Foot­baller gets an in­ter­na­tional cap ...36 years af­ter she played for North­ern Ire­land

Belfast Telegraph - - FRONT PAGE -

A COL­ERAINE woman who played foot­ball for North­ern Ire­land has re­ceived her in­ter­na­tional cap — 36 years af­ter rep­re­sent­ing her coun­try.

Hair­dresser Pa­tri­cia Ro­hdich was one of a num­ber of women be­lat­edly recog­nised by the Ir­ish foot­balling author­i­ties at a spe­cial cer­e­mony at Wind­sor Park.

But Pa­tri­cia (56), whose maiden name was McAleese, said the wait was worth­while and it’s not old hat.

“It’s bet­ter late than never,” she said.

“I played for North­ern Ire­land way back in the Eight­ies and I never thought I would get a cap. No-one ever thought of any­thing like that in those days for the ladies.

“All the talk then was about Billy Bing­ham’s team who were qual­i­fy­ing for the World Cup finals in Spain. But women’s foot­ball has moved on dra­mat­i­cally from the way it was in my time.”

Pa­tri­cia’s foot­balling ca­reer kicked off with a team called Sparta Ladies in Bal­ly­money, who were man­aged by the late David Atkin­son, and he took her and three other girls to tri­als for North­ern Ire­land.

“We made the squad,” said Pa­tri­cia who was a mid­fielder and some­time cen­tre-half. “But play­ing for North­ern Ire­land was all very low key. We were pay­ing to play or or­gan­is­ing fund-rais­ing events.

“The women’s game was very much the poor re­la­tion. We had to travel to matches by boat and car and I re­mem­ber once on our way to a match in Wales we ran out of petrol and another driver let us syphon fuel from his car or we would have missed the kick-off.”

Pa­tri­cia was, how­ever, able to see the more glam­orous side of the beau­ti­ful game in the US in 1981.

“They picked play­ers from each of the teams in our lo­cal league to go to the States un­der the name of the North­ern Ire­land All-Stars as guests of an Amer­i­can women’s team called the Thun­der­birds. We played games ev­ery­where, from Van­cou­ver to Cal­i­for­nia. We were in­ter­viewed by the me­dia ev­ery­where we went, but they were more in­ter­ested in the fact we were from North­ern Ire­land and yet, at the height of the Trou­bles, we had Protes­tants and Catholics play­ing side by side.”

Pa­tri­cia and two other girls, Geral­dine Smith and Jennifer Gas­ton, were of­fered the chance to re­turn to the US to play foot­ball professionally.

But Pa­tri­cia said: “I was very young and I didn’t have the nerve to go. But Geral­dine went and she is still there. She is coach­ing and is very heav­ily in­volved in foot­ball.”

It was a con­ver­sa­tion be­tween Geral­dine and of­fi­cials of the NI Women’s Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion that led to the award­ing of caps to for­mer play­ers.

But even though the author­i­ties agreed to tackle the prob­lem, it wasn’t easy to track down the ex-stars from so long ago.

Many of the girls had changed their names or moved away from their old ad­dresses.

“I got a phone call one evening and I was asked if I’d played foot­ball for North­ern Ire­land and when I con­firmed that I had turned out for the team I was in­vited to Wind­sor Park for a cap pre­sen­ta­tion from Dame Mary Peters,” said Pa­tri­cia.

Pa­tri­cia Ro­hdich (McAleese), (sec­ond right) re­united with for­mer team-mates, Jenny Gas­ton (Dun­can), Geral­dine Smith (Rumpf), and Bar­bara Cameron

“No mat­ter how many ap­pear­ances we’d made, we all re­ceived one cap each. It was a fan­tas­tic night and the me­mories came flood­ing back even if it took a wee minute or two for us all to recog­nise one another.”

Among the guests were for­mer Eng­land player and man­ager Hope Powell and North­ern Ire­land’s cur­rent boss Al­fie Wylie. Ac­tress Tara Lynne O’Neill, who’s de­vel­op­ing a play about women’s foot­ball, read ex­tracts from her work.

Another ex-Sparta foot­baller who played along­side Pa­tri­cia was Bar­bara Cameron who went on to win a Com­mon­wealth Games bronze medal for lawn bowl­ing and now man­ages the North­ern Ire­land team.

Nowa­days, women’s foot­ball in North­ern Ire­land is a dif­fer­ent ball game from how it was in Pa­tri­cia’s day. “It’s great to see the back­ing that the lo­cal leagues and the in­ter­na­tional team are re­ceiv­ing. The game is run al­most like a busi­ness but I’m not jeal­ous,” she said. “I’m just happy to see the recog­ni­tion from ev­ery­one in foot­ball, in­clud­ing the es­tab­lished clubs, and it’s tremen­dous to see so much cov­er­age on tele­vi­sion too. In many ways we paved the way for ladies’ foot­ball in North­ern Ire­land.”

Pa­tri­cia’s son Josh plays for Port­stew­art FC. And he was the first per­son his mother con­tacted on hear­ing that she was go­ing to get her long-over­due cap. “I told him that his oul ma had got a cap be­fore him,” laughed Pa­tri­cia.

For­mer Col­eraine and North­ern Ire­land goal­keeper Vic­tor Hunter vis­ited Pa­tri­cia af­ter hear­ing she’d fi­nally got her cap.

“He told me he and his brother Allan, who played for Ip­swich, had over 50 caps be­tween them — but Vic­tor said he only got two and he brought both to my hair­dress­ing sa­lon,” she said.“He had man­aged my son at Port­stew­art and joked that he didn’t know he was coach­ing the son of a North­ern Ire­land in­ter­na­tional.”

In many ways we paved the way for ladies’ foot­ball here in North­ern Ire­land

Pa­tri­cia Ro­hdich with her prized NI cap, which she re­ceived over 30 years af­ter play­ing for North­ern Ire­land

MARK JAMIESON

Pa­tri­cia Ro­hdich (cir­cled) with her for­mer North­ern Ire­land team-mates in the Eight­ies and (left) Pa­tri­cia tries on her in­ter­na­tional cap

MARK JAMIESON

Ivan Lit­tle

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