Nicol Meredith: This job found me and I was made for it

A job that was made for me and a real chance to change the opportunity for all talented girls in Football…

Just over 2 years ago I became the lead officer for the EFL Trust Talent Inclusion Programme and when asked how I got into it, I always tell people that this job found me and I was made for it.

The programme is a joint initiative with the Football Association and hopes to provide every girl in England with the opportunity and access to the FA Girls’ England Talent Pathway.

The Talent Inclusion Programme ensures that, through existing community activities delivered by EFL Club Community Organisations (CCOs), young female participants can be identified and referred to the correct talent pathway. This programme exists because not all girls are currently included – barriers such as social class, ethnicity and demography are still in place today.

So when I say this job found me…here’s why:

Back in 2018 when I read the job description for this role I had numerous emotions, as it brought back a lot of negative childhood memories for me from when I felt excluded from the game due to my social class.

At 11 years old, I was desperate to play competitively and was signposted to a local girls club that I trained with over the summer months. As the season was approaching, I was told about the subscriptions I’d have to pay, along with kit I needed. I will always remember telling my mum about this and seeing her sad face as she told me that she just couldn’t afford it.

So, even though I had a paper round, delivering what felt like a millions papers for very little pay every week, I was never going to afford the expenses to play football. There was a particular house I delivered a paper to and there was a scraggy old pair of boots that lay on their step for weeks on end. I shamefully seized my opportunity one day to borrow these boots without asking. I spent all Saturday cleaning them up ready for my first football game which was on the following day.

Sunday morning came around and I was so excited I had butterflies in my belly as I walked the mile alone, down to the pitches. I remember walking into the changing rooms and seeing my name in the starting line-up. The joy on my face must have been a picture, but it all started to go horribly wrong when, in front a changing room of girls, the club treasurer informed the coach that I should not be in the starting line-up, as I had not paid the fees. My name was taken off the list and I was told to change back into my clothes. I handed my kit back shamefully. I was too embarrassed to stay around, so walked that long mile home.

That day I felt let down by everyone, from my mum – through no fault of her own – to the people involved at that club. I didn’t return to playing football until I was 22 years of age and at this point, my talent was delayed by many years and it was too late.

When I saw this job I knew it was me, as I have lived and breathed the barriers and understand how we can make a change in this world.

I want to see a young version of me supported through a pathway and one day put on the England shirt.

I believe that talent is everywhere, but opportunity isn’t…and with this programme and the expertise of our Club Community Organisations, we can start to unearth hidden potential and make the dream of becoming an England player a reality.

To find out more about the Female Talent Inclusion Programme click here.