Manchester City’s forward Caroline Weir has tried to make the most of the enforced break. “A real positive of lockdown is that players have had a bit of time to reflect and take a minute, without thinking about the game at the weekend or the next training session, and think about what’s important. It has for me anyway,” she says.
At 24, the Scotland international was playing some of the best football of her life before the Covid-19 pandemic cut short the season. But while the focus of her playing career may have been on getting to the top it had “always been in my head to give back. Now I feel like I’m at the age where it is something I want to be more conscious of.”
She has acted quickly. First, by becoming the 150th player to sign up to Common Goal, the organisation that commits players to giving 1% of their incomes to sporting charities. Now, she is being unveiled as a global ambassador for the innovative Girls United, which runs football programmes for girls in south London and Bacalar, Mexico, but with the wider remit of empowering girls with the confidence to embrace opportunities off the pitch.
At a time when the grassroots game is in limbo and fragile, there has never been a more important time for players to help come to the aid of those at the base of their success. “For me, growing up in Scotland, grassroots had such an important part to play in my career,” says the Dunfermline-born player. “It’s where kids fall in love with football and it’s such an important time. I still remember playing with the boys at age five all the way through to age 10 and going down on a Saturday morning to these big grassy muddy fields.”
Helping more girls into those fun-fuelled environments prompted the link-up with Girls United. “Lots of girls, especially teenagers, drop out of the game. I want to help highlight the many positive physical and social reasons for girls to carry on playing.” But it is also about more than that. “If they want to stay in football that’s great but if they want to do something else then they’ve built up a whole host of skills that can take them to wherever they want to be, no matter where you come from.”
Studying for a degree in sports writing and broadcasting is balanced alongside the lockdown training provided by her club, FaceTiming family and watching Netflix, but it has “definitely been a challenge for me too”, says Weir. “I have felt like a 14-year-old girl again. I would only go out running and train with a ball by myself when I was younger.”
And while she is ready to play whenever and wherever, there is also some relief that the cancellation of the season brings the “hardest part” – the “not knowing” and having to be constantly ready to move up a gear – to an end. “You had to train in certain ways and at a certain time because you didn’t know when you would be back,” she says.
The isolation has also made a core part of the women’s game feel all the more valuable: the relationship between players and fans, something professionalism and growth must not get in the way of. “We do have to make sure we keep a hold on what’s important to the women’s game and I think as long as you’ve got players in the game that realise that stuff is important then I think it will be OK.”
By involving herself in causes that matter to her Weir has one eye beyond the game too. Lockdown has “made me realise just how big a part football actually plays in my life and how much time is taken up by playing every single week”, she says. “It’s made me think that whatever I go into has to give me a similar buzz and be something that I enjoy. There won’t be a game day one day, so there has to be something similar that I’m working towards. But hopefully I’ve got a few years yet.”