Rachel Yankey helps Soccer Aid raise more than £6m for UNICEF

Rachel Yankey

The first woman to be registered as a professional footballer in the UK, Rachel Yankey, OBE, has been breaking down doors for women’s football her whole career.

In 2009, the Arsenal legend was one of the first female players to sign contracts with the FA and last weekend, she became one of the first women to play at Soccer Aid.

We caught up with the former Lioness to find out how it went, and what she thinks of England’s chances at the Women’s World Cup.

Hi Rachel! What was it like taking part in Soccer Aid?

It was really good! Soccer Aid is such a great event, and it’s the first time they’ve had women involved. It’s really nice to think they thought about children as a whole this time rather than just focussing on men and boys. For us, it was a special moment to be asked to take part and help raise as much money as we could for a wonderful charity like UNICEF. For me, there’s also a bigger picture of wanting to encourage and inspire more children to get involved, play football, and have fun.

Is this kind of representation a step in the right direction of normalising women in football?

It’s definitely a step in the right direction. For the last couple of years people have been questioning why women haven’t been involved in Soccer Aid, so it’s great that they’ve actually listened and included us. When these issues come up, often people don’t have an answer because everyone just does what’s been done before. I think it was a brave step for Soccer Aid to try something new and for myself, Katie Chapman and the two Brazilian players, Rosana Dos Santos Augusto and Francielle Manelo, it was fantastic. We weren’t out there to compete against the men - it’s not about that. We just wanted to inspire young girls to play football, raise money, and give people the opportunity to see someone they relate to on the football pitch.

Do we need more women in decision-making roles in football organisations?

I don’t think the governing bodies need me to tell them – they know they need to improve, and they know diversity is the key. Whether that means getting more females or more ethnic minorities involved, diversity needs to be looked at. I think that’s a message coming from everywhere. It’s about actually going and doing that now, and not just ticking boxes, because ultimately you want the best people in the job

What have you thought about the Women’s World Cup so far?

It’s been really good! I enjoyed going out for the England versus Scotland game, and I’ll be going back to France to provide radio commentary for 5Live during England’s match against Japan. Hopefully, England can finish on maximum points, which would be absolutely fantastic. It’s been quite an open tournament already with some strong players really shining, and I think it will only get better in the knockout stages. It can be hard to play against Japan because they keep the ball so well and It’ll be hot in Nice too, so England have really got to control the game to make sure they’re not chasing the whole time.

What would you like to see happen next in women’s football?

I’d like to see the people who work behind the scenes in the media and marketing side of the sport really push the game and make sure it’s not forgotten about after this World Cup. During the London Olympics, we had almost a full house at Wembley and people were raving about women’s football, but it was disappointing when nothing came from that. Six million people watched England play Scotland, which was unbelievable. We can’t let that drop or miss the opportunity to convert that audience into bums on seats for our league games week in, week out. We need to send out messages about where games are playing and where the local women’s teams are so fans can get out there and support, because without that consistency, it just won’t progress in the way that it needs to.

Catch Rachel Yankey on Radio 5Live, providing commentary for the England vs. Japan match, on Wednesday 19th June at 8pm.