Former Arsenal Women winger Rachel Yankey shaved off her hair and changed her name so she could play on the boys’ football team as a child.
Yankey, now 38, was released from her Arsenal contract at the end of the season in 2016, having spent 13 years at the club over two spells.
During that time she won more than 20 major trophies, including the famous quadruple in 2007, when the Gunners became the only English team to win the Champions League.
Way before all that, Yankey told the Daily Star she used to play with the boys’ teams, just to get a game.
“I did shave my hair and did call myself Ray to pretend to be a boy,” Rachel admitted. “Purely because it was easier. Everybody thought I was a boy when they watched me play football, they’d say ‘you play football like a boy!’
“So if I pretended to be a boy then no-one really had a problem with me playing football, so that was really why I did it. The other players and my team didn’t really mind to be honest.
“They weren’t really bothered if they called me Rachel or Ray, at the end of the day they judged me as a footballer and if I was helping them win then it was all okay!”
For the most part, children don’t really care who they’re playing sports with, as long as they enjoy the match and win the game. Given Yankey’s footballing ability, I have no doubt they’d be happy to have her on their team regardless.
At that sort of age, there doesn’t seem to be much reason to split up the teams by sex anyway. It’s only when children reach their teenage years that their hormones start to produce physical differences. It’s just a shame girls had to resort to such measures just to play football.
If it helps more women get into the game, and avoids young girls like Yankey feeling excluded, I can’t see any reason not to keep boys and girls playing together for as long as possible.