry, Cayden, Luca, Abi, Laura, Chloe (x2), Libby, Ambi, Polly, Rhys… way too many to name, but I can comfortably assure them all that they’ve had a fantastic impact on my life, that goes for Stu and the Since 71 gang and Charlotte and the wonderful team we have here at OHS also.
With the 2023/2024 season round the corner I have been given the keys to the social media role at my local club, Cheshunt Women, further enhancing the impact of Women’s Football in my life.
In the days writing this, England have just lost a World Cup Final to Spain. As sad as I was, it just confirmed to me - if you’d said to me a year ago, I’d have laughed at you, what a difference a year makes, eh?
However, things aren’t always rosy, it’s always ok not to feel ok. It’s always okay to talk, but if you can find a get out or an escape, it can get so much easier.
So… this has been a long time coming, and a pretty long time in writing, but I just wanted to pen this thank you to Women’s Football. A thank you to OHS, Since 71 and VAVEL for giving me the brilliant opportunities that they’ve given me and the friendships I have made.
All that’s left to say is thank you, Women’s Football, thank you.