Rachel Yankey – Nothing to Something

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Rachel Yankey:

I grew up with my mom and my older brother Simon and it was pretty us much us two. Also my Grand used to live opposite and moved across and lived in the same house as us. It was the three of us mainly. My dad didn’t live with us; he lived in Siberia and I didn’t have that much contact so growing up, it was mainly my mom who took care of us.

My older brother, I think I was the pain in the back side little sister that loved to follow him around. I always wanted to do what my brother did. He played football, cricket, he ran for an athletics club and I always wanted to follow and do exactly the same.

I went to Malorees, primary school and Hampstead Secondary school. School for me was something that I enjoy going there and meeting up with my friends, great times, football times, PE lessons.  But for me, I wasn’t an academic kid. I really struggled in school.

In primary school I always knew that I had a problem with reading and writing but I tried to disguise it and figure out because you don’t want other kids to know that you’re struggling in one part.

My mom always saw that there’s a problem with me but I get learning help with reading and writing and she’d always say, “Someone needs to help her.” I’d go to the teacher but I always pick up the same book. I just managed to remember the book and recite it back to them and they would of course say to my mom that, “No, there was no problem”. My mom just baffled on the fact that when I read books at home I would really struggle but at school I’d be fine.

When I got to secondary school it was only before my GCSC that I was diagnosed with Dyslexia. I’ve managed pretty much to go through my whole school life by blagging the system getting away which probably wasn’t a very clever thing to do when I look back now.

But when you’re in school you don’t want to be one that’s left out or caught stooping around or anything like that.

I was probably about eight years old and I use to go down the park with Michael Lawrence and they joined the football team. One of the parents from their school started off for team and they asked me if I wanted to join not realizing that girls weren’t meant to play as the same team as the boys.

I went down there, I trained and we suddenly realized that there were no other girls so I disguised myself and called myself Ray and went to the barber shop with Lawrence and cut all my hair off to the disgust of my mom when I walked back home. She was totally shocked. I don’t know, grade 1 or 2 of my head. I wouldn’t do that again.

For me, football is what I love and if it meant I’ll have to pretend to be Ray to play football and that was simple, I was going to do that.

We played in a Brent 5 a side League. We used to play a Kingsbury but weekday night Tony Chelsea used to drive us all up there in his van and take us all back, fantastic he was.

But yeah, we got to cup final.  One of the kids from the other team went to my school.  He knew I was a girl.

My birthday’s in November as well so I was one of the oldest in the class. I can’t remember if I may have been a month or two old to play in that league as well.

Unfortunately he told the referee, and so we started off with playing very well then the referee asked me if I was a girl and he told me I have to leave the pitch; he told me I wasn’t allowed to play.

That was really the change for me because at that point I couldn’t be Ray anymore. I wasn’t allowed to play for the boy’s team and Tony Chelsea who was fantastic because he went to the AGM for the league and it just so happen that there was girls’ team in this league as well. He said that his best players have been a girl for the past season and if there’s any women’s team out there, take a girl who wants to play football then he’d do his best to get me into a team.

There were loads of team from Arsenal, Barnette, Wembley, loads of different sort of woman’s teams and Watford.  They’re playing in the same league but Mill Hill United, we’re the first team to put their hand up and said that they run a girls team.

They spoke to Tony then Tony arranged someone to pick me up and take me to Mill Hill and that’s how I got into women’s football and that’s how I played for Mill Hill United.

I was found by Arsenal actually playing for my school team and the school team who were absolutely horrendous. There was probably myself and one another girl that liked football and just made out up a team of girls that sort of either want to get out of class or we’re just happy to go on a school trip.

We didn’t play that many games and I used to hate playing for the girls’ team just because they’d gave me the football and they just all stop and watch me and expect me to do something fantastic with it. I’d always sort of grown up down the park, playing sort of passing game and being in a team and always wanted to set somebody else up and stuff like that.

The fact that someone would give me the ball and expect me to do everything and score goal after after goal after to goal, I didn’t like it.  I felt like there was, you know, not too much pressure but just too many eyes on me and everyone was watching and everyone was making a big deal out of it.  And I didn’t really want people to make a big deal about me. I just wanted to be a part of the team and help the team win.

