English soccer star Rachel Daly started her career as the only girl on the Killinghall Nomads team in Harrogate
“I remember being thrilled that Rachel could keep up with the boys, both physically and as a game,” recalls Chris Dixon, who coached a young Rachel at Killinghall Nomads in Harrogate, North Yorkshire.
Like many women footballers, England defender Rachel Daly began her foray into the sport by playing for a boys’ team. Despite being the only girl on the team, according to her grassroots coach, she was not at all discouraged.
Rachel Daly joined the local soccer team around the age of eight or nine. When her brother and father played for the club, she watched and always kicked a ball close to the touchline, keen to be part of the action – soon she started training herself.
Mr Dixon, a former Killinghall Nomads player himself and with the club since the early 1990s, recalls how it became clear early on that Rachel was just as good, if not better, than the boys on her team.
He says I that Rachel, although she was well liked and respected by her own teammates and was one of the best players, he knows that as the only girl on the team in the days when women’s football was in its infancy, she was treated with rejection and a negative attitude faced by some of the guys she played against.
However, he says she was undeterred and showed determination and resilience from a young age as all she wanted to do was play football.
“There will have been comments and digs from guys who are dismissive of Rachel, or at times hit her harder,” says Mr. Dixon. “But she didn’t want to let that get in her way.
“She didn’t let the boys sway her and knew she had something to prove. I was really impressed by her mental attitude at such a young age.”
The 30-year-old England left-back is aiming to help England to their first European title in the Euro 2022 final at Wembley.
But her skills shone as a youngster when she was the only girl to play on the Killinghall Nomads boys’ team, and the club later formed a girls’ team for which she also played.
“It was clear early on that Rachel was a talent,” says Mr. Dixon. “She was very sure of the ball, turned quickly and could do all the tricks. She showed skills I haven’t seen in any guy.
“I think Rachel knew exactly what she wanted to do at such a young age. She wanted to play football the way she loved it and she didn’t let anything stop her.”
Whilst Mr Dixon says the whole club is delighted with Rachel’s success and the Lionesses’ performances at the Euro, he downplays his own role in Rachel’s football game, saying it was all down to Rachel herself and the support of her mother, stepfather and late father Martyn, who played for the Killinghall Nomads senior team and died last September.
“My involvement in Rachel’s career was minimal,” he says. “She was always kicking a ball around on the sidelines as a young girl and we’re glad we were able to give her the opportunity to play football and encourage her.
“However, her talent surpassed my limited abilities early on, so I cannot take credit for her footballing success.
“Her mother, father and stepfather were very instrumental in Rachel’s career at the time and were the driving force behind it. It’s a real commitment to take a young player with you to every game and training session.”
Rachel spent three years with Killinghall Nomads before playing youth football for Leeds. She played for Leeds United and Lincoln Ladies and has lived in the United States for the past eight years, where she plays for and captains the Houston Dash, an American soccer team based in Houston, Texas.
Mr Dixon, who currently coaches a disabled football team called Killinghall Nomad Sports Ability, says he’s glad the club was able to give Rachel and other girls a chance to play at a time when there weren’t many girls’ teams.
“We’re very happy for Rachel and her family and it’s great to see her doing so well with the England team,” he says. “Our goal is to give others the opportunity to fulfill their dream of playing football, like we did when a young Rachel showed up with her brother.”