She’s a good sport

With the England women’s football team making headlines for winning the Euros there is much talk of how to nurture and encourage girls to play football. I was reminded of a recent poetry submission I wrote for a BHM television special celebrating black sports personalities.

Part of the submission included answering if any sporting heroes had particularly inspired me.

I responded:

“Mary Phillips, first mixed race Captain of the England woman’s football team coached me when I was fourteen. Not only did I respect her courage for playing for the Millwall Lionesses, a team (and area) in London notorious for it’s legions of openly racist fans, but also for her passion and dedication to do what she loved. Being a female “professional” player in the 2000s meant also having a full time job to financially support herself to be able to “professionally” play football. She told us about the gruelling training sessions she’d have to complete after or before a whole day shift.

My friend’s son, plays for the under 16s of a premier league club whilst attending “soccer school” to complete his GCSEs – he gets paid £1000 per week.

Years later, I would watch Mary on the television being interviewed by the BBC as Captain of the England Woman’s Football Team and wonder if she still had to work two jobs.

Many (ill informed) articles suggest that schools need to invest more in girls football, but besides the fact that school budgets have been so decimated that many can’t even afford their staff, this response completely misses the goal.. (hee hee snort). Primary schools have supported girls football literally for decades – I met Mary through the local team’s (Millwall) outreach schools programme which went into locals schools to run girls only football clubs. In most LEA inter-school tournaments rules state that teams have to be mixed.

The problem lies (as it often does) with pay inequality. If you want more woman to play football professionally then pay them properly!

The writing aspect of the submission was to write a poem about a sports personality from a list. I chose Althea Neale Gibson because I had never heard of her and I love researching people, stories and voices that are new to me. My poem (below) wasn’t selected, but I found out about a phenomenal woman and even got invited to attend the show so kind of a win win! (Maybe if I’m feeling fearless later I’ll post the dodgy spoken word audition version lol)

xxTBH xx

A Seed in the Lawn Destined to Bloom

Daughter of sharecroppers, the Great Depression, grit and gloom

Althea Neale Gibson,

A Seed in the lawn that was destined to bloom,

A rose from Harlem,

She arose

To become a global tennis star.

Her skills couldn’t be game, set or matched,

As she smashed through the colour bar.

Donning tennis whites against her glorious melenated skin,

Enduring the sneers and jeers,

Then Lifting the Silverware win,

After win.

Wimbledon-

She smashed it.

 US Nationals-

Aced it.

French Champions-

Insert another tennis term there which means that she slayed that too –

Because when it came to game point,

Her game was always on point!

Hard court, grass or clay,

Her form would never disappoint.

From backhands to racists.

To curtsies and handshakes with the Queen,

Our Rose from Harlem,

Embodied the American Dream.

So I’ll say it again,

(Because she won Wimbledon twice)

Her skill couldn’t be game, set or matched!

11 Grand slams.

Ticky tape parades.

Ticky tape parades –

Along those very Harlem streets,

That would see her go hungry,

And refuse her black skin front seats.

Female Athlete of the year twice, ’57 and ‘58

A black, female, tennis player-

Althea,

in 1950s America,

named Athlete of the year,

’57 and ’58

When mobs

in Little Rock,

were attacking little black kids,

just trying to go to school-

Our rose from Harlem was serving and swerving

and overcoming it all.

She really was

The ace in the hand that just couldn’t be beaten

Althea Neale Gibson,

Daughter of sharecroppers, the Great Depression, grit and gloom

A Seed in the lawn that was destined to bloom,

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