On International Women's Day Amy Kay, female football pathway leader at Lincoln City Foundation and captain of Lincoln City Women, shares with us her story of how she got into the sport and the barriers she has to break down.
International Women's Day aims to make the world more diverse, equitable and inclusive for females. These are three words that don't just apply to females but to everyone. The need for these days shouldn't exist but, unfortunately, they do. I can only speak through my own experiences so will try to paint a picture that hopefully a lot of you can relate to.
My story into sport won't be too distant from many others. I grew up in a family home where football was the outlet, passion and always (to my mum's annoyance) the mood setter in the house. A good result would mean that the house was a happy one, a loss often would well mean the opposite. Football tends to bring out emotions in people, it has the power to create memories and experiences that people never forget: a sport for everyone no matter their circumstance, but with that also comes a responsibility to represent all.
I lived on an estate where luckily there was a lot of grass areas, no ball signs didn't really have the impact they were intended for, and we always were out playing. These were my first steps into playing, and when I look back now, I don't see what most would expect. There were all types of children playing not just boys. Gender, race, age or ability - none of these factors mattered as everyone could play. The teams evened out whether that was more on one side to make it fair, it didn't matter everyone joined in and you did this until the person whose ball it was had to go.
My brother is a year younger than me and he was the first out of us both to go into a football team, our weekends were mostly spent watching that team play and joining the grassroots team family feel. This did not upset me because, if I am honest, I had never seen a girl play in games. You don't know what you don't know, so the fact I couldn't play in a team didn't upset me as I never was expecting to be able to.
I did not even know that there was a women's England team, I saw football as a male game. I could play it for fun, but it was not something I could pursue as a player, or a career.
The first we heard of a women's team in the area came in the random form of our local window cleaner who had seen me play near our house when I was 10. I arrived at the local club and these players had clearly been playing longer than I had in a structured way so I felt that I was way off. I loved playing, but I had never really played in matches.
My only experience in a match had been for the primary school team in goal for the boys. I had wanted to go in goal, they had not just thrown me in the net out the way. The structure of the leagues due to there not being many teams meant we were always travelling for games. My brother's team hardly stepped out of the garden while we, on the other hand, were travelling all over Lincolnshire. I was finally in a team and able to play fixtures which was all I wanted, so I didn't really think how much I was playing compared to my brother.
The male game was always competitive, the dream for the boys was to be a professional player, the local academy being the first step. That is a side to women's football I never saw, it wasn't until I was U16 when we realised there was an academy structure in place for girls. I went a year later for trials at Lincoln City's Centre for Excellence and started playing for the reserves.
This was a bit of a blur as over the next two years I went from playing in a local grassroots league to playing big clubs in the reserves to stepping up and training with the Lincoln City Women's first team. When I reflect now I wasn't prepared for that as I had never expected to play at that level and didn't know it existed. I don't think I was motivated enough to be a player, especially at those levels.
When I was around international players I was only just learning about the women's game. If I had had those role models growing up who knows, I might have visualised it more, but it all came too quickly. The rebrand of Lincoln City to Notts County changed the next seasons for me, I saw a club change badge and name and move further away - and with that my direction in the sport changed.
I had started coaching while still in school and was starting to enjoy it. I was the only female coach there and at first thinking back it probably helped me. I was able to learn coaching with no pressure. I took the youngest age groups which gave me the freedom to try things and see what worked, and no one expected much from me. I felt that I had a point to prove and that I had to earn respect for being a female coach first.
People would not see me and assume I could coach: I had to prove it.
This may not have been the case, but that is how I felt and as I have gone through my coaching roles, I still think this the higher I go the more I have to prove it. I never had expected for it to be a career for me, I was originally studying to be an early year's practitioner and had enjoyed coaching the youngest groups, so thought ok il do a course in that.
It is funny how things work out and often by luck. I was taking my grassroots team to a festival at Lincoln City and the foundation phase lead came over to chat, from this I was offered some coaching with the pre-Academy and that started my journey with Lincoln City. The role has changed over the past years, but without this first introduction I would not be where I am.
My current job roles including the Academy and at the Lincoln City Foundation have taught me so much. I am around some fantastic individuals and coaches daily, and if I am honest the biggest thing, I could say about the environment is that I do not think about my gender when I am there. This may sound like a strange thing to state, but I am working in an environment that is still seen from the outside as male dominant, the fact that I don't think when surrounded by staff members that I am the odd one out, or that I am a tick box exercise, shows where we are heading.
I never saw a female coach growing up so obviously there needs to be more on the courses, so young players do see that as normal. I will always maintain and as do probably most, that as a female I am not asking for any favours, I am simply asking for equal opportunity. I want a role because I was the best person for the job, I do not want it because of a need to correct the balance.
Positively the world is changing, slowly but it is. Have I felt discriminated against in some cases? Yes, there are times when I think subconsciously or consciously, unfortunately, people say things that they would not say to male player or coach. There will be some that always seek to compare and discredit women's football or women in sport in general, the humour being as a female I have never heard a female compare or discredit the male game we support and watch the same as everyone else. I have never heard anyone ask for equal pay, the only time I hear equal is equal opportunity and fairness.
People sometimes are quick to use something which they haven't researched around, as a counter-argument with themselves, "and they want equal pay?" a statement for social media if a female makes a mistake in a fixture. There will be some that do not want the game to progress as it doesn't fit the agenda of those who banned the women's game, that is fine but please do not hinder it.
My experiences in football have clear threads some of which I had not noticed until writing this. You don't know what you don't know, is a common theme we use in learning and is something that relates to this piece. How do we expect anyone to know something unless we provide them with the opportunities to see it? I did not know Women's football existed, programmed to the life during the women's football ban, a subconscious bias that a lot of people do not even realise they have.
How do we expect people to understand some of their language or behaviours are deemed discriminatory if we do not educate or challenge them?
I still have girls come to my sessions and tell me how they don't have a girls' school football team, but they have been told they can play netball instead. There is still a lot to do but we have started to move in the right direction. My hope for the Women's game is the same as my hopes for the male game, that it continues to grow and is a sport for the people. That it does for others what it did for me, it gave me a place of belonging, a place to escape, a place to thrive.