England legend Rachel Yankey has revealed that she cut her hair short and pretended to be a boy to be accepted in football when she was a child.
- Yankey is an England & Arsenal legend
- But had to call herself ‘Ray’ to fit in as a child
- Went on to enjoy incredible career
WHAT HAPPENED? Yankey is a legend of the women’s game, winning 129 caps for England and lifting 28 trophies in an illustrious career – 22 of those as part of the Arsenal side that dominated through the 2000s especially. Those achievements led to her receiving an MBE in 2006 and, eight years later, an OBE for her services to football. However, she had to overcome a number of barriers to reach the iconic status she now holds.
Yankey has now been assigned as a ‘Confidence Coach’, a move by Gatorade which comes in response to new data revealing that over four in ten (41 per cent) parents believe that a lack of confidence and self-esteem are barriers which prevent teens from taking up sport.
WHAT THEY SAID:
“When I was eight years old, there were no girls that played football,” she explained at Gatorade’s 5v5 all-female tournament in Eindhoven, which took place around the Women’s Champions League final in June. The annual five-a-side competition for 14 to 16-year-olds featured nine female teams from across the Netherlands.
“People just didn’t see that it was right for a young girl to be playing football. Parents and adults and teachers would say that a young girl should be concentrating on academic work.
“At that point, you can listen to people or you can say, ‘No, actually, I believe in myself’. So, I joined the boys team and I cut my hair short and I call myself ‘Ray’. My name, Rachel Aba Yankey, the initials RAY spell ‘Ray’. Everyone was like, ‘Wow, such a good footballer. You’re so amazing’. But when they knew I was a girl, they said, ‘You shouldn’t play’. All I thought is, ‘I’m not going to tell you I can play. I’m going to show you I can play’.”
THE BIGGER PICTURE: Yankey would go on to play for England at four major tournaments and represented Great Britain at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. The highlight of her club career came in 2007, when she was part of the Arsenal team that became European champions. The Gunners remain the only English side to achieve that feat in the women’s game.
WHAT NEXT? Yankey played at a time when England were not the powerhouse in the women’s game now. She’ll hope to see the generation she helped pave the way for have an incredible Women’s World Cup this summer.