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We're all Leeds, aren't we?

Monday 6th February 2017
I'm not sure when it started but I remember being aged about 13 and stealing the colour posters of the squad which were included in the Yorkshire Evening Post's I was supposed to deliver. Whilst most girls had the bedrooms adorned with posters of New Kids on the Block and Jason Donovan I had Chris Kamara, David Batty and Gary McAllister. I loved, ate and breathed Leeds.

With the exception of my older brother, there was no one else in my family who really liked football so my first visit to Elland Road had to wait until Monday 26th December 1994. My friend Sara and I went along, we sat in the East stand and it was the greatest experience of my life. I was hooked and my love affair with Leeds was cemented.

In 2008 there were a couple of significant things which happened. Leeds had dropped into the third tier of English football and went into administration, and I had a child. My attendance at games dropped off due to both of these things but also it was so hard to watch what was happening to my club. We had been through bad times before but my Leeds always had my unwavering support. I was at Stamford Bridge the last day of the 2004 season when we were relegated from the Premiership and I remember saying goodbye to the likes of Alan Smith knowing there was no way many of these players would ever pull on that white shirt again. This time it was different. I felt that Ken Bates was destroying the club I adored and I fell out of love with football.
I never really had any plans for my little girl to play football but she kind of fell into it and just loved to play. When she was 3 we took her along to watch her step-brother play at his local club. She soon became bored of watching and started running with the ball. Even at that age she was showing skill and could dribble the ball down the touchline. As soon as she old enough she joined the team.  She played in a mixed team until under 7's. Whilst she loved it she began to become a little jaded. The boys were now at an age where it was apparent she was different. They didn't want to pass to her and if she scored, instead of her being congratulated the boys would turn to the goalkeeper and castigate him for being beaten by a girl. Fortunately for her, there were other like-minded girls and together they formed an under 9 team. Now she gets to play football in the carefree way it should be played, without fear and anxiety. At 8 years old she plays up for the under 10's at the club she has been with since day one. She also trains with Leeds United shadow squad so I have high hopes for her.

Being around grass roots football and in particular girl's grassroots football for the last few years has given me a renewed zest for the game. So much so that when last year I answered a call from the chairman of Leeds Ladies who was looking for a club media officer I jumped at the chance. This means I look after all things social media, website, press, match reports and to be honest whatever is required. The club is run by volunteers but has the most loyal and passionate fan base of any women's team in the country and this is a huge reason why I love my job.

Women's football is true of heart and as real as it gets. Do you remember a time when football was played for the love of the game and everyone could afford to go and watch their favourite team? No, neither do I. Women's football is affordable. It's played by people who play because they love it, not necessarily because they are paid to. It's gritty, played on pitches which often resemble ski slopes, sometimes tucked into the back of council estates and a million miles away from the likes of the Emirates stadium. I'm not saying women's football is better and it is not about girls V boys, I am certainly not going to get into that argument. But it is honest and is a game played without prejudice by people who love playing. It really is grass roots football.

So although I am Leeds through and through you are more likely to see me shouting on the women at Garforth Town than the men at Elland Road. Women's football has come a long way and it is wonderful to see so many women and girls enjoying the game. It still, however, has much further to go. As things stand not every girl has the opportunity to play football as it not accessible to every girl. Until then I will be dedicated to helping the young girls of today to love the game, embrace their talent and never to be afraid of wanting to play.

 

 
Emmie Johnson
Hi, I am Emmie. I am a life long Leeds United fan, social media manager, freelance writer, mother to a next generation England international full back, media officer for Leeds Ladies FC and supporter, advocate and campaigner of women’s football. Every weekend is spent stood at the side of a pitch in the freezing cold watching (and sometimes commentating on) football and the rest of the week is spent writing about football. I hope to bring to you a little about my footballing world.

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