It wasn’t an enjoyable time for me to be playing for the girls’ team.  Vic Akers who is obviously the manager of all the ladies was the referee at the Camden League game. He’d ask me the first time if I played football, who I played for and I told him very proudly that I played for Mill Hill.

He said that I should take a trial with Arsenal and see how it goes but the Mill Hill was my team and I said I didn’t want to do that. I remember being in the league again having another game down there and whether he’d forgotten, didn’t know who I was or who was asking me for a second time but if he asked me the same sort of question.

At that time I knew a little bit more of who he was and obviously being an Arsenal fan, you don’t get two opportunities to be asked to play for us for Arsenal Football Club. After that I think I’ve made the decision that I wanted to try out for them and see how it went.

I left Mill Hill when I was 16 to go to Arsenal. Obviously it was a big move and a challenge for me. When I first moved to Arsenal, I was told them by one of the coaches there that I would probably go into the third team. Mill Hill at that point was sort of encouraging me to try and stay at Mill Hill.

Was tipping me in is a future captain at the side but deep down I knew that I have to challenge myself and I knew that I had to take the opportunity to go through Arsenal.

But if I was to fail, I was to fail but you’ve got to take the risk and I wanted to take that challenge. I went there and I didn’t play for the third team, I played for the reserves a couple of times. I made the first team bench for most of the season.

And then in my first season we played Everton away and it happen to be in England scouts there and watched me taught that I was good enough and then I went to an England camp. I think my first England camp was just after my 17th birthday which was pretty cool.

I think it became a career when I was offered a professional contract at Fulham although I played for Arsenal for probably at least six seasons before that. At the beginning of Arsenal, we paid subs. We paid contributions to the hotel fees when we stayed away.

For me, football wasn’t really bringing in money. Football wasn’t a job that I would be calling it a professional. It is more of a hobby. It was something that I love.

But then to be offered by a professional contract by Fulham, it meant leaving Arsenal which I didn’t want to do and which was probably the hardest phone call that I had to make ringing up Vic Akers and telling him that I was going to sign for Fulham and I wasn’t going to return to Arsenal.

It was something deep down I knew I had to do and I was going to become a professional footballer. I was going to train every day with a team, with football, do fitness, do ball work and have coaches there to help me to develop my game. It was something I thought which is amazing I can’t possibly turn this down.

Speaker 1: The women side having the best of semis. On the chase again!

It wasn’t a dream of mine, it wasn’t something that I ever thought that I would do or thought I would achieve. I was just the kid from Queens Park, little girl who pretended to be a boy, wanted to play football just because I love football.

There was no, “I want to be a football player when I am older.” I could have told you or probably would have said I want to be like that or a fireman or firewoman I should say, an astronaut something like that. I just didn’t have a clue of what I wanted to do.

I didn’t ever believe I could be a football player because there were no female football role models out there for me to look up to and say, “I want to do that and I can earn money and that could be my job,” that could be my dream.

I just played it because I love the sport, I found it enjoyable and something that I was good at and people praise me when I did it so that’s the reason I got involve in football.

To sit here having played for my favorite team Arsenal, having to play and won so many FA League Cups, medals, and trophies from Arsenal and having a hundred and 25 cups ring led and I’m a bit astonished.

Officially, this is just a friendly match. As soon as Kevin Prince Boateng has passed the ball, the animal chants start. Commentator’s searches words, the referee tries for calm but the gun in looks off the first professional footballer to do such a thing.

I think you know obviously the work that you get to do is massive for the football game. Discrimination shouldn’t be in the game. It shouldn’t be in the boundary in our communities. It’s about sending the message across, educating people.

Some people do things, perhaps others don’t agree with because they don’t know, they are not educated. So I think the work that you get to do in educating people, in getting the messages across and using obviously footballers and role models to educate youngsters is impressive and invaluable.

I would like to be remembered just for being me, for being an honest football player that went out and tried my hardest to win every game and enjoy playing football.

That’s was just me. I don’t think I have anything else I’d like to be remembered for someone, you know, went out was exciting played football in the right spirit and was honest.

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