‘I was proud to wear an Eng­land shirt – but sav­ing lives is best job in the world’

Rachel Unitt, the Eng­land foot­baller turned fire­fighter, has achieved an am­bi­tion she set her­self as a teenager

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Women's Sport Monthly -

Ihave wanted to work for the fire brigade since I was 15 and went to my lo­cal fire sta­tion in Wal­sall for work ex­pe­ri­ence while I was at school. I just knew that was what I wanted to do once I left foot­ball. More than 20 years later, at 36, I joined Stafford­shire Fire and Res­cue Ser­vice. What was I do­ing all that time? I went to two World Cups, three Euro­pean Cham­pi­onships, and won more than 100 Eng­land caps.

Grow­ing up, foot­ball was a big part of my life. A day did not go by when I was not kick­ing some­thing around; a stone in the street, a crushed drinks can or a foot­ball. Women’s foot­ball was not very pop­u­lar when I was young. I played in school and for a lo­cal team, where there were only three teams in our league. Op­por­tu­ni­ties were slim. I did not even know if an Eng­land team ex­isted un­til I saw them play on tele­vi­sion when I was 15. From that day it was my dream to play for Eng­land.

My life changed when I was 16 and moved to Wolves Ladies. My man­ager put me for­ward to at­tend an Eng­land Un­der-18s trial and I was suc­cess­ful, scor­ing five goals in 18 games. It was dur­ing my first sea­son with Ever­ton a year later that I was in­vited to at­tend an Eng­land se­nior train­ing camp. I made my de­but at left-back in Au­gust 2000 and then moved to Ful­ham Ladies, the first and only side in the coun­try to be full time.

It was dur­ing my sec­ond stint at Ever­ton in 2005 where the women’s game started tak­ing off. Af­ter host­ing the Women’s Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship, in which TV au­di­ences to­talled nearly nine mil­lion across three Eng­land matches, the Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion awarded 20 play­ers cen­tral con­tracts to al­low play­ers to de­vote all of our time to foot­ball, train­ing 20 hours and more a week. It meant I no longer had to jug­gle work and foot­ball.

We have a fully pro­fes­sional league now, the Women’s Su­per League, which is one of the best leagues out there, at­tract­ing play­ers from all over the world. Op­por­tu­nity is a lot greater now, not just on the pitch but off it, too, with many for­mer women foot­ballers com­men­tat­ing on the men’s and women’s game and tak­ing part in re­al­ity TV shows.

My foot­ball ca­reer took a turn for the worse in 2013 when I sus­tained my first an­te­rior cru­ci­ate lig­a­ment in­jury, which took me out of the game for 14 months. I re­turned hop­ing to work my way back into the Eng­land squad but things did not go to plan and, four months later, I rup­tured my other knee.

It was dur­ing re­hab that I started to lose the drive and mo­ti­va­tion to get back to the top. I was 33 and ul­ti­mately had fallen out of love with the game and wanted to fo­cus on the next chap­ter of my life. I signed off from my Eng­land ca­reer in 2013 with 102 caps and eight goals, some­thing I will al­ways be proud of.

The dream of be­com­ing a fire­fighter never left me. While I was at Birm­ing­ham, I ap­plied to work for the West Mid­lands Fire Ser­vice – but did not get past the first hur­dle. For the next five years, I worked as a teach­ing as­sis­tant in a spe­cial needs school, but I knew I was not go­ing to give up.

Two years ago, I ap­plied for a 15-week in­ten­sive train­ing course at the head­quar­ters of Stafford­shire Fire and Res­cue. As a foot­baller, pretty much ev­ery­thing you learn is trans­fer­able to fire­fight­ing, and that is what I wrote in my ap­pli­ca­tion. Team­work is a big one: if you do not com­mu­ni­cate in the fire ser­vice, what­ever in­ci­dent you are re­spond­ing to, it could all fall to pieces. You have to have co­he­sion, trust, hon­esty – all skills you learn in foot­ball.

Last year I be­came a fully qual­i­fied fire­fighter. The job is very var­ied. We at­tend all kinds of in­ci­dents: fires, road traf­fic col­li­sions, flood­ing, spillages. We res­cue an­i­mals and we as­sist the po­lice and paramedics at their in­ci­dents. Ev­ery shift is dif­fer­ent. We don’t know what we will be called out to next.

Pulling on an Eng­land shirt was over­whelm­ing and I felt proud and on top of the world. But sav­ing some­one’s life, pulling them out of a house fire or cut­ting them out of a car? There is no bet­ter feel­ing. That is why it is the best job in the world.

In­ter­na­tional ca­reer: Rachel Unitt won 102 caps and scored eight goals for Eng­land

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.