The Changing Room
Kim Little is to my left and Vivianne Miedema to my right. Two of the best players in the world. Print outs of set pieces are blu tacked to the walls all around. My Wubben-Moy shirt hangs in a locker ahead of me. Big Dreams by Bakr blares in my ears.
It could’ve been any regular pre match with my team.
Except it isn’t. Tonight we are playing in a Champions League quarter final.
We’ve just walked into the changing rooms at the Emirates. And this isn’t a dream.
In my time playing football I have seen my fair share of changing rooms.
They are a place that the match day cameras and fans barely glimpse. A hidden world in which little is understood or seen.
Some changing rooms are porta-cabins with a toilet out the back, others are a state of the art oasis with glistening floors and luxury linings. Regardless, this is where clear routines are carried out, team talks are executed and last bites of energy are consumed.
I have always felt somewhat nostalgic about the role that this space plays in the beautiful game, and all the unseen little moments that go on here. We focus so much on the pitch, but nothing happens out there, that hasn’t started in here.
The importance of a changing room can often be forgotten. Yet it is here where the foundation of all footballing performances are born. The good. And the bad.
As I sit down at my locker, I can see everyone’s faces. The concentration, the excitement, the nerves. If there was a mirror in front of me, I know the face looking back would be a combination of all three.
Minutes seem to pass by like seconds, however our preparation continues methodically. I walk next door for a massage, picking from one of the free physio tables. In the breakaway area down the corridor, I find a matt to stretch on for a bit, Tobin is there already physically and mentally preparing in her own way.
I return to my locker, the previously pristine floor is now littered with empty sock tape rolls and carb bar wrappers, as well as discarded items of kit.
We are far removed from the space of our home ground Meadow Park - Borehamwood. But being sat here deep in the belly of the Emirates stadium feels right. This is where we’re supposed to be.
We receive our final briefing about formations, roles, and of course, set pieces. Words of encouragement, advice and warnings are thrown around the room. The volume increases, but the acoustics are perfect, no conversation is too loud. The task is clear as day.
As kick off approaches, I complete my final piece of preparation.
I pull my boots onto my feet, right foot first, left second. And then I look down at my laces. I am ready. The clanking of studs on the hard lined floor signifies that everyone else is too. Together we leave the changing room.
Nothing is certain when you leave those four walls.
I for one had no idea that I would be returning 90 minutes later as the first woman to score a Champions League goal at the Emirates.
It may be one of the best pitches I have ever played on. It most certainly is one of the best changing rooms I have ever prepared in.
I hope that some time in the future, that changing room will become our regular.
The preparation that goes on in a changing room is a combination of hundreds of little things, that makes a big difference.
(photo creds: adidas x stella x Arsenal Women)