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  • Anita Abayomi

“Last goal wins!”

Updated: Oct 5, 2021

Why was it always boys vs girls? Every single Friday it was boys vs girls in the football cage. An 11-a-side battle of the sexes between eight- and nine-year-olds. The boys would often boast, calling themselves the next Henry. One step over would have them screaming, “RONALDINHO!” Although the comparison was hollow, I wanted to feel that excitement. I wanted the playground to sing my praises, too.

We never won the boys vs girls encounters, yet we always played. The thrill of enjoying a harmless game with friends fuelled my energy and, eventually, it stopped being about winning.

This was until one afternoon when the girls’ team were losing 21-0. One of the boys in all his arrogance yelled: “LAST GOAL WINS!” I looked back at the girls and we all had our game faces on. One shot at redemption. Two minutes until the school bell was due to ring. The match restarted and we gave it our all.

We finally won that day. The scoreline was 21-1, but the victory was ours. That was the same day that I told my dad that I wanted to be a footballer and I wanted to play for Chelsea. Playing professional football was not an option for me when I was growing up. The expectation from my parents was to finish my education, get a good job as a lawyer or a doctor and start a family.

I played football for leisure with my friends but the pressures of secondary school soon became a reality. The idea of girls playing and watching football became taboo. Showing the slightest interest for the beautiful game led to me being labelled a ‘tomboy’. I wish I could have enlightened my friends and all the other girls in my school. I wanted to show them the beauty of the game that I loved so much.

Football is more than just a sport to me, it’s an entire lifestyle. It can shape your perspective on life and reveal several emotions that you may not entirely understand yourself. I look back to my journey through secondary school and recognise the values that I personally have taken from football and transferred into my life. These are the same values that have contributed to shaping the woman I am today.

There’s an unexplainable connection between a fan and their club. The beauty of this connection lies within the mix of emotions and that is why I fell in love with the game. I fell victim to my first heartbreak in 2008. I was 12 and no, my parents did not allow me to date at the time, but a real break up might have hurt less. It was my first football heartbreak and it came in my second year in secondary school. It wouldn’t be my last but there would, finally, be a redemption…

2008 Manchester United vs Chelsea The two teams were battling for European club football’s most prestigious prize. As a Chelsea fan, I was confident that we would bring it home. However, all it took was one slip and it was over. We lost. God, I cried my eyes out. The degree of pain was unexpected. I didn’t know that I could feel this way about a group of players that I had never met. My dad told me: “Sometimes in life you win, sometimes you lose.”

2009 Chelsea vs Barcelona Unlike 2008, this match was at the semi-final stage of the same competition. Nevertheless, it doesn’t take a final to feel real emotion for your football club. The game was full of awful refereeing decisions. Decisions that my 13-year-old mind could not comprehend. We lost the tie on away goals, thanks to a late Andres Iniesta strike, but this time it wasn’t sadness that I was feeling, it was a sense of disbelief and anger. The same principle that my dad told me the year before still stood: you win some, you lose some. However, I demanded more. We lost in an unjust manner. How do we come back from this? 2012 Chelsea vs Bayern Munich There was something different about this team. I had watched the Chelsea legends such as Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole, etc become more than team-mates. They had become a unit with an unbreakable desire to win together. They had all been there before in 2008 and felt the injustice that I felt in 2009. They were now past their peaks and this was their last shot. Last goal wins…

Prior to the cup final kicking off, the nerves were circulating around my living room. The nerves turned into despair once Thomas Muller found the net. Hope was restored when Didier Drogba scored in the last minute of normal time. It came down to penalties. Five for each team. No mistakes. Nostalgia kicks in and the memories of 2008 makes it unbearable for me to watch. Drogba, with the last kick of the match, finally brings it home. I told my friends about this win. I cried while I told them. “If you keep working hard, you will win someday. You may think you are not good enough now but you have to believe in yourself, and enjoy the journey.” We had all just turned 16, so I was unsurprisingly met with silence, then laughter. I laughed too, but I held on to these values that my club had taught me.

My outlook on the beautiful game has continued to develop. Expressing my interest in sports was my biggest fear, but now there are more and more women playing and commentating. My parents now look at women footballers, such as Asisat Oshoala, with complete faith that football can be a route to success for black, ethnic minority women. I missed my chance to be a professional footballer, yet that doesn’t stop me from playing from time to time.

I pursue my career in the football industry as a journalist because I love the sport. I’ve faced several setbacks as a black woman. Boys vs girls turned into men vs women. The battle of the sexes has continued. I struggled with the feeling that I do not belong here or even have a voice. I kept persevering, I created my own path and now I constantly push myself. One goal can change everything.

In the past there were not many people on TV or in high-profile news outlets who looked like me. Now I can hope to be that figure for someone else who loves the game as much as I do.

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