Introducing This is how we sport, a new series that will feature women in and around sports that are making waves in the industry. First up, meet Michaela Gooden, an ex-professional football player-turned-football agent who’s on a mission to shake up the sports agency world.
Summer 2022 was a great season for football enthusiasts around the globe, especially women and young girls. On the last day of July, the Lionesses stormed past Germany to win the 2022 UEFA European Women’s Football Championship. The triumph was a historic moment for English footie fans, as it was the first time since 1966 that any England senior football team had won a major tournament.
The legendary game was a testament to those that have been championing women’s football, as the UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 final brought in a record-breaking crowd of 87,192 spectators.
For ex-footballer Gooden, the final was an emotional day. “I was taken aback by the amount of fans at this women’s game,” she told SCREENSHOT. “I’ve been a part of this from when I was young. So to see where it is now, it’s almost like a chapter was closed. We completed something.”
Closing chapters in her life and beginning new ones has always come easy to Gooden. She spent nine years at Fulham FC Women from ages nine to 18 before switching to Millwall Lionesses L.F.C, where she stayed for a year. Hungry for new experiences and a change of pace, Gooden went to college in the US on a soccer scholarship from 2008 to 2011. After a short break, she divided her time between Crystal Palace F.C. Women, Fulham again and AFC Wimbledon Women before eventually ending her career as a football player in 2018.
Like many of us, 2020 was a year that demanded change for the ex-baller, so after two years away from the game, Gooden decided she was going to continue impacting the sport—this time, as a football agent. Now, becoming a football agent is relatively easy, the rest that follows, well, not so much. “To become an agent, you pay a certain fee and then you get your football agent licence. Having a licence is easy, anyone can have a licence,” Gooden shared.
“It’s being able to get players, look after [them] and connect with clubs that’s difficult,” she continued. Shortly after getting her official football agent badge, Gooden joined sports agency GS Magna and managed three players during her time there. After two years at the agency, she craved a new challenge. “My time at Magna was great and I learnt a lot, but sometimes it gets to a point where you just have to go off and learn on your own,” she explained.
As of today, Gooden is starting her own agency called Mrs Gray, all set to launch later this year. As she revealed during our conversation, it was her favourite primary school teacher who helped inspire the name. “Mr Gray got me my first ever trial for Fulham so if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
“I put a twist on it and changed to Mrs Gray, just because I’m big on women’s empowerment.” Initially, Gooden was going to name her company after herself but decided otherwise. “I want whatever I grow or have, to be bigger than me. So I don’t want my name to be attached,” she added.
Until then, Gooden currently manages Brighton & Hove Albion WFC defender Victoria Williams and is in talks with other potential players—all before Mrs Gray’s official launch. The former Fulham player is not your stereotypical football agent and this is probably why players connect with her. “In school, you have the stereotypical teachers and then you have a teacher with tattoos that comes in and school starts to change a little bit,” Gooden went on to admit. “I see myself as the teacher with tattoos.”
Compared to many other sports agents, Gooden most definitely stands out. First off, she’s a woman and she’s black, which is rare in her industry. But beyond that, she likes to believe it’s more her personal attributes that make her unparalleled. “I’m not driven by money. Obviously, I want the best deal for my players, but money isn’t at the forefront of my mind,” she said.
“I’m not thinking that certain players are gonna make me XYZ, so let me go for those players.” Instead, Gooden wants to connect to her clients on a more personal level. She wants to know a player’s background, what their interests are and, most importantly, where they’re at mentally. “If that doesn’t work for a player, then I’m not the right agent for them,” she concluded.
Mrs Gray will focus on women’s football in the first few months of its launch before tackling the men’s side. Gooden believes the success of the UEFA Women’s Euros will bring more attention to the women’s game and open up more commercial opportunities for the players. Which is also why her clients having a life and interests outside of football is a key objective for her new agency.
“I think a lot of players get consumed with the fact that because they play football, they need to be obsessed with only football. When you look at major athletes, yes, they’re obsessed with their chosen sport, but they also do other stuff outside of [it],” she explained. At the end of the day, Gooden wants to build a roster of all-rounders.
