In New Zealand, playing youth girls football, I have been given the chance to do as many of my male school colleagues cannot; I can represent a club side and my school. The thing is, we (my school’s first XI) often find ourselves unable to persuade club players to kit up for school on a Wednesday. There’s nothing wrong with that at all and everyone is free to use their time as they choose. However, I also believe that part of the reason people choose not to represent a school side is that the good things about school football aren’t talked about enough.
I hear all about what isn’t so good about it all the time; the shorter games, the fields, the level of competition or the propensity for dynasties by one or two schools, but to only discuss that is to do a huge disservice to the school leagues.
There is a level of pride that comes with representing your school that is quite unique. That is not to say that I am not proud to play for my club or that I would handle losing the Glenfield derby all that well because of course, whoever I am playing for I want to win for, but there is something ever so slightly different about playing for school. People have their own opinions about every school, every school has stereotypes and a reputation and one always has a point to prove. Often, we play against our friends and if the battle for bragging rights doesn’t instil one heck of a will to win in a teenager then nothing ever will. Every single time I am in my school kit, there is absolutely no way I will accept less than three points.
One of the most uplifting manifestations of this pride is the support that we always have. Despite the unusual match time of a Wednesday afternoon, we often have members of the boys’ teams on the sidelines complete with an assortment of classmates, teachers and principals, all of whom offer some of the best support I have ever experienced. It’s an incredible feeling, to play in an atmosphere like that, even on such a small scale.
Internally, the pride with which we play comes from the fact you are alongside teammates who you have to survive the mundane routines of day to day life with. You play beside that person who struggles with calculus behind you in maths, your centre back might have been in your history lesson twenty minutes prior and all of you have just stepped out of a classroom, changed out of uniform and left your bags under the shelter before stepping onto the pitch.
The transformation that we have to perform in a matter of thirty minutes requires total cohesion from the team and, for lack of a less emotive word, tenacity. Over the three years I’ve represented my school’s first team I have been involved in some of the best comebacks, gritty victories and upset wins of my entire footballing life. In order to block everything else out and play a game of football like that at a high, frenetic pace, we have to be fighting for something. Regardless of what anyone else might tell you, that ‘something’ is always your school-because nothing brings out school pride like the beautiful game.
A lover of the game since the age of 4. Living and playing for club and school in Auckland and loving every second on the pitch (apart from the end of a losing match).