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Back in the Game

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After 12 years of shunning football, bickering with boyfriends for choosing matches over dates and enjoying Saturday morning lie-ins (usually with a hangover), I've stepped back onto the pitch.

Many eyebrows were raised when I announced I had joined a women's football team. Never had I once expressed an interest in the sport since giving it up at the age of 12, primarily to spend my weekends shopping with friends rather than stumbling around a muddy field, being shouted at from the sidelines.

"Why?" many of my female friends cried, while the guys laughed, "you can't play football!" and my mum fretted, "please be careful, you'll get injured."

The impression of women that play football is they are 'butch lesbians'. I say this because 99% of the people I told that I was going to start playing again said that's who I'd be playing with. Those impressions were wrong.

I think it's fair to say that outwardly I'm a 'girly girl'; I like making an effort with my appearance. But, I also like exercise and being part of a team, which is where football comes in.

Bored with jogging around a tiny part of South London on my own, stopping every 10 minutes to play with my iPod and with no one encouraging me to keep going - and having given up on the dull environment of the gym long-ago - out of nowhere, joining a football team sprang into my mind.

casey stoney

A bit of inspiration: Team GB women's captain Casey Stoney is congratulated after scoring a goal during their match against Cameroon on day one of the London 2012 Olympic Games.

A quick search on GumTree later, I'd found a local women's team to join who play in a friendly league. Shopping for my kit was interesting, I had to choose between boys' and men's shorts and it took me a good hour to find a pair of boots in my size while the male shop assistants looked bemused. I asked which type of studs I needed and one replied: "Well you're probably just messing around, so these will do."

I couldn't make any of the training sessions, bar a few kickabouts with some encouraging male friends, so it was straight into a game.

As the whistle blew I quickly realised I didn't actually know any of the rules. "Just shout at me and tell me what to do," I told my teammates. It didn't matter, I was running around a field pumped with adrenaline and a feeling of competitiveness rarely achieved in day-to-day life.

Ninety minutes later - we had no subs - my legs would barely move any more. That was nothing compared to the pain I woke up in the next day, every single part of my body was stiff and sore. I expected my legs to hurt, but I never knew simply getting out of bed and moving my arm would be so hard. My sister had great fun laughing at me shuffling around Soho the next day.

I've gained a whole new level of respect for footballers. I use to think it was pathetic that grown men were so obsessed with chasing a ball around a pitch, but now I can see the skill, fitness and expertise involved and even enjoyed watching Man United v Arsenal in the pub this weekend. Trust me, that's a sentence I never thought I'd write.

Three games on, I've met a great new bunch of women, I stay in on Fridays excited about the fun I'll have on Saturday mornings, and feel noticeably more toned. If only I hadn't given myself a 12- year break from the game, maybe I'd be on my way to Rio 2016...

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