“I want this challenge to be a conversation starter.” Meet Maggie Murphy from the UK
Meet Maggie Murphy, co-organiser of Equal Playing Field who says football has been “a badge of honour and an entry pass” into different countries and different continents. She is climbing Mt Kilimanjaro to break a football world record “to make a point”. Find out what and why.
To find out more about Equal Playing Field, please visit http://equalplayingfield.com/
Football grabbed a hold of me for its pace, tactics, unpredictability, skill and physicality.
There were no girls’ clubs back home on the Isle of Wight when I was growing up. At thirteen years old, the only way I could play was if I joined the single women’s team on the island. Playing adult football at such a young age probably helped push me out of my comfort zone and become a strong, physical player. I was selected to represent my region at the age of fourteen, and we won the national cup two years’ running. Later I captained my university, and have continued to play in every country I have lived since then.
My most memorable game was in Tanzania itself, almost fifteen years ago. The President of Tanzania had been giving a speech in the Stadium the same day my Arusha based clubs was playing in the national final. As the crowd was dissipating word went out that there was a women’s football match on right after. Some stayed to jeer, some stayed out of curiosity — but the jeers soon turned to cheers. The crowd got right into the game — the ebb and flow mirrored by the ripple in the volume. It was the first time I’d felt a taste of what playing professionally in packed out stadiums might feel like!
Football has intricately run through my life and it has opened doors that might otherwise be closed. Football is a common language and a common culture. I could sit alongside teammates from Tanzania, Rwanda, Germany or Guadeloupe and share in the joys of community and solidarity despite coming from such richly different backgrounds. If I struggled to communicate off pitch, on pitch we spoke the same language. Football was my solace, my badge of honour and my entry pass into a society that would otherwise be unfathomable to me.
I’ve lived through the taunts and wolf whistles, tolerated the “she’s good for a girl” comments, I’ve suffered the ingrained sexism within the football governance machinery. I remember the men in football associations blocking us from playing in tournaments on flimsy grounds. I remember being assigned terrible pitches, waterlogged and muddy, a 20-minute walk from the changing rooms, week in, week out. I remember one of our games being cancelled on our second-class pitch, so that the men could let their better pitch “rest” for the week.
But for every challenge I faced, those faced by the girls I played with in Africa and the Caribbean were tenfold. The everyday mountains often seemed insurmountable — and yet I saw such joy, such commitment and confidence in the women I played alongside. I also saw how the communities rallied around the teams. They would jeer and laugh at the start and then grow fiercely proud of them. The girls themselves would become well known in the community — not always admired, but usually respected.
Equality for me means equal access to opportunities, being recognised and respected for our achievements and parity in how facilities and resources are assigned. It means commitment to help develop the game so that we increase the number of women and girls benefiting from the positives that sport brings. We need to reduce the gap between men and women participating in spot, which currently stands at 1.5 million every month in the UK.
I want this challenge to be a conversation starter. I’d love to inspire women and girls to pick up a ball and give football a go — but I also want people who have decision-making powers in the media, in sports governance, in their local communities to see how serious women are about improving access to sport for women and girls.
I want to climb this mountain to make a point; to prove the power, resolve, strength and commitment that women have for themselves and for one another. In doing so I hope we inspire many more women and girls to push back the next time they are told “no”.
To support the Equal Playing Field players, please visit http://equalplayingfield.com/donate/