Former England football player Dani Bowman started her career in the sport at Arsenal, before moving to Chelsea is search of more first team football but is now enjoying life at Brighton & Hove Albion after a brief spell at Notts County where she signed her first full-time contract.
Although the defender admitted Brighton haven’t been playing their best football lately, the women’s team has recently moved into their new state of the art training facilities, with their own pitches separate from the men’s team.
The 32-year-old was inspired by her dad and brother to start playing football at just four years old and she’s gone on to represent her country and call playing the sport her job.
She used to have to juggle her football life with her job as a personal trainer before she was offered a full-time contract, now she no longer has to do that – but she chooses to carry on training a select number of clients.
The Euros is coming to England later this year and even though she won’t be playing in them, she’s excited nevertheless and hopeful it’ll attract a new generation into the women’s game.
In an interview with Female First, she spoke about the difficulties of playing football without a full time contract, revealed how she feels about the growth of the women’s game and explained why she doesn’t want those at the bottom of the football pyramid to be left behind.
When and why did you start playing football?
I started playing football probably when I was about four. I had an older brother and so my dad played football, not to any great level but he obviously played football on Saturdays so me and my brother used to go and watch him and then we would be playing football on the side of the pitch. So, it was kind of like my dad did it and I sort of looked up to my dad and brother and obviously whatever they did I did with them.
I suppose at the age of four at that time there wasn’t many girls football teams, so we then moved to a village in Kent and thankfully there was a girl’s football team called Castle Colts, so my mum and dad got on the phone to them and was like can she come down, and I started playing for them when I was about six. I suppose at that age I used to watch a lot of men’s football as there was no such thing as women’s football, it being a profession and things like that. I just played football because I enjoyed it and my brother did it and my dad did it, so that was it really, that’s how it all started.
When did you realise you could play football professionally and it could be your career?
I suppose it was quite late on in my career, well I’m saying late on now because compared to the generation coming through now. Even when I was at Chelsea it was still part time, we were only training two times a week, three times at a push. I first thought it could be a career when actually I moved from Chelsea to Notts County where it was a full-time programme, and I was allowed the opportunity to go and play and that was actually going to be my job. Whereas before I sort of had football on the side of the personal training, so personal training was the big income and football you’d still only get paid for games.
So, it was really when I went to Notts County that it became a full time job and I thought oh actually this is pretty good because even when I was at Chelsea and playing for England I wasn’t fortunate enough to have a central contract which is what some of the England players had so they didn’t have to work so that they could concentrate on their training whereas I didn’t get that luxury. I still had to work, and I had to make football fit around my work. So, I was probably about 25 when actually I had the opportunity to be full time and I could actually say oh this is my job.
Do you see yourself going back to personal training after football?
I’ve actually never stopped doing it. When I was at Chelsea it was full time, I’d be in with clients at 6.30 in the morning, I’d work up until about 2/3pm, then get home, get in the car and drive to Chelsea, get home, get up at 6am for clients again, so that was quite a full-on schedule. Whereas now I’m quite lucky that I fit my clients around the football so I’ve got a couple of hours in the morning I tend to do a couple of clients then, then I train, then I might have a couple of evening clients. I work a lot less with the PT now but the clients I do have is because I want to train them, I have clients that I enjoy training and it’s not such a ‘I have to do it.’ Being that I actually live in Essex, my days off I actually have off because I only PT when I’m in Brighton now which then means I get some time off, whereas I never used to get that, it used to be every single day. It is quite nice now and I just enjoy doing the PT side of it.
What is life like at Brighton?
To be fair the club is in such a great place at the moment. The support the women get is fantastic, obviously this year we’ve had our own training ground built for us, state of the art million-pound training ground, our own pitches, everything absolutely top notch. It’s now about us producing it on the pitch.
We’ve had a really good strong start to the season, we’re in a bit of a rut at the moment where we’ve had some okay performances and we just haven’t quite had the luck so we’ve missed out on points but it’s what this league is all about really, every team can beat anyone on the day, and we know now we need to step up every single game. We haven’t been on the greatest run recently but in terms of where the club is at and the structure and where the women’s path is going, I can’t speak any more highly of it, it’s just fantastic.
How did it feel when you got your first call-up to the England squad?
