While some footballers will choose to wait until the end of their careers to have children, others have opted to take career breaks in order for them to start their families.
It has recently been revealed that contracts in the Barclays FA Women’s Super League do not automatically include a provision for maternity pay therefore players are at risk of being left short of financial support at what is already a stressful time, unless their respective clubs are able to tailor specific packages for them.
Most recently, Manchester United goalkeeper Siobhan Chamberlain gave birth to baby girl Emilia. The 36-year-old revealed that league contracts offered no guaranteed maternity leave, it is not directly built in and instead has to be agreed and discussed on a club-by-club basis. Chamberlain explained how Manchester United understood her decision and have since offered the ‘perfect example’ of how to support a player in that situation. Without the help of United, she would have only been entitled to statutory maternity. Likewise, United showed her how she could still be involved with football away from the pitch. She instead took to photography, often snapping at her team’s games and on a bigger stage at Old Trafford.
It has always been a huge concern for players, when they are considering starting a family. Do they risk the potential affect that maternity may have on their career or do they run down their body clock and their potential chances to conceive?
One player who took the risk not once, not twice but three times was England and Chelsea legend Katie Chapman. She has spoken of how she was very lucky with each of her pregnancies to have no complications and how she was able to train up until two weeks before the births of each of her three boys. She has explained how after the birth of her second child she ‘felt the fittest she had ever felt’ and how ‘pregnancy helped her stamina’. England as a national team seem to offer much more support than at club level as should be expected, but this is only of recent times. Chapman was on the losing end of England’s lack of support once upon a time. Following some struggles, she asked then manager Hope Powell for a break from international football, it sparked a response of cancelling her central contract. It took Chapman several years and the introduction of new manager Mark Sampson before she was brought back into the England fold.
Current Manchester United manager Stoney has previously spoken about how little support the league offers to mothers especially in terms of childcare. Stoney and her partner Megan Harris now have three children. Harris previously played at Lincoln but decided that her desire to be a mother outweighed her ambitions in football. Why should players feel that they have to choose between a family and their careers? As United manager, Stoney worked with the club to ensure that they have an ‘enhanced’ maternity policy in place.
Stoney isn’t the only manager balancing her job with motherhood. Chelsea’s Emma Hayes and Reading’s Kelly Chambers both do too. Hayes continued to manage her team to 2017/2018 FA Women’s Super League glory before giving birth. She only missed her side’s title-winning performance at Bristol City after being advised not to travel just two days before giving birth. Chambers also took just two weeks maternity following the birth of her child Harley to help her club Reading claw back from the brink of relegation. All three often take their children to matches and training though this should be through choice not through a lack of childcare options.
Liverpool captain Sophie Bradley-Auckland has also previously spoken out about how being a mother and playing football can be a ‘huge balancing act’ and how she can understand that some players decide to put being a mother first ahead of their careers. England legends Faye White and Kelly Smith both waited to hang up their boots before looking to start a family as have many players previously which would explain why approximately 1% of players in the Barclays FA Women’s Super League are mothers. Likewise, a global employment report issued by FIFPRO in 2017 found that only 8% of players received paid maternity leave, while 61% did not get any childcare support at all.
I believe that the Barclays FA Women’s Super League need to make a greater consideration for maternity in the coming years. Although the league may see expectant mums as a burden, it should instead be seen as an opportunity to show their support for some of the strongest women in football. It can at times be a tough job being a mother without having to worry about potentially losing their contracts too, women shouldn’t be forced to choose between their potential future family and their current careers. With many mothers balancing full-time high-powered jobs with raising children, why shouldn’t it be the same for our footballers?