My 5 role models… with Carrie Dunn

My 5 sporting role models and the ways they inspired me

This week Natalie Jackson spoke to sports writer, author and academic Dr Carrie Dunn, author of women’s football books Roar of the Lionesses and Pride of the Lionesses, about those who inspired her to pay it forward.

Sally Gunnell

“Back in the day there wasn’t a huge amount of sport on the telly, which might surprise people younger than me, but there was Friday night athletics! I was really keen on that, partly because I loved sport and partly because I was allowed to stay up late on a Friday night. Sally Gunnell was the first female athlete that I remember getting major media coverage and really remember following. When she won her 400m hurdles gold in Barcelona in 1992 I remember it being on the front of the newspapers and that was a massive deal for me. It was so exciting! I had that feeling that you get as a sports fan, when you become invested in a person or a team, and then when they achieve something you almost feel like you were a part of it. I still feel like that when I see Sally Gunnell on Twitter or being interviewed in the studio about other people competing. It takes me right back to the Summer of 1992.”

Marieanne Spacey

“When I talk to and interview current footballers lots of them still don’t realise that women played football when they were kids. They just didn’t see it. We were probably fortunate in that sense as football fans that we saw women’s football on TV in the late 1980s and early 1990s, although it was only every so often, and probably only ever a big game like the FA Cup Final. When Channel 4 showed the final it always felt as though women’s football was being taken seriously, which was great as a young fan. Back then there were only ever a couple of teams that reached the final and Marieanne Spacey, playing for Fulham or Arsenal, was usually there. As a player she was such a huge trailblazer, and she has been as a coach too. She’s been fantastically inspiring at England level and has always been such a visible presence in women’s football, as long as I can remember.”

Wendy Owen

“I first came across Wendy Owens when I was doing my Master’s degree. As far as I can tell she was the first female footballer to write her own autobiography (Kicking Against Tradition: a Career In Women’s Football), going back to the late 1960s and early 1970s. She was in the first England set-ups and talks about her experience of the elite system as it was at that point. She went on to coach, but also to work in academia and as someone who has worked across football and academia I find that interesting. I love her perspicacity too. She wrote her book in 2005 but in it she makes predictions about the future of women’s football in England, and a lot of them were spot on. She saw the path of professionalisation unfolding for women’s football, and that is really fascinating to me. I spoke to her a couple of months ago for the new book I’m working on, and it was such an honour to have the opportunity to tell her how much her work has meant to me. It is so valuable to have her first-hand account of life as a footballer in the late 60s and early 70s. She also has some fantastic memorabilia; things like her first letter calling her up to the England squad and details of the dress code! She is just an absolutely amazing woman, with an amazing story.”

Sylvia Gore

“I was very aware of Sylvia Gore’s football playing career before I ever got to speak to her. She was the first woman to score a goal for an official England team, and I had the privilege of speaking to her when I was writing the Roar of the Lionesses in 2016. She was so nice, so kind, so welcoming, and so willing to talk to me. Not everyone is always willing to talk to a journalist but Sylvia was, and she was lovely. When I heard later that summer that she was in a hospice and very poorly, I managed to write her a letter thanking her for everything she had done for women’s football; not just as a player with that landmark goal that she scored, but also as a coach. She coached Wales and ran development schemes across the country. Particularly in the North West of England, she coached England legends like Rachel Brown-Finnis and Sue Smith, and this was all as a volunteer! This wasn’t a time when there was money in women’s football, but she still developed the next generations of female footballers. The way she did that, talked about her experiences and went on the record to leave such an important legacy for the next generation was so massively important, and I was so glad that I was able to thank her for it. It was a massive shock to hear that she had died, but I was so honoured to write her Obituary for the Guardian Newspaper. I spoke with her cousin about her life and their lives together growing up. She shared Sylvia’s memorabilia with me and told me plenty of stories. Her memorabilia is now in a University archive for researchers to draw upon now, and the fact that I was able to play a part in that was a massive honour.”

Julie Welch

“One of the biggest, most exciting, things of my entire career has been getting to know Julie Welch a little bit. In 1973 she became Fleet Street’s first female football reporter; she was the first woman to be in the press box at a football ground. She blazed a trail in the 1970s and into the 1980s and paved the way for the rest of us. The fact that she is still writing absolutely amazing stuff and encouraging people like me is so inspiring. She came to my book launch for Roar of the Lionesses and wrote an endorsement to put on the cover of Pride of the Lionesses, which was so, so exciting for me. The biggest thing for me about Julie Welch is the way that she has paid it forward and encouraged others to follow in her footsteps. This is something all of these inspiring women have done, but Julie in particular has done that and it is something that I hope to do in my own career. It’s what I worked to do when I was running the Sports Journalism degree course at the University of East London. I worked with my colleagues in Sport Science to reach out to local primary schools to encourage girls to think about taking up a sport or looking at a sports career of some sort, whether physiotherapy, sport science or in the media. If I could emulate one thing about all of these inspiring women it would be just that; I would pay it forward and encourage other young women in sport. Because they all did that for me.”