Earlier today I interviewed Ireland and Sunderland Ladies striker Stephanie Roche about her career and that goal which earned her much praise from the world of football…
Olly Allen: How did you first get involved in football, and who/what inspired you to do so?
Stephanie Roche: I started off just playing football in the streets in Dublin with the lads and my two older brothers. From a very early age, my Dad, who was a coach, was very encouraging towards my football and inspired me to keep on playing.
OA: How has women’s football in Ireland developed since you started playing?
SR: It’s developed loads, as I’ve said before in other interviews. When I first started playing, there weren’t many girls teams around, so I joined the boys teams. But now, pretty much all the clubs have girls teams from youth level upwards so it’s definately come on leaps and bounds since I started playing. At international level, we’ve qualified for World Cups and European Championships at Under 17 level, so that shows we’ve definitely improved.
OA: You had two short spells in France and the USA, why do you think your time in those countries didn’t work out?
SR: In France, football wise I enjoyed it there and was playing well, but the obviously the language barrier was the biggest issue. When I first went over there first, there was a French girl who I played with called Solene Barbance, who helped me a lot in the first few weeks as she spoke fluent English and had been with me at Peamount United. However, a month and a half into my contract, she had a falling out with the club and left the club, which left me kind of stranded with nobody for help. That was probably the biggest downfall in France. I’ve spoken to the manager since and he understands my reason for leaving, that they were non-football related. But as I said, football wise, it gave me a good insight into professional football, as the football in France is very good. Unfortunately my life away from football wasn’t very good so I decided to leave.
In America, I was really enjoying it and thought it was going well. I spoke to the manager about two weeks before anything happened and I asked him what I had to do to get more game time. He told me to keep doing what I was doing and that I was the best finisher they had at the club. But it was only a matter of time before I went away with the Irish team and when I got back I was told that my contract had been terminated. It was a big shock for me, as I was doing well in pre-season and worked hard, harder than I’ve ever before so I was shocked that it didn’t work out. It’s just the way it goes over there, I think it’s a big business, not just in women’s football, but in all US sports, you see things like that happen. It’s just unfortunate that I was on the end of it.
OA: Did you have many offers before joining Sunderland Ladies and last month, and why did you choose to move to the North East?
SR: I had a couple of offers in England and in Europe but I came over to visit the club and spoke to Carlton [Fairweather] the manager, to Mel [Reay, the coach], met all the girls and saw all the great facilities. All the girls are really nice and doing well in the WSL this year, so that definitely was a push towards me joining. Since I’ve got here, we’ve won two games, so I think it’s proved the right decision for me so far. Pretty much as soon as I got here I knew I wanted to stay here so the decision was made quickly.
OA: Do you have any aims for the rest of the WSL season?
SR: My first game was against Notts County, and as I hadn’t played a match in a few months, I wanted to try and last the full 90 minutes and do my best for the team. I perhaps wasn’t fully sharp, but against Chelsea last weekend I think I improved and did better than I had done in the first game. I think the more and more games I play, the better I’ll get and the more I’ll be able to help the team. I just hope we can finish as high up the table as possible, because the girls did extremely well before the mid-season break and have now continued to build on that momentum.
OA: After beating league leaders Chelsea 4-0 at the weekend, is a shock league title on the cards?
SR: To be honest with you, I think everybody here just wants to finish as high as possible. Obviously being the team coming up from WSL2 (Sunderland were promoted last season), everybody expects you to go back down, but I think the club have proved that they are a good team. Everybody will admit that we deserved to beat Chelsea and that we were the better team. Maybe Chelsea weren’t on form, but we played really well and did well to win the game, so we deserve credit for that. We don’t really want to talk about the possibility of winning the title, we’ve got a good enough team to challenge for it, but at the minute we just want to finish as high up the table as possible.
OA: You probably get asked this a lot, but talk me through your much acclaimed goal against Wexford Youths. What was going through your mind before, during and after your goal?
SR: Basically when the ball came into the box, my first thought was to get the ball under control. The girl who had been marking me had been doing so tightly all game, so I knew where she was, meaning I tried to keep the ball away from her. I tried to flick it over her into the space behind, and thankfully it worked out. It was kind of a mix between technique and instinct and I’m happy the ball went in the back of the net. Everything that has happened since has been amazing!
OA: What was it like being in the company of the likes of Ronaldo and Messi at the awards ceremony?
SR: It was a great experience, and one that a lot of players, male or female may never get to have. It’s something that I’ll forever remember and tell people in years to come. The support that I received from people (Stephanie got 33% of the vote) was incredible and made it that little bit more special. It helped raise my profile, and helped show that there is technique and skill in the women’s game, opening up a lot of people’s eyes to that. I was just happy to have made an impact more than anything.
OA: Which male footballer would you compare yourself to?
SR: I don’t really know to be honest with you. I think I’ve been compared to the likes of Berbatov and van Nistelrooy in the past. My favourite player at the minute though is Ronaldo, but I’d never ever compare myself to him because he’s in a world of his own. I’ve changed my game up in the last few years and played in different positions, trying different things in the game, but I suppose I’d go for Berbatov or van Nistelrooy.
OA: What advice would you give to young girls wanting to make it into the game?
SR: First and foremost, just enjoy it. For me, growing up, as I said, I played with the boys, which I loved and just wanted to play everyday. I was out all the time with a football, knocking on my friends’ doors, asking to play a match. So it has to be that, the enjoyment for the game has to be there and the desire to play. When the opportunities come along, you need the support of your parents and friends which I had growing up, as my dad was always there to take me to places. Just enjoy the game for as long as possible, because there will come a time when it’s more competitive and it’s more about winning.
Many thanks to Stephanie for speaking to me, and good luck for the rest of the WSL season!