Equality FC My Story: Faye Baker
Written by Faye Baker
For the 2017/18 season, Lewes Football Club became the first pro or semi-pro club in the world to pay its women’s team the same as its men – both teams will have the same playing budget with no discrimination. Her Move is delighted to work in partnership with Equality FC to tell the stories of the team that is pushing for fair recognition & pay for women’s football.
The second article in the series is the story of team Goal Keeper Faye Baker.
Football for me started from birth. Growing up with a sports-mad father and older brother I’d kick balls around the house from a very young age.
My brother was like my right arm so if he was playing football I wanted to join in. Weekends were spent watching football, rugby, tennis: any sport we could get our hands on.
At 6 I followed my brothers footsteps to join a football team. I was the only girl in the team but, more shocking to hear now, the only girl in the whole Kent league. Sundays were split between watching my brother play and rushing to my own games.
I still remember the awkward handshakes and little whispers from the opposition when they saw a girl in the starting line-up. To my own teammates though, I was one of them, and there were no issues with passing me the ball or letting me take free kicks.
It was the opposition I had to impress week in, week out, and, occasionally, my teammates’ parents. They were disgusted when their sons were substituted off whilst a girl was still on the pitch – as if there was some hierarchy and I deserved less playing time.
Once the other players recognised I could play, I got more respect of course, and shaking hands after the game was always a different experience to the pre-match handshake. Parents and managers would come up to congratulate me, and the opposition boys would want to shake my hand.
Looking back, being different ( ie, a girl) was brilliant for my overall development: not only did it make me a tougher player but it taught me to be resilient and brave and to never let anyone make me doubt what I really loved doing.
I was offered a place at West Ham at 9 years old and football really took off for me at that point. I was lucky to have supportive parents who drove me far and wide to train, and when not at training, every day after school was spent kicking a ball outside and counting down the hours until my next game.
Dubbed ‘The Little Tomboy’, I wore a baseball cap and football shirts, refusing to put on a dress. I had created an identity for myself based on the sport I couldn’t get enough of. I had no female role models, so instead followed the lead of my brother and male football players. It followed that the majority of my friends at primary school were boys: I felt I belonged with them.
Aged 11 I joined a Grammar School for girls, and was horrified to find they had no football team! PE kit was a skirt and netball was the main sport. My school friends couldn't understand my obsession with football, or why I would choose it over hanging around with them.
At 16 though I briefly quit football. I was fed up of saying ‘I can’t, I have football’ and much to the shock of everyone who really knew me, I walked away from the pitch and spent the next 6 months being a ‘typical teenager’.
However, this break didn't last long and soon I joined my first ladies’ football team where I spent the next five years in a local grassroots team.
I lost my dad at 16 but still went to training the next day. The game is my ‘go to’, my mood-changer. I still had the support of my mum. To this day she watches every game I play and spends her Saturdays watching West Ham with me, as I carry on the passion Dad instilled. My family never allowed stereotypes to stop me; football was never a ‘male’ sport in our house.
Soon, with numerous awards under my belt, proud teammates encouraged me to try to climb the leagues. So I joined a team in the Premier league, the highest level I’d played at. Here I broke records, turned heads, and as my passion returned, I finally believed I could make something of myself in women’s football.
For me, growing up, football wasn’t a career for women: it was hobby. There was no money in it, no specific positional coaching, no fans watching the games (other than parents), and no female role models.
So I went to university to study Law and make sure I had a career alongside my ‘hobby’. But, when the opportunity to play for Brighton came along, to my family’s horror, I left Law School and signed for Brighton - to chase a ball around a grass pitch!
I took any job that would fit in with my training - spent 7 hours a day in a car travelling back and forth to Brighton, leaving my house at 7am for work and returning home at 1am from training.
The football was like nothing I’d ever experienced before: we women trained at the men's training ground, were treated like professionals, and had access to everything our male counterparts did.
We ended up winning the league and being promoted into the Women’s Super League. Suddenly young girls were running around with my name on the back of their shirts, asking for autographs and photos. And, importantly, I was now a role model to them.
I moved to Lewes and became part of a club that have placed women on a level playing field with men. The club continues to open pathways for women and girls, making football accessible for all, breaking moulds, and challenging gender inequality.
Women’s football has changed massively during my career; young girls can now realistically dream of being a professional footballer. They see female role models on the television, in adverts, and even women’s shirts hanging up in shop windows.
Now I want to empower, support and inspire other women and girls - of all ages - to continue to break those stereotypes and not be afraid to chase their dreams.
If I can inspire just one young girl to play football my job is done and all the sacrifices, long days, late nights, injuries and tears will have been worth it.
You see, for me football is everything. It provides a release from daily stress and makes you feel free. It gives me drive, determination and focus – allows me to believe I can achieve anything I set my mind to. You go to training every day with your friends and then those friends become soldiers as you cross the white line and head into battle on match day.
Football has made me who I am today: it has developed my self esteem, given me a sense of belonging, and provided me with an inner strength to get through any challenge life throws at me. It’s my happiness, and there is nothing greater than stepping out on to the pitch and grinding out a win.