Rachel Brown-Finnis (Interview)

England’s Number One

If you were asked to name England’s most successful goalkeeper of all time, most people would answer either Gordon Banks or Peter Shilton.  It may surprise you to know the correct answer would be current England goalkeeper Rachel Brown.

Brown has been a permanent fixture in the England squad now for seventeen years, winning 82 caps and representing her country in two World Cups, four European Championships and one Olympic games with team GB.

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The Burnley born shot stopper has overcome a number of challenges to become England’s number one.  The first challenge came at the age of seven when she was refused the right to play for her school team because FA rules do not allow mixed gender teams.

Brown joined and played for Accrington Stanley Ladies at the age of twelve, despite being younger than the required age limit of fourteen.  Just after her fifteenth birthday Rachel signed for Premier League team Liverpool Ladies and very quickly became the club’s number one goalkeeper, when Tracey Davidson retired just three weeks after Rachel arrived.

A move to the United States followed in 1998 to play varsity football for Alabama Crimson Tide, whilst studying at the University of Alabama.  It was reported later that year that Brown moved to the United States because of their more positive attitude towards women’s football.

Brown then transferred to the University of Pittsburgh Panthers while she completed a degree in Sports Science at the University of Pittsburgh.  Rachel was named Big East Conference Goalkeeper of the Year in 2000 and she also holds the Panthers’ record for the fewest goals conceded in a season.

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After qualifying as a PE Teacher, Rachel joined Everton Ladies in January 2003; she spent the summer of 2003 playing in Iceland, before returning to Everton in the August.  In December 2003, Brown suffered a serious knee injury that kept her out of the game for two years.

Rachel returned to International duty after injury against Sweden in the last group game of the Women’s Euro 2005.

She continued her excellent form over the next two seasons and was said to be the world number one women’s goalkeeper, whilst helping England to qualify for the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup in China.

In May 2009, the Football Association rewarded Brown with a central contract; it proved to be a good decision as Brown started every game for England whilst helping them to qualify for the 2009 European Championships.

In 2012 Rachel had another outstanding season and was named Everton Ladies player of the year, she collected her award from Everton captain Tim Cahill.

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The 2014 FA Women’s Super League will see Rachel enter her eleventh season as Everton Ladies Football Club’s number one, with most goalkeepers playing until their late thirties or early forties there is still time for Rachel to become the most capped England player of all time.

Despite playing and training with Everton, Rachel is also working three days a week at Turf Moor, Burnley for UCFB were she assists the students in finding work placements within the sports industry.

Rachel is also working as a mentor for the Sky Sports Living for Sports project, were she visits secondary schools around the country to assist the children to reach their goals, by providing them with tools to learn.

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Interview

Who was your biggest influence in football ?

The biggest influence / support in my career has been my parents, from the age of seven they had to fight for me to start playing football as I was not allowed to play for the boys’ team at school.

To be honest, they have been at every tournament, around the world supporting me including Word Cups, European Championships and even when I played in the USA and Iceland.

What is your best football highlight ?

I would have to say the Olympics (London 2012), even though we didn’t perform to our best as a team, just being part of team GB and being part of a multi sports tournament was fantastic.  Also being part of the biggest sporting event in the country as a participant and a fan was something I will never forget it was a dream come true.

What is your football lowlight ?

Being a goalkeeper you do need to have a short memory as you have to forget about things as soon as they have happened. However I would have to say injuries as they always test you.

There was a point just before the China World Cup in 2007 where I seriously considered quitting because of the pain I was in with my knee. I had some bone growing on the underside of my kneecap and it wasn’t my first operation on my knee.  Just walking up and down the stairs was bad enough never mind training.

I took the decision to play through the pain in the World Cup and have surgery after and I am glad I did that now because I have gone on to play in more major tournaments and the Olympics, but injuries are always the grey moments for any sports person.

When did you make your league debut ?

My league debut was against Arsenal on the opening day of the 1995-96 season, it was very, very daunting and we lost big time! Being thrown in the deep end was an understatement, I was only small and it was hard enough playing against women never mind some of the best players in the country.

How has the Women’s game changed from when you started your career ?

I would say women’s football is unrecognizable from when I started nineteen years ago in the premier league, we trained 1 day a week and had a match on a Sunday.  Now we train everyday and some teams are full time just like the men’s teams.

At Everton we train 4 days a week, plus a further two days a week on weight sessions, as well as working part time, the training has been the biggest change and has had a knock on effect of the women’s team becoming more successful.

Hope Powell has been a massive driving force in a lot of the changes, the sport science side of things as well as setting up the Centres of Excellence around the country; which I think has been a massive influence in getting more girls and women playing football.

