Katie Chapman is one of the footballers I currently most admire. She plays top-flight football (currently with Arsenal, and formerly with Fulham, Charlton and Chicago Red Stars), she never shirks a challenge, and has happily done both of these things while pregnant.
However, it seems that playing while pregnant is the easy part – playing while a mother is significantly tougher. The midfielder announced her intention to step back from international football in March 2011 having made 82 appearances and scored eight goals, four months prior to England embarking on their World Cup campaign in Dresden.
She was very clear at the time that she could no longer balance the time and travel demands of international football with her commitments to her two small sons. The family had recently returned from America after her season playing for Chicago, and she felt that after so many changes, she needed to be at home more with her children.
“It’s hard, trying to juggle all that and going away with England – international duty is like a weekend every month,” she says. “I felt that there could be more support around that situation, to help out with childcare and stuff like that. Being a female footballer – that’s stuff you just deal with. It’s not as glamorous as the men’s side of it. It’s stuff you have to deal with.”
Chapman is the only high-profile female player that also has children, although Arsenal and England captain Faye White has recently announced her first pregnancy. So at the moment, Chapman is unique.
“I think that’s probably part of the problem as well – because it’s just me, it’s not really well-known. It would be nice if we could improve that for mothers in the game – why should you not have a family? Why should you have to wait? You should always be able to have a career and raise a family. I think it’s all round the board though. Mums need support, families need support, in any kind of job. Hopefully that will improve as well.”
She thinks that her decision to withdraw from selection for England also meant that she was ignored for the Team GB Olympic squad – managed by England coach Hope Powell.
“For me it was quite hard,” Chapman admits. “I would have loved to play in the Olympics. I made it into the 35 [the ‘longlist’ that was whittled down to the Games squad] and wasn’t picked from there. Obviously I took a break from England, which probably stood against me. I was quite hurt, really. I think I’m still performing at my best. But it wasn’t to be, and it was nice to see the girls doing well.”
Team GB went out in the quarter-finals to Canada, and Chapman, naturally enough, found herself wishing she was there. (More than that, some of us were wishing she were there as well – someone to put her foot on the ball and dole out a bit of tough tackling against some very experienced international sides.) “Yeah, it was very frustrating. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity twice over – playing in the Olympics, and playing them in your own country. It would have been a dream come true for me, but it wasn’t to be, and now I’m looking ahead to the season and playing again.”
The FA Women’s Super League resumes this coming weekend after an Olympics-enforced break, and Chapman’s Arsenal take on Everton.
She has nothing but praise for her club and how they’ve helped her and her family. “With Arsenal, they’re supportive all the time. When we go to away games, my boys can stay in the hotel with me, they come with us on the coach, which the girls all love – if they don’t turn up, they’re quite disappointed, I’m like, ‘Oh, OK, am I not enough?’” she laughs.
“I love having them there. When they’re not there, after a game I’m like, ‘Oh, what now? Where’s my boys? Where’s my family?’ They love seeing Mummy play football, and they’re into football now as well so I’m running them here, there and everywhere. It’s really nice, I absolutely love it – seeing them do well in what they want to do is great. It’s hard work, though! I like being on the go all the time. My husband is working as well, so that’s just how we live. Any other way just wouldn’t be right.”
Arsenal are the most successful UK women’s team in modern history, so there’s a certain weight of expectation on the current squad, but they never take anything for granted. “We never expect to win, we know we have to go out there and work hard. It’s hard to lose, especially when you’re playing for Arsenal because everybody expects you to win,” she admits.
She thinks the boost from the Olympics combined with ESPN airing live games will attract more fans through the gates at Arsenal’s Meadow Park (the home ground of non-league Boreham Wood FC) and at other women’s matches around the country.
“It’s nice to have people there supporting us and realising that the women’s game is a good game to watch, with a nice, friendly atmosphere,” she enthuses.
Chapman is now 30, a time when many players start to think about their career after football; she’s already talked about her plans to train as a beautician. But she doesn’t see herself giving up playing any time soon.
“I’d like to keep going on. I feel fine in myself. I feel fit, I can still compete, I enjoy it at Arsenal, I love the girls and I’m enjoying the football. As soon as anything changes, I’ll step back and concentrate on the children. At the moment, we’re all happy.”
The FA WSL resumes this weekend. Check out their website – and go to a game near you! Arsenal Ladies are next back at Boreham Wood on Thursday 30th August when they play Bristol Academy. I can guarantee it’ll be a sight cheaper and more fun than going to watch a men’s Premier League match…