Standing up to my bullies after 20 years of letting them win

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It was a year 2000. I was 9 years old and I have finally found the courage to join my hometown football team. I was very shy as a kid and I didn’t like trying new things. After watching girls training from the far, for my third visit I have decided to join them.

Before joining the club, every day for years I played football with my friends — male friends. I was becoming very good so my dad thought I should join a club. My hometown is the third biggest city in Slovakia so I was fortunate that we had a girls’ club in town.

Though I might just add that we sometimes played in 10 because we didn’t have enough players. So from 130 000 citizens, there were 10 girls playing football. Pretty self-explanatory.

I have to add our city ‘club’ training facility only provided us with goals with no nets so everytime we scored, we had to run 50 metres for the ball. Only 11 years after, my city started the first ever girls football academy which belonged to the main club in town 1. FC Tatran Presov which played the premier league in Slovakia at the time.

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Today’s girls at Presov Academy.

I had so much passion for football. I played daily, I was watching every match on TV, I was obssessed of getting better as a player. I made new friends in the team and suddenly I had a place to belong to.

But there was one thing that put a shadow on it all. At school, in the shop, on the field, off the field, at my parents’ work, in a restaurant… everywhere. I got picked on for my passion for football. I repeat that it was a year 2000 and in Slovakia.

Everytime I played football or trained, I had a smile on my face. I was over the moon! But that smile was wiped off very quickly. I can’t even count how many times I have heard these sentences as a 9 year-old girl:

Football is a boy’s sport, you should not play it because you’re a girl.

Why you need football shoes? You’re a girl.

You can’t play football, you’re a girl.

Get off this field, it’s for the boys to play football.

No, you can’t play football with us because you’re a girl.

You should pick a different sport as a girl.

Football is not a sport for girls.

When I walked the streets or field with football shoes on and a ball in my hands, I felt like I’m committing a crime. After hearing these sentences hundred times, I started thinking that maybe all these people are right. Men were saying it, boys were saying it, girls were saying and women were saying it. So I thought, what is wrong with me? Why I see it differently than everyone else?

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Training by myself in London

After 2 years, I really started convincing myself that I should change because I’m tired of hearing that I’m weird. As an 11 year-old child going into puberty, fitting in at school was crucial. And I definitely didn’t fit in while playing football. I didn’t want to quit but when my mother told me that I can’t play anymore because she’s tired of seeing me playing boys’ sport. She said I should pick a sport for girls instead and from day to day, she stopped my football career. Of course I could sneak out anyway and attend trainings but I was a child and if my mother said something, I had to listen.

So what happened when my passion had to be pushed back, destroyed without me understanding what is going on?

Why I can’t play when I love it so much?

Nothing made sense to me really. I just thought more and more that something is seriously wrong with me. And honestly, I did not want to be in this world anymore.

Before, every day I spent playing football, going to trainings and matches and all of a sudden, I had nothing to do. So I found new friends and I started drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes. At the age of 12.

When I look back, I’m not wondering because I couldn’t do what I wanna do with all my heart. So of course I started being rebellious. At the age of 13, I could smoke the whole cigarette package without any issues.

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Me training after 20 years.

Another thing was that I was very much drawn away from any sports. I played a bit of tennis and badminton but I didn’t like it that much. At high school I didn’t do any sports anymore and at the college, I started gaining weight of course.

All of a sudden I wasn’t that sporty kid, I was looking like I have never ever did any sports in my life. And this went on til I was 29 and I thought to myself, this is the new me and I can’t do anything about it.

I have been repressing my love for football for 20 years. Every time I thought of football I had the bitter memories of being bullied and it really hurts even after 20 years.

You might ask me why I didn’t go back to football when I was 18, 20 or 25? Because I literally thought it’s hopeless. I was still living in Czech republic/Slovakia where things have might change but only slightly. The development of girls’ teams were in progress but there were no teams available for 20 year-old players who just wanna have fun.

I refused to be bullied ever again for my love for football. And it did take me 20 years to get over it.

But everything has changed. I moved to the UK where football is a religion and women’s football is quite common and popular too. All of a sudden, I realised that I couldn’t be in a better place to go back to playing football. Actually, I won’t be bullied for it, I will be looked up to for it.

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When you go to football club websites, you can always see women’s team on it. Their social media, the same thing. decided to have women on team or the first time in their history. All those things made me realise that things have changed and I got a second chance to make my dream come true.

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In London, there are women’s clubs that consist of all ages players, beginners, intermediate, all races, nationalities, sizes. If I haven’t tried to get to the club, I would regret it forever. I gave up without a fight when I was a kid and now I’ll make amends.

I have decided to go all in and get back to it. I started training 4–5 times per week 2 to 4-hour sessions. It’s been 20 years so of course it is bumpy, I’m incredibly out of shape also because of the lockdown so it will take me a while to get back to it. But I’m not giving up this time, I can assure you.

After first week of training, I felt like a new person. I enjoyed it so much you can’t imagine. I started documenting my journey on my Youtube channel and I publish a new episode every week.

You can follow my journey by I’m getting back after a week of bleeding my leg to the bone from my new football shoes. I had to take a 7-day break as I could barely walk. I completely overdid it but hey I haven’t played in 20 years so I’ve got a lot of passion.

My future goal is get better at football, join the club in London and maybe play some matches. That’ll do me!

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I’m a freelance video producer and lecturer based in London. Check out my stuff and subscribe to my YouTube channel:

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