Also the introduction of the younger international levels, under 17’s, under 19’s playing in major tournaments such as world cups and European championships, which has a massive benefit when they come to play for England at Senior level.

The game has now been transformed from a media perspective; you can now see women’s football on TV, Internet, magazines etc.  Young girls now have female role models in their sports that are accessible.

When I joined Liverpool at 14, I didn’t even know there was an England team and it was only when we came to the end of pre-season, when half of my team mates came back to club training, I was like “where have you been?” and they said “World Cup” and I was like “oh my God there’s an England team and a World Cup, I don’t even know”.

Today the women’s game is getting more PR and the men’s premier league clubs are spending more money on setting up women’s teams, which is a real benefit to women’s game.

What are the differences between playing for club and country ?

Not a lot of difference really to be honest, it’s a little bit more relaxed at league level.  We only meet once a month with England so you are desperate to impress and you are stepping up your game to try and get selected.

You don’t take playing for your club for granted, but you do appreciate the times you get to pull on your shirt for your country, you have a choice of which club to play for but not which country you play for.  We are fortunate that England is successful, but we are still improving.

It’s a proud moment to play for your Country in World Cup and European Championships, but to have won the FA Cup and League Cup with Everton has been fantastic as well.

I think as long as you are enjoy what you are doing it doesn’t really matter where you’re doing it or who you are play for and for me I’ve always played because I enjoy it.

Hope Powell

Who is the best manager you have played for and why ?

Wow, I think because Hope (Powell) was in reign for 15 years I think I’m one of a few that can remember the managers before Hope Powell. We had a few interim managers including Dick Bate and Steve Rutter and it’s interesting to see the different styles that different managers have.

Hope has brought the best success to the England team and the overall set up in women’s football in this country.  I like a manager who you can have a conversation with and who has excellent personal skills, not that you can have a laugh with but you can feel relax around them, but when they put down the markers then you know it’s serious.

Mo Marley at Everton had a good manner with people, she knows when to tell people off and who needs to have an arm put around them. Knowing what people need is the biggest quality of a manager and I would say my time under Mo was fantastic. I would say I have learnt a lot under every manager I have worked with but working with Mo at Everton has been the best.

Sepp Blatter once said the best way to get support for women’s football is to put the players in skimpy shorts and tops.  How do you think that reflects on the women’s game when the head of FIFA makes those comments ?

Yes, I don’t think his comments are helpful to our sport, he’s not shy on coming out with controversial statements and he has put his foot in it a few times. To be honest there is no point in getting mad about it because it’s in the past and you cannot change it.

It’s a very archaic view and if that’s your personal view then keep it personal, he is in a powerful and envious position where he should really have a more calculated view on the game.

As well as playing, you are currently working for UCFB and also as a mentor for Sky could you tell us more about these roles ?

Sky Sports Living for Sport project has 70 athlete mentors around the country and as a mentor we go into secondary schools to spend the full day with them. To try and inspire the chosen project group, which is normally 20 children either gifted / talented or under achievers.

We then look to give them tools to show them how we have been successful in our sport; how they can use those tools in day-to-day life and give the children a day to remember.

My job at UCFB is three days a week at either Turf Moor or Wembley and I find placements for the under graduate students within the sports industry.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years time, would you like to go into management, media or would you prefer to continue in a teaching roles ?

I am not 100% sure; someone once said to me that you are a long time retired so make the most of football as you have the rest of your life to work.

Female footballers are not in a position to be able to stop working when we hang up our boots, so I will have to work.  I have started taking my coaching badges and I am on my level two’s for goalkeeper and outfield and I am also looking to complete my UEFA B license.

I have had a taste of management with a secondary school team that I ran and I loved it. It was great having to focus on the team dynamics, trying to get eighteen 16 to 18 year old girls to bond on and off the field was challenging but I really enjoyed it.

Management is something I would really like to have a go at but you need to focus on it 100% and at the moment I don’t want to do that whilst I am still playing.

Goalkeeping coach is something I would love to do and is something I will definitely pursue because I feel the stuff I have learnt and the experiences I have had would be brilliant to pass on.

I also love my teaching and being in and around schools, if I could combine all of these things then I would be really happy.

The 2014 season is about to start where do you think Everton will finish and what are the goals for the season ?

I think our goals are to consolidate after losing some influential players, let’s say some key players, some of them big characters.

We need to steady the ship and get some consistency in our play and with the players and staff; to ensure we keep what we’ve got and improve what we’ve got because we do still have some very good players.

We need to build on last season, when we played some really great football but at times we were atrocious, so we need a more consistent season. We do know our goals for the season but we will keep those in-house.

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