Casey Stoney has been celebrating the positive change in women’s football during her 117-cap England career.
The Arsenal Ladies star made her England debut 15 years ago and, speaking on International Women’s Day, she talked about the transformation in the game since then.
“It’s a world away from where it was,” said Stoney. “When I made my debut I was wearing kit that was too big for me because it was a men’s kit. Now we have kit tailored for us by Nike.
“In 2000 I was working full-time and playing football at the same time, training twice a week and playing at the weekend – and paying to play.
“Now I train every day and make a living out of the game I love, so I feel like I’m in a really privileged position. I’m really proud to have been part of that shift and hopefully played my part in it.”
Stoney has played in two World Cups and three European Championships, as well as having the privilege of captaining Great Britain at the London Olympics in 2012 – a year she described as “the best 12 months of my life” – in an undoubted watershed moment for the popularity of women’s football in the UK.
As Olympic fever gripped, more than 70,000 people watched Team GB beat Brazil 1-0 at Wembley and the effects have lasted, with over 45,000 people turning out to watch England play two time World champions Germany in November, in their first standalone fixture at the national stadium.
“Fifteen years ago, would I have thought we’d have got 45,000 people to come and watch us play at Wembley? I never even thought we’d play at Wembley, let alone have 45,000 people there,” Stoney told TheFA.com.
“That was a really proud day for women’s football. Not just for the girls involved, but for every player that has gone before us, that never had the privileges that we enjoy now – the likes of Karen Walker, Gill Coultard, Marieanne Spacey. They are the ones that really started this. They played for nothing. They played because they loved the game.
“And I keep going back to it, but having a Women’s GB team at the Olympics really did help to change perceptions of women’s football. London 2012 did wonders for our game. It was massive.”
The 32-year-old, who had to play football with boys when she was growing up because there were no girls teams nearby, is pleased that girls today have more opportunities to play, but believes that the game still has work to do to continue the progress made in recent years.
“What I’d really like to move the game on further is increased coverage of women’s sport in the media. There isn’t enough coverage out there for young girls to aspire to. There are some fantastic female athletes and female role models out there.
“We are trying to create a culture where we are a healthier nation and we want children to be active, yet we still don’t portray female sportspeople in a positive way. You can still be beautiful and be athletic. We need a culture shift.
“I want every little girl to dream of being a professional footballer and to be given more opportunities to do that.”
Images and video courtesy of TheFA.com