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Resilience. Mental health. Black Lives Matter. Three topics discussed with professional footballer Fern Whelan during this online meetup.

Fern has enjoyed an illustrious career on the pitch. Currently playing for Brighton & Hove Albion FC and having represented England Lionesses. However, having suffered lengthy injuries throughout her career, she spoke about the importance of good mental health and resilience.

In this Q&A with Network My Club Founder and Managing Director, Bradley Hatchett, Fern shared insight into her time in football. How goal setting got her to where she is. As well as the impact of the Black Lives Matter movement in sport.

What are your career highlights?

The FA Cup win in 2010 stands out. It was the first time we’d beaten Arsenal after years of trying to compete with them at the top level. Beating them 3-2 in extra time was a sweet moment.

For me personally, being given Young Player of the Year in 2008 while playing for the England youth system was a career high. Can never forget my first cap for my country either. A moment I’ll never forget.

What’s life like as a women’s professional footballer?

It’s definitely getting better. We’re professional now so that’s great in itself! When I first started playing, I had to balance working two jobs and training late at night.

The girls have it quite lucky now that they’re full time. I qualified as a physiotherapist before football because I knew that when I had to come out of football, I’d have to do something else. I needed to get a career behind me before football.  

We’re professional now so that’s great in itself! When I first started playing, I had to balance working two jobs and training late at night.

Is there a pathway out of the professional game for women?

No. I’ve had chats with managers previously asking what it’d look like for me to transfer my physiotherapy skills into the club. The simple answer I got was that there’s transition pathways for the men, but nothing for women.

A lot of players will come to the career and unless they do something about it without the support of their club they might fall behind.

You mentioned you’ve been speaking with other women within the game about planning for life after sport. What are the conversations around that?

It’s eye opening. As a footballer you don’t know what your next steps going to be unless you’ve got a career pathway. Going into physio full time where it’s just me in one room after being around 20/30 players at a time will be daunting.

A lot of girls now will need to look for other careers before they stop playing. You might get a month of support from the club, but after that you need to find a salary.

A lot of girls now will need to look for other careers before they stop playing. You might get a month of support from the club, but after that you need to find a salary.

What have you learnt in your professional career that will benefit you most for life after sport?

I’ve gone through a lot of problems with injuries. After having the career highs at the start, I’ve always had to battle with it. I’ve managed to build up resilience along the way into dealing setbacks and trying to ‘change the goalpost’ as such.

When I first got injured, I was out for 22 months. I’ve learnt how to chunk my goals up and take each day is it comes.

When I first got injured, I was out for 22 months. I’ve learnt how to chunk my goals up and take each day is it comes.

What was your mechanism for dealing with setbacks and setting those small goals?

The first step was realising that I was falling away from what I wanted to achieve. Opening up and speaking to people around me made the difference. One piece of advice from someone can help massively.

Despite the majority of men’s leagues being allowed to finish the season, the Women’s Super League was abandoned. What are your thoughts on that?

As a player I was gutted. We were approaching a really important part of the season. We’d worked hard to stake a good league position and wanted to finish the season on a high. All of our guidelines were based around what the men were doing. 

Unfortunately, we didn’t have the monetary funding behind us to make it safe to play. The sum required for testing wasn’t available.

 

Unfortunately, we didn’t have the monetary funding behind us to make it safe to play. The sum required for testing wasn’t available.

How do you see the women’s game evolving over the next 10/20 years?

It’s going in the right direction. Barclays started sponsoring the league which was a real step forward the women’s game. We need to keep that momentum going. We know people want to come and watch it, the hard part is keeping them coming back. The more professional the game gets, and players then improve, the better the spectacle becomes.

What has football brought to your life?

The main reason I started playing was to make family members proud. I’ve met some amazing people along the way and learnt a lot about myself that I don’t think I would’ve learnt elsewhere. There’s been tough times when you’re injured and in isolation for 22 months. I’ve learnt how to help younger players that are injured on a personal level.

I work as a physiotherapist alongside football, so I’ve definitely learnt more about time management!

 

We need to keep that momentum going. We know people want to come and watch it, the hard part is keeping them coming back.

The Black Lives Matter movement is rightly gaining momentum. Have you experienced any discrimination within the game?

I’ve definitely felt it in the past. My family have been through ordeals with racism. It’s not just football, it goes with you through all works of life.

It’s opened up more conversation which is really important. It’s not just about black people talking about black lives matter now, it’s about everybody joining in the movement and getting educated about the history.

It’s hard sometimes as you don’t want to have the difficult conversations as it’s not a nice thing to explore, but it’s now about open to having conversations to educate people around you. Black lives really are important and do matter as much as anyone else’s.

What more can be done?

Firstly, it was great that Premier League players took the knee. It’s all about raising awareness and giving people a platform to speak out. Looking at the small number of black players there are in the Women’s Premier League, it goes back to increasing the participation at lower levels and helping players from ethnic minorities have access to the sport.

What’s next for you?

I don’t want to rush into anything. I’ll be taking on more hours in the clinic I’m currently working in to learn the trade a bit more. It’s switching my focus from football to physiotherapy. I’ve set up a business to try give back and encourage participation for young girls getting into the game.

I’m also running bespoke online coaching workshops! Find more info below.

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