SalmaBBC Three

'I want to be a role model to young Muslim girls who want to play sport'

When I was growing up, watching football games and watching tv, I never saw anyone that was like me. I wanted to change that

An image of Ciaran Varley
Ciaran Varley

Salma, 16

I've been playing football for around 10 or 11 years, and I play for Brentford FC Women’s Team now. Football was always the one thing I could imagine myself doing. When I’m playing, it’s like every weight is lifted off my shoulders and it's like the only thing that matters is the game and winning.

I started playing really young. I've got quite a lot of brothers and my dad also plays football, so I was introduced to it when I was about five. 

There was no girls' football team in my primary school though. I didn't really have a problem with it at first - I just played outside of school with my brothers, but, when I started to grow a bit old older - around year four or five -  I thought, “No, this isn't right. Why should there be so many boys' teams and not one girls' team in the whole school?” I thought it was my duty to keep fighting until a girls' football team was created.

Brenford FC Women's teamBBC Three

My friend and I took matters into our own hands. I’m not really proud to say it, but we used to steal the boys' footballs. When we'd get detention for that, the teachers would ask us why we were doing the things that we were doing and we would say, “We just want a football team for girls.” Eventually, in year six, we got our own team.

I believe that, if you truly want something, you always find a way, no matter how hard you've got to fight.

Once the girls' team started to win a few tournaments, the boys began to take us more seriously.

I continued to play in senior school and with local teams. Last summer, I finished my GCSEs. I was at a point where I had to think about what I wanted from the future. The coach of the team I played for was leaving to go and work at Watford Football Club. I had to decide whether I wanted to take football seriously and play for a good enough team or whether I would just continue to play locally.

Brentford FC Women's teamBBC Three

Around that time, I heard about some trials being held for Brentford FC Women's team. I decided to go and give it a shot. When I got into Brentford, no one in my family really believed me until they saw me actually playing in the kit. Although they can mock me sometimes, my family are definitely supportive.

I feel like I was blessed because I’m surrounded by people who encourage me more than anything. But there have definitely been a couple comments I've received from some people in the past - mostly aimed at my religion.

Salma trainsBBC Three

There was a time when I was 11 years old and, during one of our matches, one of the parents shouted “ninja terrorist” to me while I was in the middle of a game.

When people say negative things, it can affect you. And it definitely has affected me at times, but the biggest lesson I've learned has been to replace negative comments with a positive thought.

I feel like, when I was younger, if you were to ask most people, “What would you imagine a Muslim girl doing?” then the last thing that they would say would be football. I feel like people expect us to be shy in a way, and I don't get that. I want to be a role model to young, Muslim girls who want to play sport.

Salma talks to cameraBBC Three

There were rare occasions, growing up, when I'd be at a football tournament and I'd see another Muslim girl. Those moments were always special to me, because it's like it showed that the number of Muslim girls in sport is increasing and, for me, that is everything. Really.

I wear a head scarf during football. The way I wear it, though, it doesn't get in the way and I can play freely. Some people ask, “Aren't you hot?” I'm always wearing it and it's just normal for me - it doesn't really feel different in any way.

I have another friend on the team who wears a headscarf too. We actually call each other the "hijabi sisters".

Aside from football, I'm in my first year of sixth form. I study maths, psychology and sociology. My school isn't that close to my house and I have to get on two buses to get there, so I've got to wake up pretty early.

Football pitchBBC Three

Balancing football with my schoolwork can be tricky at times. I feel like it's more so, because I'm so obsessed with football. It's like the only thing on my mind, all the time. If I'm not playing it or watching it, then I’m definitely thinking about it.

I've also got asthma and, for me to maintain my fitness and keep my breathing right, while I'm playing football, I've got to make sure that I'm running a lot more.

My goal is to keep playing football and to go into coaching too. Playing for England would definitely be a dream, and to get there, there's a lot of work to be done. My friend and I are actually looking to get our coaching badges very soon, so that we can start inspiring young girls further.

Playing football is important to me because it means I've won. It means I've overcome the medical issues, the racism and the gender stereotypes that I've been faced with. I wanted to share my story because I feel like it has the power to motivate young girls in a similar situation to me.

As told to BBC Three