FEW people would know that during my Arsenal days I worked in the laundry room to make ends meet.
I joined the Gooners when I was eight and, as I got a bit older, the men’s kitman, the founder of the women’s team Vic Akers, arranged for us to get jobs to keep us going.
From the age of 16, I washed and folded the first-team’s muddy shirts after training each day — and then I’d stay about for my own sessions in the evening.
One perk was that I was around the Arsenal lads all the time, including my childhood hero Ian Wright.
Back then, before women’s pro contracts, we didn’t have female footballers to look up to in the way that youngsters in 2019 idolise Jordan Nobbs and Co.
So I was in awe of Wrighty and Thierry Henry as they ripped apart defences up and down the country.
I love Wrighty and I’m proud to say that we’re still good pals now.
He really looked out for me when I was a kid — and I’m gutted I didn’t get to see him doing the trials on I’m A Celebrity.
My mum was watching and voting for him while I was on my Strictly journey. Who would have thought that, all these years on, we would be on rival TV shows that have nothing to do with football.
I guess it shows how far the women’s game has come that it wasn’t just Wrighty doing reality TV.
I’m so glad the producers on Strictly thought that a former women’s footballer would chime with a prime-time audience.
I was the DJ, dancing around in the dressing room at Arsenal and the girls knew Strictly was the one programme I always wanted to do.
But I just never thought it would happen because you see only household names on the show.
And I have to admit I’m not even a household name in my own household.
Male players such as Wrighty respect female footballers because they know we understand the game and graft just as hard as they do. When we would meet at Arsenal or St George’s Park, there was never a divide.
And being among such talented male players in the laundry room made me desperate to be the best right-back in the world.
That environment is the reason I never let football go, even though I wasn’t the most talented player.
I always had a burning desire to achieve big things.
After two years in the laundry, I became a part-time teacher of sports science.
We were lucky to get £50 a week to cover travel expenses.
I would be at the back of the coach after a midweek game marking homework and planning the lesson for the next day.
Then we went semi-pro and it was a couple of hundred pounds a week.
But since 2018, the WSL has been a full-time professional league.
Yet when I went to my first World Cup in 2007 in China, none of the players was a pro. The boss, Hope Powell, knew things had to change for the Lionesses in order to make an impact on the women’s league in England.
I’m so glad I was part of that England squad given the first central contracts in May 2009. That paved the way for the better wages that the girls enjoy today.
When I was a young girl playing in the local cage with my brother, I dreamt of scoring in a Lionesses shirt at Wembley. Never did I think I would be getting paid for doing it too.
It makes me so happy that the hard work of female players from my generation has created a better world for young girls getting into the sport now.
Today, kids know their local women’s team whereas the choice was pretty limited for us. In fact, most of the top female players of my day were brought up playing boys’ football.
Or, if they were lucky, washing the kit of their idols.