The popularity of women’s football is on the increase, with 2018 having been the best year yet and the World Cup set to take place in 2019. Regardless, women still face daily challenges in a sport that has traditionally been dominated by men.
Mathilda Finburgh is a center-forward for the London Bees U-16 and was kind enough to meet with me to discuss the struggles she faces on a daily basis.
Visiting her at home, it was clear from the outset that football is a huge part of her life, with memorabilia, photos, and medals decorating the room.
I can see photos of you playing when you were very little
“I’ve always been playing since I was very little, so it all started in the garden with my brother just playing football for fun and then in primary school at break time, and lunchtime, playing football with the boys and just all my friends playing at break time.”
Was it difficult to play football or did everyone accept it with normality?
“I think at the beginning everyone accepted it because we were very young… but then, when I was older, maybe playing with new boys that weren’t used to play with girls before, was more challenging, because they didn’t like it as much because they weren’t used to it.”
And now, you are playing for the London Bees. What’s the experience of training with a women professional team?
“I play matches with the U-16 and then, since November last year, I train with the first team (London Bees) and it’s really good because of the, it goes at a much faster pace and it’s a higher level because they’re bigger and stronger since it’s the women.”
I’ve heard that you were called to represent England in the ISFA (Independent School Football Association) U-18 team, how does it feel to play internationally?
When she hears the question, she takes a deep breath, thinking for a while.
“Well, I think it’s a higher level than the club games because there are players from all over the country, who are really talented and even if I’m not used to playing with them because we don’t play with each other often, I think it’s difficult but it’s really good because it’s harder to play and you improve playing in harder matches.”
So now you are playing with your teammates but also league club rivals in the national team
“You just sort of get used to it, and so it’s not as hard as you think, because we still friends even if we play against each other sometimes.”
For another moment, she stops and thinks again; smiling.
“Well, I mean, considering I play for U-16, so it was the first time I was with the U-18 team and so that was, that was an experience which was really good, and it was actually the first I took a plane to go to one of my matches. That was an experience in itself.”
Now, how do you see yourself in the future and how do you see women’s football in a couple of years?
“I hope that women’s football gets much bigger, because even because now they focus more on the men’s game, however, there are many more talented women footballers who are coming through, so I hope that they can carry on looking into women’s football more and maybe showing it on the TV more.”
“I hope I can play women’s football as long as I can at a high level, if I can, I’ll keep on training to try to get to a high level, but if I don’t play football anymore, I still want to do something in sports, so whether is coaching or just management, I just do like to do that. I think I’ll like to, maybe coach younger people, so then they can get used to playing, boys and girls together, and then boys can get used to playing with girls in football and then, girls can improve as well, so that when they’re old, they can have an impact on the game.”
I guess the upcoming World Cup in France would be a good impact for women’s football
“I hope that we’ll gain more popularity because now there are more people, and especially children, that we’ll be watching these games, and then they will see that there’s a high level of football in the women’s game, so hopefully it will become more popular for other people to watch.”
Is there a player you would like to be like?
“There’s a player which a lot of people say that is their favorite player, but for me I like, Ronaldo, Cristiano Ronaldo. The thing that inspired me the most was that he trained so much, and you can see that he’s really motivated to do well, and every year he comes back as a better player, so that was really fascinating for me.”
“Another player was David Beckham, because, erm, obviously he played for England and I actually met him once.”
“Rachel Yankey would be the women footballer that inspired me the most. Especially, because she’s my coach, so it’s great to learn from an ex-footballer like her.”
Finally, do you see the London Bees U-16 able to win the league?
She laughs and quickly answers: “Yes, of course, I do!”.
So that’s it. Answers the same as you would expect from any player. Perhaps it’s the time people stopped seeing the women’s game simply as a footnote.
Not different answers or feelings than a male team. It is time people stop seeing women’s football as anecdotic. They are strong, professionals and are here to stay. All the best, Mathilda.