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BBC Women's Footballer of the Year 2016: Secrets in Seattle

Sarah Mulkerrins

Presenter, Sportsworld, BBC World Service

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Kim Little is presented with her trophy by former USA player Shannon MacMillan

Sarah Mulkerrins is the presenter of BBC World Service's Sportsworld. In this post she tells the story of how the 2016 BBC Women's Footballer of the Year received her award.

I never knew how hard it was to keep a secret. Until this project. 

US Immigration Officer at Seattle Airport: Why are you here?
Me: Oh you know, just business.
Officer: What do you do?
Me: I work for the BBC.
Officer: Why are you here?
Me: Erm… a special project…
Officer: What project?
Me: Oh, just something to do with sport, radio, tv, women’s football…
Officer: Like what exactly ma’am?
Me: Erm I really prefer not to tell you if possible...

That's never how you want a conversation to go with US Border Control! But I was let through without revealing the big secret. 

Three days later, I was hiding in a well-worn dressing room, falling over footballs and cones. USA World Cup and Olympic Winner Shannon MacMillan was struggling to contain her laughter as we tried to keep quiet amid the chaos. Along with our great team of Alex South on camera and Anneka Radley as producer, we also had five of Seattle Reign’s media team in with us in this over-stocked room. You could feel the nervous energy. We were waiting for all the players to arrive into their dressing room next door before surprising our 2016 BBC Women’s Footballer of the Year, live on Sport Today on the BBC World Service. 

When the moment arrived Shannon and I padded out into the hallway, trying to broadcast in hushed whispers. We knocked on the door, entered and were confronted with what felt like 100 enquiring faces. The whole squad and back room staff were there. We announced that Kim Little had won the award and then couldn’t hear ourselves speak over the raucous cheers for Kim.  

There, in that dressing room, where the team bond over so many moments of varying emotions, it was lovely for us at the BBC to experience first-hand one of those raw instances and bring it to our audience. There was no denying the joy and pride from the squad that Kim was getting the recognition they felt she deserved. Kim is a humble star and she lets her football do the talking. So it was lovely to see 'her magic on the pitch' according to coach Laura Harvey, being honoured. 

The women's game is big business; it's no longer fair to say it's a niche sport. 25 million viewers in the USA tuned into last summer's Women's World Cup Final. That beat the Summer and Winter Olympics, Baseball's World Series and the NBA finals. There were record audiences for the tournament all around the world, including viewers from England, Germany, Japan and France.

The different domestic leagues are catching up too with increased investment and support. Kim was the only player nominated who didn't appear at the World Cup and the fact she the award by public vote shows the growing interest and knowledge of the domestic leagues around the world. This is the next step for the women's game.  

This was the second year that the BBC World Service had presented the award, the first going to Nigeria’s Asisat Oshoala in 2015. It was launched to recognise the growing importance and recognition of the women’s game on the global stage. For those who didn't know about Kim Little or the other nominees before all this, their profiles and talents have now been brought to a whole new audience.  

A young generation of girls now have role models. That wasn't the case at the first Women's World Cup in 1991. The USA won, but the final wasn't televised there and there was no prize money or welcome home party. 

But 25 years later in Seattle, there was a party, there was a trophy and there was media coverage as we honoured Scotland's and Seattle Reign's Kim Little – voted the BBC Women's Footballer of the Year for 2016

Sarah Mulkerrins is Presenter, Sportsworld, BBC World Service

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