Ciara Watling is a midfielder for Charlton Athletic in the FA Women’s Championship

 

Watching my older brother play football every weekend sparked my interest in the game. I wanted to be just like him.

You hear stories about how some women footballers had parents who disapproved of them taking up the sport at a young age,  but my parents were really relaxed and supportive when I told them that I wanted to play for a team.

I first started playing football ‘properly’, aged 14, for Swanscombe Tigers but I got my big break with Charlton Athletic WFC, aged 15, following a successful trial where I scored against Watford.

From the beginning, I did believe in my ability to play well. Not many girls played football when I was younger and I started to realise I had a talent for football when everyone kept commenting that I was better at it than a lot of the boys.

“Not many girls played football when I was younger and I started to realise I had a talent for football when everyone kept commenting that I was better at it than a lot of the boys.”

Training with the academy was great. I went from playing football in the park every week against local teams and winning 20-0 to playing at Chelsea and Arsenal’s training grounds. My coach, James Blackwell, played a really important role during my time there. He helped me develop as a person and as a player. He reinforced my belief in myself and gave me great confidence.

I don’t think there’s an issue at all with men working in girls or women’s football teams, but I do think it would be great to have more women coaches and managers. They may have a better understanding of women and girls on an emotional level and can therefore communicate more effectively with them so they can develop and be the best they can be. But having diversity is important in all areas of football. It’s great to see a lot of women commentating now on TV etc. 

I love playing football. It’s a great feeling, achieving something with your team mates and just being part of a team. I’ve since played for the Northern Ireland national team in the World Cup and the Euro qualifiers.

There is a lot of investment in women’s football now than in recent years. Attendance is growing, there is more sponsorship and TV exposure on major channels, and key players are getting a better profile in what has always been a male dominated sport.

I personally have never really encountered sexist comments or discrimination as a footballer – that doesn’t mean I don’t think it exists. It’s important that women’s football continues to be profiled, championed, experienced, played and watched in order to establish it further as a competitive sport at the highest level. Women’s football will always have its detractors. But hopefully these backward voices will eventually be drowned out by positivity and love for the beautiful game.

“I’ve faced some challenging times in my career, particularly when my mental health suffered.”

I’ve faced some challenging times in my career, particularly when my mental health suffered. When I was dropped from the international team, that was a real low point. I got support from a close friend, which helped me manage this, but it was tough opening up to others. I felt that not many people would understand how or why football was having such an effect on me.

But there are things close to my heart that keeps me going. I used to coach a young girl who also played for Charlton Athletic. She loved football and had dreams of going as far as possible in the sport, playing at the highest level. Then she suddenly passed away with cancer. I remember her courage and passion for football. Every time I train and play, I always think of her and, in many respects, I play in honour of her memory.

I think My Mummy is A Footballer is an excellent way to inspire young girls. Football is a great sport to take up for children; you make a lot of good friends and keep healthy and fit. I think being a part of a team also helps you develop as a person too. You learn how to respect and listen to one another, and you gain mental and physical toughness. There are a lot of valuable things you can learn from playing the sport that will put you in good stead for life.

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