The journey that the West Ham Women has been on is well documented with regular TV coverage, increased match-day attendance and a magnified following on social media.
It really is the stuff that dreams are made of, but turn the clock back nine or 10 years and the story was very different, yet it’s still one I feel proud to have been part of. The West Ham Ladies – now known as West Ham Women – were working hard to form links with the main club, and we regular applied for – and were denied – a place in the WSL, despite having established ourselves within the league.
We were lucky enough to train at Chadwell Heath and played our matches at Thurrock FC, but despite this privilege, we were so far down the pecking order that the boys under 10s would have priority over us when it came to training pitch space. One very clear difference is that we had to pay to play for the club.
Most were able to gain sponsorship from family members or generous supporters, but the finances ultimately fell on the players. Regardless of this, every player I played alongside was proud to play for West Ham and showed an unbelievable level of commitment towards the game they loved alongside full-time jobs.
The management of our team were the unsung heroes. Despite being unpaid volunteers, they would go above and beyond to push the club forward. We may not have been professionals but we were always instructed to act as though we were.
During my time as captain, and through a wonderful mutual friend, I was lucky enough to form a relationship with David Gold, who became a strong supporter of us and could be found in the stands on more than one occasion. The club kindly gifted us with kit and training facilities, whereas now the financial investment allows players to have contracts and wages.
Back then, players had to arrange training, match days and any overnight stays around their jobs, now the players are lucky enough to cite ‘professional footballer’ as their main career. The progression of the club is undoubtedly huge and one that I admire from afar.
But I, along with my former teammates and management, and those before them, should feel proud of our involvement – battling against the odds to keep the women’s section afloat and playing long before it became the fully professional entity that it is today.