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Midfielder Jade Steadman and her Ashford United Ladies team-mates can be inspiration to town’s next generation of female footballers

By Faye Hackwell

Growing up, she was known as “the girl who played football”.

But with interest and participation in the women’s game increasing all the time, Ashford United Ladies midfielder Jade Steadman is hoping her team can help to inspire the next generation of local girls to play and enjoy the sport.

Ashford United Ladies' Karis Howard and, right, Jade Steadman have had plenty to celebrate this season. Picture: Ian Scammell
Ashford United Ladies' Karis Howard and, right, Jade Steadman have had plenty to celebrate this season. Picture: Ian Scammell

Sitting top of their league table and playing in the League Trophy Final on Sunday, they may be ending their first season under Ashford United with double silverware.

As a child, Steadman’s football role models were all men, because she didn’t have female household names like Beth Mead, Leah Williamson and Ella Toone to look up to.

“When I was a little girl, I was the girl who played football, whereas nowadays my son plays and he’s got a girl on his team and there are girls in the opposition,” she said.

Steadman was the only girl in a boys’ team until she turned 11, when FA rules at the time meant she was no longer allowed to play competitively with boys.

She continued training with her boys’ team but played for a girls’ team in Folkestone, where her manager put her forward for trials with Charlton Athletic when she was 10. She got in and worked her way up through the age groups, getting called up to the women’s first team when she was 15 - and then to the England squad.

“I went to a training session at Sparrows Lane and one of my team-mates said ‘congratulations on the England call up’.

“They’d put it on the internet before, but the very next day I got a package with a letter formally inviting me to an England camp and then I was involved with the under-19s, under-21s and under-23s.”

But when she turned 18, two things coincided that put her football aspirations on hold.

“I got to the point where I’d finished full-time education and started looking for work and I got a job in London,” she said.

“And then the Charlton women’s team got diminished because the Charlton men’s team got relegated and they needed to cut costs, so they just abandoned the women’s team. At that point, I took a long break from football.”

She had twins, who are now nine, and didn’t return to football until 2020.

Now, her children often come to watch her play and her football-loving son has even joined in a training session with his mum and her team-mates - a bonding experience Steadman described as “unreal”.

Her brother and dad are among the side’s biggest supporters and she also loves having her children in the crowd.

She said: “Sometimes I’m here, there and everywhere, as Monday to Friday they have a club every single night, so sometimes it’s nice for them to see ‘oh mummy does something too’.”

The team have a close bond in the dressing room and, since becoming part of Ashford United this season, have won 15 of their 16 league games and enjoyed runs to the Second Round of the FA Cup and the Semi-Final of the Isthmian Women’s Cup

Clacton CFC are their opponents in Sunday’s League Trophy Final at the Gallagher Stadium in Maidstone (2.30pm).

Tickets cost £5 adults and £2 children and over-65s.

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