24 October 2019
| THE HEARTBEAT OF WOMEN'S SPORT

Casey Stoney: ‘The happier you are off the pitch, the better performance you can give on it.’

August 13, 2014
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The Arsenal Ladies and England women’s footballer on the importance of grassroots, homosexuality in sport and impending motherhood.

The Arsenal Ladies defender announced earlier this year that she and her partner Megan Harris are expecting twins. This impending motherhood has been on the cards for a while for Stoney, as she has previously stated that one of her reasons for going public with her relationship with Harris was due to their desire for children. With so many things to be excited about, Stoney was quick to make clear what she wasn’t looking forward to, ‘not nappy changes!’ she insists.

‘I’m definitely nervous about being rubbish at everything. My friend just had a baby so I’m getting a bit of practice in, but changing nappies has really put me off chicken korma…’ Despite Stoney’s slight squeamishness about the less-than-appetising elements of parenthood, she couldn’t hide her excitement about the arrival of two bundles of joy.

‘I can’t wait, I really can’t wait!’ Stoney gushes. ‘They’re still not due until November, so I’ve got a bit of time to prepare – which is good because we were definitely shocked when we found out it was twins. But I think it’s really special, and I feel so lucky.’

‘I’m excited about having a family unit, having people that completely depend on you, that you can love, care and support for. I cant wait to take them swimming, I cant wait to try things with them, to feed them, to hold them, cuddle them and just have them as part of our family — it’s a very special thing to become a parent.’

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Stoney is in the fairly unique position of being able to become a mother without taking time away from her career – it was decided that Harris would carry the babies, and the decision wasn’t difficult for the pair. ‘It was an obvious decision really. Megan had decided to step away from the game and I was still very much playing for England, and had just signed a new contract for Arsenal. Meg has always wanted to have a baby, so it was just the natural thing to do.’

As an ex-professional football player herself, it wasn’t entirely easy for Harris to completely step away from the game, but Stoney is sure her partner will grace the football field again in some form, ‘I think she will play socially with friends — if she’s got time to. I know she will get back active; she can’t wait to exercise again. She’ll probably be running with the pram after they’re born! But I don’t think she’ll go back to professionally playing.’

Regardless of sexuality, there is still a stigma for women in sport when they become mothers. Amid fears of losing their fitness or changing priorities, many female athletes find it incredibly difficult to even consider the possibility of having a child or admitting plans to their support staff and the media. Stoney can relate to this challenge, ‘we cry out for equality and it’s the one thing we can’t be equal in,’ she explains.

‘There’s no way around it, if you want a baby and a family, you’re going to have to take time out. I believe women can come back to sport stronger after it, I think it’s a really positive thing. I like to think that I can challenge the taboos about motherhood in athletes; I don’t think it’s unavoidable that you should have to put your career on hold after you’ve had a baby.

‘National governing bodies should do everything to support women with children. Athletes shouldn’t feel like they have to be away from their kids because of tournaments or competitions — they should be a part of it. If you can feel secure and have your children with you when you compete, then you are going to feel happy and you are going to perform well. I’d like to think that the FA would support me moving forward.’

Given Stoney’s impression on how motherhood is going to positively impact on her football career, it would seemingly be in the FA’s best interest to invest in resources and support for their star defender. ‘The happier you are off the pitch, the better performance you can give on it.’ She explains. ‘I think having a family and having these two babies will just complete me even further. I think I will grow even more as a person and I’ll be able to bring more to the team because of that.’

As one of the very few professional footballers in the country who has openly admitted to being gay, it would be natural to expect a certain amount of backlash or prejudice since coming out, but Stoney insists this isn’t the case. ‘I was literally so overwhelmed by the positivity of everyone,’ she states.

‘When I came out, it wasn’t a decision that was made lightly. It took a long time for me to announce it publicly and I didn’t do it for myself because my family have always known. I believe that if you’ve got any kind of profile, then you should use it in a positive way. People have Tweeted me and emailed me saying “thank you” or “you’ve really helped me”, “you’ve really helped my daughter” – that’s what it’s all about.’

Stoney’s openness about her sexuality continues to be an inspiration to women and athletes who may be struggling or dealing with prejudice. But despite the torrents of positive responses, Stoney insists she never set out to be a role model. ‘I never planned to be a trail-blazer, I set out to support and help other people by telling my story, rather than by being a role model.

‘I didn’t even think about the whole “role model” thing, if I’m honest I don’t see myself that way. I’m just me; I’m in my own little bubble half the time. But if I happen to be helping someone in a positive way by just being me, then that is huge to me, it’s really important.’

Another thing that’s vitally important to Stoney is sport, and with two children on the way the significance of grassroots sports has become all the more important. ‘The whole reason I got involved in the grassroots and FA Partnership was because I’m going to become a parent,’ she explains.

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‘I want my kids to go into grassroots, whether it’s football, netball… everybody has to start somewhere and I’m a massive believer that without grassroots we don’t have a game.

‘Sport is just crucial for the development of kids. As a kid I was never in front of a computer I was always in the park playing. I met friends, I improved my social skills, my confidence, I had real self-esteem issues for a few years and when I was out on that pitch, it was the first place that I felt like I belonged somewhere.’

I think it’s safe to say that the Stoney children will reap the benefits of a childhood filled with sport, and that’s no surprise given their mother’s thoughts on the matter: ‘I think football can give you so much. I believe that team sports and sport in general can be hugely beneficial for kids. If there’s more of an emphasis put on it by the government we can make such a change culturally. We can mould a fitter nation; we can get more kids active. Sport gives you so much more than just health benefits.’

Casey Stoney is helping to launch McDonald’s new four-year community partnership with The FA. McDonald’s are giving over 6,000 junior football clubs across England free kits as part of their work supporting grassroots football. For more information visit www.mcdonalds.co.uk/betterplay

Natalie Morris, Sportsister
The Women’s Sport Magazine

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