Hi there. I’m Laura—a 28-year-old football fan who only recently started playing the world’s most popular sport. Here’s how it went and why I decided to get involved in the first place.
Like most people who grew up in the UK, football has always been a big part of my life. I can’t think of a week that went by in my childhood where footie wasn’t involved somehow. I was either in the crowd, by the white line of a grassroots pitch, or just watching it on the TV with my football-mad dad and brother offering their unique commentary.
As a kid, we’d have apprentice footballers from Premier League clubs live with us for a few years here and there. One of them became like a brother to me. I was his number one supporter, aged four.
As I got older, so did my love for the game. In my teenage years, World Cup fever and EURO excitement really began to set in. I—a fresh set of eyes—sat there enthralled, watching attentively with my dad and his mates who, after having to endure over 30 years of hurt, found the matches slightly more stressful than I did.
The fashion, the music, and the culture surrounding it meant something important to me. I became fascinated by the casuals, the mods, and the ultras. It was an entire world within a world.
As I grew up, I religiously watched the non-league team my brother played for, week in, week out. When they eventually won the league in 2019, the club really became my extended family.
Then, when I moved to Australia, I turned the commitment up a notch—having to wake up in the early hours to catch a glimpse of your favourite teams playing on the other side of the world really cements you as a diehard fan. The butterflies in your stomach are always worth it.
But despite football being my favourite sport forever, I’ve never played it first-hand. Until now.
The Women’s EURO 2022 really lit the spark. Mainly because I saw women who looked like me, playing a sport that I loved, really well. I’d always gotten involved with every other sport—netball, swimming, athletics, gymnastics, tennis, and more.
But football was the one that got away—the sport I’d always wanted to play but was too scared to do so. I was your stereotypical ‘girly girl’ growing up, and girly girls didn’t play football. The ones that did were just one of the lads, and that wasn’t really my vibe. While I loved having a kickabout in the garden with my brother and his mates, when it came to school matches or clubs, I wouldn’t dare get involved.
One time, however, I did manage to pluck up the courage to invite the boys from my class over to play football (we must’ve been about eight years old). I was so up for it, but when they finally arrived, kits on and ready for a kickabout, I bottled it up. If I remember correctly, I think I convinced my mum to tell them I had suddenly fallen ill or something. Major regrets.
Now, as a 28-year-old, I’ve overcome that fear. With deep heat in my pocket, a fresh pair of boots on my feet, and the quote from A Cinderella Story (or Babe Ruth, depending on who you are) etched in my brain, I’ve finally started playing the sport: “Don’t let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.”
I rocked up to my first footie session not really knowing what to expect. My mate Bonnie had invited me to train with a side who had just been promoted to the National Premier League—the top tier of competition in the state. It was a bit of a stitch-up, as I only found out how good they were once I’d arrived. But I’m kind of glad, ignorance truly is bliss.
It’s safe to say that I was petrified upon arrival. Sometimes you only need to look at a player to tell that they’re going to be shit hot. These girls definitely gave off that aura. Their coach being a former Pompey player also meant that I was star-struck from the moment I stepped onto the pitch. He kicked things off with a warm-up and some agility work.
At this point, I already knew that I was well out of my depth. But despite the obvious diversity in skill sets (and that’s putting it nicely), the girls were so supportive. I couldn’t have felt more welcome.
I’ve been training with them for about a month now, twice a week. I’m by far the worst player, but I’m getting there. I’m growing fitter, meeting great people and becoming part of something bigger. It’s completely out of my comfort zone, and yet somehow I feel at home.
It’s wild to me that at the age of 28, after being a football fan my whole life, I’ve only just stepped onto the pitch. It took me this long to feel the excitement of scoring a goal—five-a-side counts, okay—buying a pair of boots I love and overcoming the fear of being judged.
The little girl inside of me is so proud every time I play, and ultimately, I’m doing it for her. I might be 20 years too late but showing up now feels like a triumph worth celebrating. I go to sleep thinking about football and wake up excited to play—it’s empowering to overcome my deepest fears, and the remnants of misogyny that held myself and so many other little girls back.
Doing scary things can be transformative. No matter how old you are, there’s always room to grow. Everyone has their football—the thing they dream about, but are too cautious or worried to dive into. My advice? Feel scared, look stupid, be the weakest player on the team—as long as you’re learning, you’re winning.
In an unprecedented and controversial move, FIFA has stated it will impose strict sporting sanctions against any football captains who wear the OneLove armband during the course of the Qatar World Cup 2022.
According to the BBC, the Football Associations of England, Wales, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland released a statement early this morning (21 November 2022) detailing the recent decision made by the global football organisation: “FIFA has been very clear that it will impose sporting sanctions if our captains wear the armbands on the field of play. As national federations, we can’t put our players in a position where they could face sporting sanctions including bookings, so we have asked the captains not to attempt to wear the armbands in FIFA World Cup games.”
The joint associations continued: “We are very frustrated by the FIFA decision which we believe is unprecedented—we wrote to FIFA in September informing them of our wish to wear the OneLove armband to actively support inclusion in football, and had no response. Our players and coaches are disappointed—they are strong supporters of inclusion and will show support in other ways.”
The OneLove armband is the physical manifestation of an initiative created in the hopes of promoting inclusivity and support for the LGBTQIA+ community within football. A number of football captains, including England captain Harry Kane, had previously stated their intentions to sport the colourful armband during the tournament—which has been deemed the most controversial sporting event to date.
However, it now appears that Kane, alongside a number of other European captains, will no longer participate in the campaign in fear of being heavily fined or even booked (receiving a yellow card).
The World Cup, which officially kicked off on 20 November 2022, has already been highly criticised by human rights organisations such as Amnesty International for the poor working conditions of migrant labourers—many of whom died during the construction of the infrastructure needed to host the sporting event.
Qatari officials garnered further criticism after World Cup ambassador Khalid Salman told German TV broadcaster ZDF that homosexuality is “damage in the mind.”
In response to the recent banning of the OneLove armband, many netizens took to Twitter to publicise their outrage and disappointment. One user made a dig against current FIFA president Gianni Infantino’s recent statements and simply posted: “Today I feel gay, and tomorrow I’m banning an armband that is worn to promote inclusion and send a message against discrimination of any kind.”
While sports journalist Jack Pitt-Brooke wrote: “One of the things that is so dispiriting about all this is that the OneLove armband felt like it was designed specifically so that it would be permitted. The blandness and non-specificity of it was the whole point. And they’ve still ultimately decided against wearing it.”
Later in the day, as England faced Iran on the pitch, a number of individuals pointed out the humiliating reality that, while so many nations chose not to wear the OneLove armband simply to avoid being booked, the Iranian team refused to sing their national anthem out of solidarity with the nationwide protests taking place back home after the death of Mahsa Amini at the hands of the morality police. They took action, despite knowing that they could face serious punishment or persecution when they return.