There’s the age old saying that you never know what you’ve got until it’s gone. Well, that is a bit of an exaggeration – football isn’t lost forever; it is on its way back. But the last few months without it have certainly opened my eyes up to understanding what an integral part this sport has played in helping me navigate my way through life.
Since a young kid, I’ve always had a deep passion for football. I remember my first Chelsea kit, the roar as I walked up to our seats in Stamford Bridge for the first time, getting lost in the skill and guile of Gianfranco Zola. As I’ve grown older, this has transferred to a deep love for the women’s game, a desire to see the players, who work so hard and have so much talent, get the recognition they so deeply deserve.
But for me, as for many people I’m sure, football is so much more than just a game; it is part of my identity. As a teenager, it gave me a tribe to be part of in a world in which I struggled to belong. As a young adult, it was there through battles with anorexia and was my release from a brain that overwhelms me at times. This sport has been by my side through my parents’ divorce and the ramifications that brought with it; through the days I was too shy to hold conversations with strangers; and through my challenges with coming out and fully accepting myself.
However, it’s not just the negatives that football has helped with. Over the last 8 years, covering and following the women’s game has given me something completely different. We have been around the world, promoting the sport at some of the biggest tournaments and creating memories and friends that are priceless. We have developed new skills and given ourselves new dreams and ambitions that may not have been realised without it.
We arrived back from the SheBelieves Cup on Friday 13th March. After 10 days of being in full-on tournament mode, we landed in London and everything just stopped. Rachel’s ulcerative colitis meant she entered the shielding programme, and we didn’t leave the house for 14 weeks. From being an active couple who are barely in the house for long periods of time, we have had to adjust to our “new normal”.
I have read a lot about this corona-coaster of emotions that we’ve all been on over the last 4 months. Some days you feel you can take on the world; other days, it’s a struggle just to make sure you get up in the morning. Sometimes, it can even be measured in hours. It has affected our motivation, creativity and played with emotions in a variety of ways in terms of GirlsontheBall, our full-time jobs and our everyday lives. And for the first time, I’ve had to navigate this rollercoaster without football by my side (endless replays of old games are not the same).
So, when it does finally return in September, I for one will not be taking it for granted again. I will treasure having my old friend back and look forward to the new memories and experiences we’ll create together. To paraphrase the late, great Bill Shankly – it has never been just a game; it has always been so much more than that.