Playing with the boys

In 2011, the Football Association (FA) announced a seemingly insignificant rule change to junior football. This rule amended the regulations regarding mixed-gender football; now allowing girls and boys up until the Under13 age group to play in the same team.

At the time, I wasn’t aware how this seemingly small change would impact my life. I quickly set about trialling for different local teams before joining the boy’s team at Millhouses Juniors, for what I believed would be one eventful season.

Playing football since the age of five – and only ever for a girls’ team – I thought playing in a team of all boys would be the kind of challenge I was looking for. I was 12 at the time, meaning I only had one year to make use of this opportunity.

Four years later and I was still playing against boys every Sunday. Each year I played, the FA extended the age limit further; suddenly what I had believed to be an unexpected and exceptional opportunity became my norm.

I presumed that hundreds of young girls my age would be taking advantage of the rule changes and choosing to play with boys; in fact, I was the only one.

The uniqueness of my situation always generated interest; people were genuinely interested in how I was finding it, and I soon had a whole host of humorous and shocking anecdotes that were sure to elicit a strong reaction.

As such, I was compelled to write about my experiences, which led to my book, ‘Playing with the Boys’, to be published in 2015.

The reception I received for my book was amazing; I gave over 20 interviews with national radio, television, newspapers and magazines in the UK, and the story also attracted international attention. I conducted interviews with newspapers and in Italy, Spain, and Uruguay, and radio stations in Ireland, Mexico, and Colombia.

When I chose to join a boys’ team at the age of 12, I did not believe for a second that it would have an influence on my future career aspirations, yet it was the publicity for my book that sparked an interest in PR. The way I had to amend how I sold my story in to each media outlet really interested me; the message I was trying to get across while I was on ‘Game Changers’ (a Sky Sports kids TV show) was so different from what I was trying to communicate while on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Woman’s Hour’.

Whilst my experiences in the media and with PR were not directly caused by the decision I made as a 12 year old, it is true to say that without that decision, it is extremely unlikely I would have chosen to pursue a career in the PR industry today.