This article titled “Why is there only one working mum in elite football?” was written by Carrie Dunn, for The Guardian on Monday 15th October 2012 18.00 UTC
As Arsenal clinched the FA Continental Cup last week, two little boys invaded the pitch to celebrate with their mother, captain Katie Chapman.
The scene was both endearing and surprising. For whereas we are all used to seeing male players cavort around the pitch with trophies and their offspring, it has never been the same for the women. Why?
Chapman, 30, is currently the only elite female footballer in the UK with children. The former England under-18 captain and twice holder of the FA International Player of the Year award has previously made the news for playing while pregnant (twice) – but it now seems as if playing competitive matches until nearly seven months pregnant was the easy part. Speaking after last Wednesday’s match, she was very clear that the FA’s reluctance to accommodate or support her in her role as mother led her to give up her international career last March, having made 82 appearances and scored eight goals. As a result, she has her eye on life beyond football and is training to become a beautician, a field in which she is part-qualified.
Chapman said at the time that she could no longer balance the time and travel demands of international football with her commitments to her two small sons. The family had recently returned from the United States after a season when she played for Chicago, and she felt that, after so many changes, she needed to be with her children more – and that would necessitate a retirement from international football.
Her club side Arsenal have been incredibly supportive of Chapman and her boys, finding space for them on the team coaches and hotels for away trips – but that isn’t an option when you are playing international football.
“It’s hard, trying to juggle all that and going away with England,” she says. “I felt that there could be more support around that situation, to help out with childcare and stuff like that. Being a female footballer … that’s stuff you just deal with. It’s not as glamorous as the men’s side of it. It’s stuff you have to deal with.”
So what more does Chapman think sporting authorities should do to support female players’ family life? Her answer would be similar for many women, whether elite sporting types or not: “Childcare. That was what I struggled with. I was lucky enough that I had my family around me, but when they weren’t available, it became difficult to try to sort that out,” she says. “It’s something they probably should be dealing with. We are women, women have children, and it’s something that should be looked into.”
There is also the fact that female players earn a fraction of the salaries paid to their male counterparts, usually explained away by the extra revenues from TV exposure given to the men.
It’s not just football, of course, although the success of the whole team in recent years has thrown the spotlight on the gulf between the male and female versions of the beautiful game. Examples of successful mothers in other sports are also rare. England cricketer Arran Brindle recently returned to international competition after a five-year break during which she had her son; and Belgian tennis player Kim Clijsters made headlines in 2009 when she returned after a two-year absence and became the first mother in almost 30 years to win a tennis Grand Slam.
Chapman is loth to say that other female football players are putting off having children because of the lack of support within the game, but she thinks it should at least be an option for everyone. “Why should you not have a family? Why should you have to wait?” she asks. “You should always be able to have a career and raise a family.”
She thinks, then adds: “I think it’s all round the board, though. Mums need support, families need support, in any kind of job. Hopefully that will improve as well.”
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