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West Ham’s Tameka Yallop: ‘I was trapped in my own bubble with a baby’

Interview

West Ham’s Tameka Yallop: ‘I was trapped in my own bubble with a baby’

Australia midfielder on being apart from her wife and daughter for six months and what playing in eight countries has shown her

Few can say that the pandemic came at a good time, but the Australia midfielder Tameka Yallop is one of the exceptions. On 21 August 2020 Yallop and her wife, Kirsty, welcomed their daughter, Harley Rose, into the world and suddenly the virus that had halted the football and travel of the globetrotting player had an upside.

“It was definitely weird,” says Yallop, who has competed in eight countries and joined West Ham in May. “Timing-wise I was quite lucky because that was when my daughter was due and she is our first baby so all the nerves and the not knowing what to do took up a lot of my time and it was actually time that I really appreciated spending with my family.

“So, for me, it was kind of lucky timing with the world going into lockdown because I was trapped in my own bubble anyway with a new little baby.”

Yallop and Kirsty, a former New Zealand international, had time to prepare and went to stay with the latter’s parents, where Kirsty and Harley remain.

“They’ve got a good bubble of support and are enjoying living in the moment and watching Harley, my daughter, grow,” she says. “I haven’t seen them in about six months so I’m kind of struggling on the other side of the world but I think Christmas will change that and I’ll get to see them.”

Yallop has three brothers and three sisters and she and an older brother started playing for the same club when she was about five and he was six. She played in boys’ teams until she was 12, then joined her first girls’ team. Football wasn’t serious, it was fun, and one of many outdoor sports she enjoyed growing up on the Gold Coast.

“That’s why I wanted to do it, for the enjoyment, not necessarily because I wanted to make a career out of football. I definitely didn’t think about that until a lot later down the track.

Tameka Yallop leaves Marta on the turf during Australia’s game against Brazil last month.

“I grew up in an interesting time. Women’s football wasn’t a professional sport in Australia, that’s for sure, but there were some things that were starting to change and conversations that were becoming real. I know when I first joined the QAS, which was an academy of sport in Australia, I was playing with senior Matildas and they were at the highest level then in Australia and still had to work and study and payment for playing wasn’t really a thing.”

That type of change didn’t begin until Yallop was in her early 20s, she says. Now, the 30-year-old has a CV spanning Australia, Canada, the US, Germany, Japan, Sweden, Norway and England – giving her a unique insight into the development of women’s football globally.

“Especially in the last couple of years I’ve seen a massive improvement in standards across a lot of leagues all over the world and I think that professionalism is really really starting to become comparable to the men’s game as well,” she says. “I think a lot of that is due to exposure. Now you can watch any league around the world online and I think that has a major part to play in it.”

Yallop and Kirsty met when they were teammates at the Norwegian side Klepp IL and it wasn’t until she began that relationship that she felt comfortable opening up about her sexuality to her family and publicly.

Tameka Yallop on action during West Ham’s win over Tottenham last weekend.

“It was a long time of hiding that side of me and it was football that was the escape for me and somewhere where I felt like I didn’t have to worry. Now that’s changed a little bit. Yes, my family knows but there’s a lot of support there that’s outside of football as well. These days, it is definitely easier to be yourself and not have to worry about that.”

With Rainbow Laces day approaching on 8 December and West Ham the only Premier League club to have both men’s and women’s first-team squads wearing rainbow armbands too, what is it like to lace up boots and step on to the pitch as a player very open about their sexuality and marriage?

“It’s a pretty unusual feeling, to know that everyone’s doing it just because they support it and aren’t thinking: ‘Oh, every teammate is doing it so I’m gonna have to do it too.’ You don’t get the feeling that that’s driving it at all any more.”

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West Ham sit fifth with three wins – as many as they picked up across last season – and three draws from eight games. Last December the New Zealander Olli Harder was recruited from Klepp IL to replace Matt Beard and after avoiding relegation the team are thriving.

“Whether it’s influencing team culture or the way you play football he’s proven before that he can definitely do that and lift the level of the club,” says Yallop, who played under Harder in Norway. “It’s only the start of the season so we do have to focus on the endgame but I think if anyone is he’s definitely capable of getting us up there this season. If anything there’s a bit of disappointment that we haven’t had more wins already. And that’s purely just based on the type of football that we’re playing and the performances that we are putting out on the field.”

Get to know the players in England’s top-flight better with our WSL player in focus series. Read all our interviews here.

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