Eleven players. Ninety minutes of play. Eight-feet tall goalposts, set 24 feet apart. The rules for women’s and men’s football are the same, the fire to bury the ball in the back of the net burns just as hot.
But off the pitch, women face very different set of circumstances and challenges than men do. Off the pitch, the rules aren’t quite the same. While women’s football is quickly growing in popularity, there’s still a gap in investment and opportunities available for players. PayPal has been a partner of the FA supporting grassroots football across women and men's teams over the last four years. Through its partnership with the FA, PayPal has championed the Lionesses and will continue to be an advocate of their success.
To mark Women’s History Month and ahead of this year’s summer tournament, we spoke with three of England’s Lionesses: goalkeeper Hannah Hampton (age 21), midfielder Jordan Nobbs (age 29), and forward Fran Kirby (age 28). The players reflected on their careers and the challenges they’ve had to overcome, as well as their proudest accomplishments.
Fran Kirby: Continue to build opportunities. I think there’s a lot more opportunities for [men] to go into football. Build more relationships with girl’s football teams across the U.K., across the world, and make it so there’s more opportunities for young girls to go out and play football and enjoy it. Not having to drive 45 minutes, to an hour to a session, and then coming home late. Some people may not want to do it because they have school the next day. Make it more accessible for females across the country.
Jordan Nobbs: People find it hard to get into our sport. That’s still developing, and it needs to be better. We want things on TV, so people can see us, easy access to games, know that our games are on, to get the support and fanbase behind us. Without people visually seeing women’s sports around the world, they’re not going to get attracted or start to play it. Make it normal that boys and girls play and that it’s normal to get into any sport you feel you can.
Fran: Injuries have been a massive part of probably nearly everyone’s career, in some shape or form. My injuries have been quite tough to overcome and continue this journey.
Jordan: One of mine would be leaving home. When I was 17, I joined a top premier league team. You leave your family behind, and it is tough. We love what we do, and I wouldn’t change it for the world, but mentally, you have to be strong. You need to know that there are challenges along the way and you might have to make big sacrifices, but it’s what we love.
Hannah Hampton: For me, it’s being told I can’t play. Growing up, many people told me I’d never have a career in women’s football. “You will never be able to live playing sport.” I remember myself and my parents got pulled into [a meeting with] my head of school, and they told me, “You can’t keep playing football at break times, or at lunch times, because you’re never going to have a career in that.”
Now I can look back and safely say that, yes, you can have a career. That’s what I want to do with younger generations: you can’t be told that you can’t do it. You got to go for what you want.
Fran: That’s the part that a lot of people don’t see and don’t realize how much work you actually put off the pitch. They see the final product and how hard you work on the pitch, but actually, the majority of your time as professional footballers is focusing on yourself off the pitch. Making sure you’re eating the right things, recovering the right way, doing an extra pool session if you’re feeling a bit sore, booking in for treatment. You’ve got some people who are on the treatment bed for four hours. I mean, obviously it sounds lovely, but if you’ve ever had a sports massage, it’s not lovely!
Hannah: For me, it’s not getting too high at the successes and not getting too low with things that haven’t gone too right. Trying to keep a level field so things don’t get too much to you.a
Jordan: Whenever you wear the England badge, it’s the proudest moment of your life. There’s no better feeling than walking out with that shirt on. It’s what you play football for and what you dream of from being a little girl.
Hannah: For myself, it’s getting my first call up to the seniors. I was a training player, but it didn’t bother me one bit. I was quite young, getting the call up at 19. I didn’t think it’d be possible, even when I was older; I never thought I’d be able to say I’m an England player.
Fran: I always find that a really interesting question. I don’t really walk out onto the pitch and think, “Wow, I’m a role model!” I walk out as a footballer. I play a sport that I love, that I’ve played since I was three years old. It’s in my DNA, it’s in my family’s DNA, it’s in everything I do. I’m a competitor; I want to win. That’s my first, my main goal. If I’m able to do that, if I’m winning and doing well, that inspires young girls also. It brings out that competitive drive and they can see you’re having fun, enjoying the sport you love to do.
Hannah: I’m just a normal person doing what I love, and I’ve not done anything special. I’m quite young still—I’ve never seen myself as a role model, because people on this camp are my role models.
Fran: Work when no one’s watching.
Jordan: If you enjoy something and you love something, then don’t be scared to follow that dream. It sounds a bit cliché, but you got to believe in yourself! If you enjoy it, don’t let anyone take it away from you.
Hannah: Like Jordan said, and I’ve always said this to everyone: you have to follow your dreams. I was told I couldn’t and look where I am now. I will always say that to everyone: you just gotta go for it.
Fran: It’s about time! It’s no longer a case where [companies] say, “let’s sponsor a women’s team because it’s a tick box.” We’ve worked hard. We’ve been successful. We deserve a chance, people are seeing us and valuing us. The big sponsors are coming in and pushing for us to strive and do better, and hopefully, helping us win the big trophies that we want to win.
Find out more about the Lionesses and support them at this year's summer tournament, from 6th –31st July 2022.
The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
March 8, 2022
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