Anita Asante: ‘I said to Steven Gerrard, let’s hug because my hands are really sweaty’
In her first Moving the Goalposts newsletter, the former England player opens up on what it felt like to call time
Welcome to Moving the Goalposts, the Guardian’s new (and free) women’s football newsletter. Here’s an extract from this week’s edition. To receive the full version once a week, just pop your email in below.
You can’t ever prepare for it. It’s the one day every athlete knows is coming. In my mind, I had prepared my transition away from the pitch for two years, but you can never really picture what stepping on to the grass for the final time will be like.
I approached Sunday’s game against Birmingham as I would any other day, that’s probably the professional athlete in me, trying to keep the routines the same and trying to not make the occasion change anything or add any pressure.
I walked into the ground, into the locker room, to see teammates and coaches had left cards and little gifts and that really brought home that it was the final moment and I just wanted to take it in a little bit, to sit there.
It was an incredible day. Walking out through the guard of honour and having players congratulate me and say thank you for what I’ve done in the women’s game really started to stir up the emotions within and made me realise just how important it is to be visible and to try to be a good role model. These labels get attached to us as athletes but it’s a role that I have really embraced. To feel like people recognise that is an amazing and lovely thing.
All week I had been flooded with waves of emotion. I’d been approaching the week as a normal week but at the same time the questions about how it felt to be retiring, what I was looking forward to and what I would miss, came every day. Each time I would get a little bit emotional, teary and sad because my journey has been an amazing one. I’ve enjoyed every single day of being in a training environment, around teammates and meeting new people all the time. Knowing that I’m not going to be in that kind of environment every day is challenging because it’s what I’ve known for the majority of my life.
I’ve had messages from people I have grown up playing with or against but also players who are absolute idols that I have a huge amount of respect for. Steven Gerrard presented me with a signed shirt. It was unreal, honestly. I’m a Liverpool fan so I was absolutely buzzing. He said: ‘Let’s hug’ and I replied: ‘Yes, let’s hug, because my hands are really sweaty right now.’
I joked with the girls that I was just going to linger in that hug a little bit. I was just trying to really be present in this moment. It was really uplifting and really raised the morale of the team to have the Aston Villa men’s manager come and engage. I got video messages from Ian Wright, Patrick Vieira and Bobby Firmino recently and old teammates such as Emma Byrne, Lianne Sanderson and Rachel Yankey, just to name a few.
It was hugely humbling to know that I’ve had a positive experience on all of these great people within the game and that they felt a connection. That has been overwhelming, in a good way. I didn’t imagine my impact would be this far reaching. I’ve never set out to be a person that is trying to challenge things, it just is the way it has been, the way I approach things based on my own values, on what I want to see in the game and how I want to influence the game.
It is nice that that’s been acknowledged by so many people and that they have felt that impact in a positive way. It really does fill my heart in such a warm way. That is the best way to describe it, knowing that the feeling people have from working with me or interacting with me or watching me play is positive.
Despite all these it still has not really sunk in yet. In fact, I don’t think it will hit home until much later down the road. At the moment it’s the end of the season for everyone, so it’s more likely to hit me when everyone is preparing in the off-season to come back and I’m not lacing up and not having to fill out a wellness sheet or go off into my own off-season training.
One of the best things has been the feeling that people really believe in what I can do off the pitch moving forward. Hopefully I can have the same impact and influence behind the scenes as I’ve had on grass. I want to be able to continue, in some shape or form, utilising my voice and whatever space I’m working within to push the game forward in the right ways and maintain all the values that I think all of us from the amateur days through to the professional game have held on to tightly. To try and keep that authenticity and the relationships alive.
There is no competition. Sam Kerr’s second stunning volley in Chelsea’s 4-2 defeat of Manchester United to clinch the WSL title was, frankly, ludicrous. For a player to have the confidence to even attempt to spin and send a looping volley in from outside the box is scary. To have the confidence to do that when the stakes were so high? Terrifying. I was there, I saw it and I couldn’t quite believe what I’d seen.
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