Anita Asante at Chelsea FC Women

Anita Asante: Chelsea FC Women

Footballer Anita Asante talks to Tina Lofthouse about gender equality in sport, and her love of our Kingston stadium

Playing for England and Chelsea, defender Anita Asante is a leading figure in women’s football. She started her career at Arsenal, was part of Team GB in the 2012 Olympics, and has just returned to Chelsea FC Women after almost a decade away playing for teams in the US as well as for Gothenburg FC.

As fans of Chelsea FC Women know, Kingston’s Kingsmeadow stadium is where the team plays its home games, and Anita says that the support of the fans who come there has been invaluable.

“All the players and staff at the club greatly appreciate the support and we wouldn’t have been able to achieve what we have so far without them. We are so encouraged by them and the fact that they believe in us every step of this journey.”

Speaking to Anita ahead of International Women’s Day on 8 March, we asked her about the challenges women face in sport and her advice for getting to the top in the game.

Chelsea is one of several clubs to change the name of its female team from ladies to women, a significant move that Anita says, “brings the women’s game into the 21st century.”

Anita adds: “For some people, the word ladies might have rather traditional sentiments to it. The word women feels more inclusive of all women, of all backgrounds, religions, shapes and sizes. People feel more connected with the club.”

Name changes are a step forward, but there is still a long way to go for women in sport when it comes to attaining equality with men. Men’s games are often seen as somehow superior – to help end that, Chelsea has stopped referring to its men’s team as the ‘first team’.

The media also has a big role to play and Anita says there is still a challenge in how women in sport are portrayed. “Women are getting a lot more coverage but there is more scrutiny and the stories are never just about them as athletes but whether they are married, pregnant and have a supportive husband,” she says.

More also needs to be done to encourage women into the business of sport. “We need to demonstrate that these jobs are for all. Women need to know that it is a welcoming environment and that it is for people from all backgrounds to contribute. Also, if we took out what we perceive to be roles for women and roles for men that would help create that change within the mind-set in our society.”

As to breaking into the game itself, girls face several obstacles. “It is about accessibility and opportunity – there are barriers and that might be socio economic reasons, a lack of support in your family, or that your school doesn’t have a girls’ team. With the support of more clubs the size of Chelsea, it will open up the game so that girls’ participation is encouraged and they will see that there is a place for them to hone their talents.”

She says that girls should pursue their dreams and that determination is everything. “No dream is too big, dream as big as you want and actively work towards it. But know that not everybody’s pathway is the same, and that even the players like myself don’t break into the national team on their first go, it might be second or third, or more, but do persevere.”

International Women’s Day is a great occasion to show the opportunity for women, the support that there is for each other in all domains of society and that women keep striving to be the best they can be. The past year has been a triumphant one for women. We are getting more coverage and support and notice from the world.  And with all these grass roots movements like #MeToo, it has put a spotlight on certain issues.

Anita began her career with Arsenal while studying politics and English at university, and she made her debut for the senior England team in 2004 having represented the Lionesses across various younger age groups.

Her own dreams have been realised. “I’ve been lucky to have some real highlights such as winning the quadruple with Arsenal and being part of the 2012 Olympic Squad was incredible.

“Winning the FA Cup with Chelsea last season was an unbelievable experience. Being at Wembley is every footballer’s dream. The occasion and atmosphere is amazing.”

A long injury last year put Anita out of action but she is recovered and ready. “I’ve had a few games before Christmas and since then. The team has been on a winning streak. I hope we can maintain that level and go on to challenge for the title.”

The fans at Kingsmeadow will be with them all the way.