I’d literally only just moved to Chelsea, I remember I was 18 and I had a decision at 18 where I was actually at Arsenal, but I knew I wasn’t going to play much first team football and I made the decision to move to Chelsea knowing that Chelsea wasn’t obviously as successful at that time compared to Arsenal, but I knew I was going to play more first team football. I think within the first four months of me playing first team football regularly I got the call-up but I didn’t see it happening if I was honest because I think at the time we were still with the under 19s and we were just about to go into the under 20 World Cup, so obviously my focus was that and just enjoying getting picked and going away and just being around the girls, and to then get a call-up obviously it was an amazing achievement and something I’ll always remember.
It was fantastic and the good thing was there was a lot of the Chelsea girls that also went away, and obviously where I’d been at Arsenal there was a lot of the Arsenal girls so actually, I was quite lucky, I had a lot of people close to me and there was still a lot of the under 19s that were called up, so I wasn’t on my own which was quite nice. We went to La Manga, so we’d been there before so I kind of knew what it was about but then that first week of being there it hit me quite hard, I was like wow okay, three sessions a day this is intense, but you just love every minute, you just appreciate every single minute that you’re there. It was a fantastic experience and one that no one can ever take away from me.
What are your thoughts on the recent growth of the women's game?
I don’t think anyone could have ever thought that it’d be on Sky Sports, and it would have a TV deal that we do and have Barclays sponsor the league and the amount of money they’re putting into the women’s game. If you’d have asked me that five years ago, I would never have seen it happening. But then you have to put credit down to Team GB at the London Olympics, I think for me that was a big step up, that was the one where everyone was like, oh women’s football it’s pretty good isn’t it? I suppose it went on an absolute world scale because everyone was watching it and the fact that they did so well is credit to them because I really think that was the steppingstone for the whole momentum change.
Then obviously doing fantastic in Canada, getting a bronze medal and everyone was staying up late even though we were on a different timescale, everyone was behind the team. And it’s little things like that that have really helped speed up the process of women’s football and to now see the growth of the game and see players coming through and seeing young girls with unbelievable talent and you’re just thinking, wow, it really bodes well for the future.
The one thing for me is just making sure it’s sustainable because women’s football still doesn’t generate enough revenue like the men do, and so we have to make sure that we’re doing things in a sensible way, and that would be my only thing is that we don’t leave people behind because sometimes in the women’s game everyone steps up but there is still part of the football pyramid that is struggling to step up post-Covid. So, we have to make sure that we take everyone with us. Who knows what the women’s game will look like in 10 years, but I’m sure it’ll be even further along than it is now.
How important is it to have coverage of the women’s game to help inspire the next generation of players?
I mean, that’s the thing isn’t it, you need to make sure that everyone’s coming along the journey with us and the fact that it’s on TV means there’s exposure. When I was a young girl growing up, I only had male role models to look up to and male footballers that I wanted to be but now you’ve got players out there and you’ve got young girls that are walking around with their names on their shirts and it’s little things like that that is just going to help the women’s game grow even more.
But at the same point we don’t want it to become diluted at the bottom, we want the quality to be throughout the whole pyramid and it can’t become disjointed along the way, so we have to make sure that everyone stays connected and everyone is there helping each other for the bigger picture. Because one day someone in one of the lower teams, a youngest player, she could be the next superstar, could be at Brighton, could be at Man City. We have to make sure that everyone gets a chance and an opportunity.
How excited are you for the Euros later this year?
Oh yeah, God well we’ve been waiting long enough haven’t we let’s be honest. The fact that some of the games are at Brighton, that’s a massive thing for Brighton. I know the club is really excited by it and I think it’s going to be a fantastic opportunity to showcase what our city is about and what the club is about. I think if we can have a sell-out crowd for that it would be absolutely incredible. I know the squad of players, the quality of the squad of players that England have, there’s no doubt that they could go on and win it in my opinion.
We just have to stay injury free obviously, like any sort of sport you don’t want any players to be injured, but the calibre and the quality of the WSL this season just tells me that the Euros is going to be one of the best it’s been because of England’s quality, other teams’ quality, Sweden’s quality, this list is endless of how national teams and players have improved over the years. Yeah, I’m super excited and I’m hoping to get down and watch a few of the games.
Words by Lucy Roberts for Female First, who you can follow on Twitter, @Lucy_Roberts_72.
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