AN ANDOVER woman who fought to be able to play football with the boys growing up has spoken out about how proud she is of the Lionesses.

Tania Munnery (née Cleary) grew up on Pilgrim’s Way in the 60s and 70s, and started off her love for football by kicking a ball around with the other children on a field. 

Tania said: “I started playing when I was very young, just on the fields.  I got my first moulded football boots on my ninth birthday, and my Dad said I shouldn’t wear them outside. A week later, I did, and I fell and split my head open! So that was my first big learning curve!”

After her parents split up, she was raised by her father who she spent a lot of time with and was inspired by.

The 57-year-old, who has run Cowdown Day Nursery since 1996, continued: “My dad played football and I’d always go and watch him. As a kid, I would run on with the oranges for all the men, and some of them used to save me a couple of bits! There was one time when my dad got told off by the referee, and I ran onto the pitch to tell the referee off!” 

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The FA didn’t allow women to play professional football at the time, and many amateur teams followed suit, but that wasn’t going to stop Tania getting involved.

She played at the ABP social club, and then persuaded her teachers to let her play for her form boys’ team at Winton School. She then went on to play for other boys' teams, including Roman Way and King Arthur’s. 

She said: “I had to really work so hard to be allowed to play. I would have to go on and on at the teachers. The guys used to get the right hump because I used to tackle them, but mostly they were massively supportive.

“I loved playing football, it was a really important part of my childhood, the social side as well. It was a release for me really, as well as a joy. It’s a wonderful outlet for emotion.”

However, Tania admits that if it wasn’t for her ability in the sport, she probably would have been put off by the lack of opportunities for girls.

She said: “I think the fact that I was quite a good player meant I liked it. If I wasn’t, I wouldn't have felt as happy about it. At that age, there’s not a great deal of difference, and I was quite sporty.” 

As she got older, Tania was forced to stop playing in Andover as there were no female teams, and no women's changing facilities. But, while attending school in London, she kept playing and even trained for Tottenham Ladies before finally giving it up at around 15-years-old, due to “challenging teenage years”. 

She believes that, had the encouragement for the girls sport been there, things might have been different. 

“It was a real shame, because it was such a big part of my life growing up. 

“When we played in London, we used to say it would be great to play at Wembley. We used to dream of that.”

Tania has been following every step of the Women’s Euro 2022 tournament, and says she is “so proud” of the Lionesses’ win.

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She said: “It’s quite an emotional time at the moment. I’m feeling overwhelmed. I struggled so much and, at last, these girls are being recognised for their sporting brilliance.”

She added: “Their skill, and their teamwork and their calmness has really propelled them forwards. I was a bit concerned when I watched Germany play because they are a bit rougher, but most of the time they kept their cool and I thought it was wonderful! 

“Every time I hear Sweet Caroline, I well up!”

Going forward, Tania hopes to see schools in Andover and beyond offering girls’ football.

“We have got to allow it, and give girls that choice. The choice I never had.”

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