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28 October 2014

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Junior Football News

Rachel Unitt
Rachel Unitt

Rachel Unitt

England ladies star Rachel Unitt was in Dorset to help promote the launch of a womens football initiative with Weymouth Football Club, and BBC Dorset's Matt Newsum was on hand to quiz her about one of the fastest growing female participation sports.

Rachel Unitt is an established England international, plays for Everton ladies, and has won silverware during a short spell in the lucrative American Womens League.

audio Rachel Unitt talks to BBC Dorset's Matt Newsum >
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She's also done her fair share of promotional work, sharing a stage with the likes of John Terry and David Beckham on the launch of the new England kit, and modelling for clothing manufacturers FootieChick.

With marketable looks and footballing talent, Unitt is an example of how women's football has changed over the last few years, and that the sport is now booming.


It's a long way from her humble introductions to the sport, as she explains:

"I started from a young age. At the back of my house there was a field and my dad used to take me out there and I'd go and play with the lads."

Finding a girls team is relatively easy these days, but for players like Rachel, there was little in the way of competition for her first club!

"When I was 10 or 11 there were about 2 or 3 teams in our league and we had to play each other twice, but these days there are thousands of teams in my area.

"There are 12 teams in the Premier League, and then there's the Northern and Southern with 10 teams and then thirty or forty leagues below that.

"The difference from then to now is phenomenal - they've got centre of excellences and academies which they didn't have when I was younger."

Early start

With the women's game growing rapidly, clubs are always looking for the next wave of young players.

For Rachel, joining local club Wolves was the kickstart she needed to get her noticed by the England set-up.

"I started off at Wolves when I was 14 and I played there for four or five years. When I was 17 I moved to Everton for a year and that's when I moved into the England squad.

"I played professional for two years (at Fulham) and semi-pro for a year, and now I'm back at Everton!"

Current status

With men's football the main feature of TV stations and newspapers, women's football is very much in the background.

But as Rachel explains things are changing:

"It's the fastest growing sport, with the numbers of players and supporters growing all the time.

"In the Euros over 70,000 supporters watched in the stands and eight million watched the games on the BBC. It's fantastic, and I think eventually the club leagues will grow into a fully professional league."

England expects...

Rachel Unitt
Unitt in England colours

As a fully fledged England international, Rachel has been part of the set-up for many years now, and she still enjoys meeting up with her teammates, despite the strict routine:

"I love it, we're away four or five days before a game preparing for it, we train twice a day, eat about 10 times a day.

"It's hard work - away from England we're given training schedules to follow which are like aerobics, speed, strength, it's hard work but it's all worth it!"

Work, rest and play?

While the men command huge sums of money to play at the top of their game, for the stars of the women's game, juggling work commitments with the sport is a given.

Rachel is lucky in that she doesn't have to commit to too much, but as she points out many others do:

"Most players do, I don't do too much. I do a bit of coaching here and there, but because I'm training so much I just do 15-20 hours a week including 2-3 hours at Everton.

"A lot of the girls work full-time which is down to commitment and dedication really. They work 9-5 and then get home and go straight to training.

"It's hard work to juggle work with football but if you want it that much then you'll do it."

Men and women

Although it's the same sport, Rachel has noticed the differences between the men's and women's games from her experiences on the pitch:

"Main difference is the physical side, the guys are so much stronger and quicker than the women, technically I'd say it was the same probably.

"When we've been away with England we've played mens teams before in friendlies, we've played Gillingham, Farnborough and Crystal Palace - the stregth and speed is completely different - it's like pitting hockey against netball, it's stupid."

Meeting the lads?

They both represent the same nation, playing the same sport, but do the two teams get to meet?

"We don't really meet the guys, luckily I've done the kit launch twice, with Michael Owen, David Beckham and a few other guys.

"We don't really see them though - the women's side is totally away from theirs."


Since the exposure that the Euros gave the England ladies, Rachel has found that the media has become increasingly favourable to the sport:

"Media coverage is really good now. All our national games are on BBC or satellite TV, as well a few club games have also been played. You can see highlights from the Premiership games too - the media interest is always growing.

"You don't see much from newspapers though. I think they should dedicate more space to it but we'll get there eventually."


Long ignored by the clubs they represent, women's football seems to be higher on the agenda for the professional sides, particularly in the sense of facilities, which Rachel feels have improved considerably:

"Most teams play at semi-pro clubs, we play at Marine FC, Arsenal play at Boreham Wood so it's proper stadiums and the facilities are good there.

"A lot of teams train at the men's training ground too - Leeds do, we train at the academy, Arsenal train at theirs.

"The pitches are good - and we've played in County Cup finals at Anfield and at Goodison so it's getting there. I can't see us playing at Goodison week-in, week out though!"


The Euros gave players like Rachel a taste for the grand settings, but which were her favourites?

"I've played at Blackburn, Man City, Stade Velodrome, a few Premiership grounds.

"I really like Blackburn, because that's where the Euros were, and also Walsall, because that's my local town and it's a nice stadium, tightly packed in and compact with a good atmosphere."


For many male footballers, moving abroad is the 'holy grail' - take the excitment surrounding David Beckham's move to Real Madrid for example.

However, Rachel is keen to continue her footballing education in this country:

"I played out in America for the last part of their season and I really liked that. Ideally I'd like to stay in this country but moving abroad and playing abroad I'd like to do later when I'm about to hang up my boots!


With such a busy schedule - Rachel is more than happy just to flop out in front of the telly once the football side of things is over for the day!

"After training all I really want to do is sit down and relax and go out with friends! I like other sports too so I go out and play squash - I don't really do too much I'm quite boring!"

last updated: 13/09/06
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