Starting a sports agency from the ground up in such a competitive industry isn’t an easy feat but Gooden has a clear vision. “I don’t want to be the world’s biggest agency,” she said. “I’d rather have a smaller number of players who are elite and represent what we stand for.” What exactly does Mrs Gray stand for, you ask? “I want my agency to represent different cultures around the world,” Gooden answered. “I want to house a bunch of charismatic people who think outside the box.”
Last week, both The Guardian and The Telegraph published a series of articles shining a light on the fact that professional footballers are “three and a half times more likely to suffer from dementia and other serious neurological diseases.” Multiple concussions and repeatedly performing headers on leather footballs are stated to be the main causes of brain disease. But football has been around since the 19th century, and the Alzheimer’s Society has highlighted that 1 in 4 of us will get dementia, so the real question is what is the link between the two, and, if there is one, is anything being done to prevent or cure dementia?
First, let’s make things clear—dementia and Alzheimer’s are not the same thing. Dementia is best described as an umbrella term for a range of progressive neurological disorders, in other words, conditions affecting the brain. There is a wide range of different types of dementia, and Alzheimer’s is the most common as it accounts for two-thirds of instances. The other three most common types are vascular dementia, frontotemporal (FTD), and dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB). Unfortunately, it is not unusual to also have a combination of different types of dementia.
As some may know, the biggest risk factor with Alzheimer’s is age, as it is a progressive disease that contains three stages. However, it is important to consider that each person will experience dementia in their own way, regardless of what type they may have. Scientists have declared that most forms of dementia are not hereditary, but that in rarer types of it there may be a genetic link, although that only accounts for a small proportion of cases.
In 2017, the Alzheimer’s Society published a study examining the possible link between dementia and head injuries sustained by playing football. Studies published within the article detailed that “the brains of sportspeople after they have died have identified that a condition called Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) could be linked to high-collision sports.” The study was revealed to be particularly complicated as a vast amount of the brains that were examined showed signs of more than one form of dementia. Researchers concluded the study by stating that “based on current evidence, the risk arising from contact sports in the development of dementia remains uncertain. If such a link does exist, the contribution of concussion and milder forms of head injury to overall risk is likely to be small.”
Fast-forward two years later, a new 22-month long research study proving otherwise has sparked wide debate among the media. The statement made by the Telegraph proclaimed that for footballers, “there was a five-fold increase in the risk of Alzheimer’s, a four-fold increase in Motor Neurone disease and a two-fold increase in Parkinson’s.” The research also mentions that, “former footballers were almost five times more likely to have been prescribed dementia drugs.” Additionally, it declares that they are unable to confirm if the causes of brain disease have occurred because of concussions or constant heading of footballs. After these results, the Football Association decided to financially back the research and encourage examinations to continue.
The statistics of people living with dementia or Alzheimer’s are rapidly increasing, so many are turning to science for clarification. Progression towards curing cancer looks promising, but for dementia, it is starting to look more than plausible. Scientists have conducted a sequence of tests that have proved successful for delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s.
Social interaction is the most advised by doctors and nurses, as regular engagement has shown to spark brain connections, which can stimulate activity. Mental and physical exercise have also been tested to see if mental encouragement can slow down the Alzheimer’s, as well as slowing down cognitive declination. Both have been proven to be effective. Encouraging a person living with dementia or Alzheimer’s to keep a well-balanced diet is vital to improve their energy, as well as their memory.
Although it is not yet finalised, medical experts are on the verge of a scientific breakthrough. A mere three years ago, Alzheimer’s Research UK announced that plans for a vaccination that would delay the onset effects of Alzheimer’s were entering an early stage of clinical trials. The vaccine aims to halt, slow or reverse the disease in its tracks, and could possibly be life-changing for those who show symptoms of dementia in its early stages.
Dementia Awareness Month may have just passed by, but for families with people living with dementia or Alzheimer’s, awareness should be a daily occurrence, even though the future remains hopeful with a vaccine in sight. For anyone who wishes to improve their knowledge or understanding of dementia, inquiring at your local care home and spending some time with those living with the disorder is a good start.