Someone close to me once described sports achievements and experiences as water under the bridge.
A metaphor to dismiss significance. However, I see it a little differently: the water starts out as just a stream, not very powerful, trickling along at its own pace, indeed - insignificant. But the longer it goes on for, the more momentum it gathers and the stronger the current becomes.
The bigger the stream is, the more space it takes up and the greater influence it begins to have upon the world around it. And then finally, there comes a day when it’s big enough that people aren’t just talking about the stream anymore, they’re talking about the impact it’s had on the landscape that surrounds it, and how it attempts to shape and shift everything in its path.
One of the greatest motivations for me in football isn’t so much the trophies, but the thought that my achievements can inspire, impact, influence and eventually create change for others following in my footsteps. This is something I’ve been aware of ever since I was little, creating my own girls football team at primary school, battling to have my say in the playground. And to this day, it remains at the forefront of my mind.
So back to my metaphor for a second... there comes a point when the stream becomes a river and is strong enough that bridges start to be built, connecting the landscapes and world that the water inhabits. With this is mind, I am proud to announce that I will be joining Common Goal, and their one per cent pledge movement. A bridge, if ever I saw one.
I grew up in Bow, East London. An incredibly diverse community that, without which, I don’t think I’d be the person I am today. From a young age, I learned that everyone had their own unique story, based on their culture, their upbringing or indeed their religion. Whatever similarities we had, we were also all uniquely different. That is, until we came together on the streets and played football.
Once we entered our “pitch”, we were only judged on our footballing ability. As long as you were kicking a ball and smiling, nothing else mattered. There is an incredible naivety to the problems of the world as a child. The ball, my friends, that was all that mattered.
Today, football continues to be used as common ground. A point and platform from which we can start conversation, challenge injustices and fight against the many issues society faces. I am reluctant to say football has done a complete job in supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and the recent fight against social media abuse, because there is so much more work to do. However, this is exactly the power I believe sport has. To unite, to face up against wrongdoing, to eradicate racism and abuse from the game - then from wider society.
I am hopeful for the future in this regard, inspired by those who have come before me, like Ian Wright, using his legendary past to create social change. And equally inspired by my own generation, by the Common Goal community, using their platforms to create change and to give back to the world that has given them so much.
I truly began to realise the power of such influence during my time in the States. The way that sport is viewed in the USA, as something that can contribute to so much more in the wider society, was a real eye opener. For example, seeing how the USWNT has and continues to use its voice as a platform for change, speaking out against gender equality and in support of Black Lives Matter. This unity among the players is incredible to see.
Even on a smaller scale, we were always encouraged at the University of North Carolina to get involved with the community and social issues. In my final year there, I was actually the community outreach officer, facilitating visits to the University Hospital and to the Ronald McDonald House charities.
We allocated a game each year, during child cancer awareness month, when we invited young cancer survivors to walk out on the pitch with us as mascots. Let me tell you, when you've got a young cancer survivor holding your hand, running out on the pitch with you, that hits so, so hard. It even makes me emotional to think about it now! It is in these moments that you realise, yes football really is water under the bridge. And these bridges matter so much more than my individual path.
Which brings me back to one of my first major tournaments for England, the 2016 U17 Women’s World Cup in Jordan, Amman. I don’t so much as remember my individual performances or the fact that we were knocked out in the quarter-final to Japan. There is something more that I’ll never forget.
I took a bunch of Arsenal shirts from previous seasons with me on the trip. I had hoped we would be able to visit one of the many refugee camps, meet some young female footballers from the local community, or even interact with locals, but instead we were shepherded around cherry-picked routes. I will never forget the feeling that we had missed an opportunity to have a bigger impact.
I knew that at the end of the day we were there to play a tournament, but I still believe that it could have had a much greater reach – the bridges that could’ve been built – with the impact we could have had on the local community. It felt like a real missed opportunity and continues to remind me, daily, to make the most of any chance I get to step outside the white lines and do more for society.
Which brings me on to Common Goal. I heard about the movement through my good friend Heather O’Reilly. I know how much she cares about using her platform for good, so to see her become part of the movement was inspiring.
The thing is, all professional athletes are human beings first. We aren’t untouchable. We are still members of society, just like the next person. And by that same token, aren’t far removed from the social issues that plague our world either. Common Goal is a movement spearheaded by athletes, but more so humans, who like me, want to contribute to what matters most.
Through Common Goal, I signed up specifically to pledge my one per cent to the Global Goal 5 based in East Africa and Latin America. The main objectives of the Global Goal 5 are to increase girls’ participation, as well as the proportion of female coaches in football for good programmes across the world, ensuring that every girl participant has a female athlete role model in their community. It is exciting to see where my one per cent will go and the development that can arise because of it.
Closer to home, aside from Common Goal, I am also set to partner with The Laces Community Club. They are a non-profit organisation that offers a space for young girls to play football with zero pressure, for fun and enjoyment. The team behind Laces influence stretches across the country: with clubs in Hackney, Limehouse, South London and Manchester.
They also provide on and off-pitch support to 11 to 17-year-olds. Recently, for example, they put Wi-Fi into a young girl's house because she didn't have access to the internet during lockdown and couldn't complete her homework. Football really is water under the bridge when you hear stories like this – and even more so – emphasises the importance of the bridges that need to be built.
For now, though, while the water is still flowing and more bridges being built - I hope I can inspire other young players, whether that be to pledge to Common Goal or simply to be more active in their local community. I hope that the next generation will follow in my footsteps and start making a stand now, rather than leaving it later in their careers. We will only be able to play football for a short amount of our life. So, I think we have to ask ourselves: if I had the chance to inspire meaningful social development and change - that can last years - why wouldn’t I do so?
This movement isn’t about the individual who is pledging one per cent and their achievements – it’s not about the water under the bridge. It is about all the people who will benefit as a result of the bridges we build together; the Common Goal movement.
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