Eniola Aluko, Chelsea and England forward, has revealed the tough times she faced as a young, female athlete and her determination to inspire young footballers during England’s trip to the World Cup.
“There comes a point where you have to be ok with what you do. As a woman you’ve got to be ok with the fact that you play football and at a younger age, I wasn’t. I wasn’t comfortable with being a footballer, even though I was good.”
Having played internationally for over 10 years and now close to her 100th cap, Aluko is a staple of Mark Sampson’s squad. Add this to the 32 international goals under her belt and a role in the London 2012 Olympics, it’s difficult to imagine Eniola ever lacking confidence in her footballing abilities.
“I played for boys’ teams which was great until it became an issue with opposition coaches. They’d say: ‘Oh you can’t have a girl playing, where are the rules that say girls can play?’ I think that’s why I had issues accepting the fact that I was a good footballer. I used to say I played tennis instead because of Venus and Serena Williams, people thought they were great.”
“As I got older, I also had a few of my own coaches that didn’t believe in me and said I wouldn’t make it. That stuck with me. I use those things now to motivate me and drive me on.”
As a professional footballer now, Eniola is aware of her role model status and the responsibility she has to ensure that young girls don’t face the same fears and doubts that she did. Also, thanks to the support of the women’s game from Continental Tyres, girls aged 5-16 now have the chance to explore their own footballing journey through initiatives such as the FA Girls’ Football Festivals.
“When you pull on that shirt, there’s always the feeling of pride, responsibility and privilege. We represent something that a lot of people want to do.
“You have to realise that, as a role model to young girls, you will affect their behaviour in some way. For me, I see being a role model as a responsibility, if you are aware of that in everything you do then you’re going to make better decisions and you’re going to affect people in a positive way.
“If I can change a 14 year old girls mind on deciding to quit football or not, I want to be a positive impact on that person. I hold that in high regard and try to act accordingly.”