Zelem: Surround yourself with positive people
Manchester United Women captain Katie Zelem has provided a revealing insight into her inspirational rise, in a special interview to mark International Women's Day.
Our conversation with the homegrown hero is one of several in-depth discussion with female role models at United, to be released across the month.
As you can read below, Katie opens up about her journey to far, detailing the obstacles she overcame as a young player and the importance of girls pursuing their passions, both in sport and inlife.
The insightful Q&A with Zelem is a must-read...
“My biggest inspiration growing up was my dad. He played football so I was lucky enough to be able to go and watch him play and football, [it] ran through the family really. Everybody played football. My dad, my uncle, my cousins, so it was just second nature really.”
How important is it do you think as a young person to have a role model?
"I think it’s really important. I think people are quite fixated on it. Seeing someone famous or someone that’s maybe out of their reach but it can literally just be anyone. Like a lot of role models are somebody really close to you, somebody that is inspirational to you, and of course I loved Wayne Rooney growing up, but my dad was there every single day.”
“I think when I was younger, it was an all-boys team that I used to play in and a lot of the lads and, to be honest, more so the parents, used to shout stick from the side. ‘You shouldn’t have a girl on your team, football’s not for girls!’ I had a lot of friends at the time that played football at school, whatever it may be, and a lot of girls stopped playing at such a young age because of things like that. They’re not strong enough, they don’t want it enough to be able to overcome the heckling from the side and I think that shouldn’t ever be the case. You shouldn’t have to choose between being shouted at from the side or pursuing something that you love. So, for me, I was lucky enough I had a really supportive family that really pushed me and could take me everywhere but unfortunately that’s not the same for everyone.”
With the way the women’s game’s profile has risen over the last few years and that we’re seeing women within the game become legends of the women’s game, how different do you think it will be for young girls now to have those women to look up to?
“I think it’s incredible and I think when I was growing up I used to watch Fara Williams play, and I was lucky enough to be able to share the field with her and play midfield alongside her. So, for me that was an incredible opportunity and now I see little girls and little boys with our names on the back of their shirts and it’s incredible that we can be role models for people growing up because we didn’t have that pathway coming through. So now somebody can look at me, look at some of the other girls at Manchester United and say: ‘I want to be like them'."
And how important do you think it is that young girls get to pursue their passions?
“I think it’s really important, like I said, you shouldn’t ever have to choose between pursuing your passion or doing anything that you want to do. You shouldn’t have an obstacle in the way and I think there’s a lot of other career paths where that’s not the case. So whereas in sport, women in sport, and especially previously in football it was very difficult to be able to achieve that. So I’m very grateful for the people that have been before me and hopefully the people in the game now that are leading the pathway for people coming through.”
“I think if you see what women’s football is about then it’s got a lot to offer. There’s a lot more games on TV now. There’s a lot more sponsorships and hopefully with the success of the Lionesses in the summer, then that just continues to grow. We’ve, in my opinion, got the best league in the world in the WSL and we’ve attracted the best players. So, that hopefully will continue to grow and hopefully [there will be] more success at the World Cup.”
Obviously there’s all the successes that we’ve been talking about but there’s also been a path behind us that’s had to be walked. As a woman, have you ever been made to feel uncomfortable at a football match?
“Yeah, I think there’s always judgements around women in sport in general I think. There’s certain people that believe that sport is a male-dominated industry and should be a male-dominated industry and it’s a very outdated view I think. It doesn’t need to be that way and I think the more women in sport the better.”
“I think it’s a difficult one. You have to be confident if you want to do it. It takes a certain type of person to break the norm and I think the people that do break the norm should be celebrated. I think it’s also about the environment around the person, making them feel comfortable and it’s not just a one-way job, it’s got to be everyone that wants to include it and make women in sport inclusive.”
You talked about your early years playing and people complaining and saying there shouldn’t be a girl on the team and stuff. As a professional, have you ever faced that criticism or been made to feel uncomfortable as a football player?
“I think on social media you see a lot of things that women belong in kitchens. I mean if they’d see me in the kitchen, they definitely wouldn’t think that! [laughs] There’s the same old stereotypes and prejudice that, like I said before, are very outdated views and it’s something that, as a society, we need to be better at and that needs to change.”
For any young girls that are watching this that want to be professional footballers, what advice would you give them?
“For me I’d say, surround yourself with positive people. Surround yourself with people that believe in you and more importantly, believe in yourself. Make sure that you’re confident - you’re accountable for your own actions and you just never know where it can take you. For me, the sky’s the limit. I think you can go wherever you [want and] achieve [whatever you want]. I never thought when I was little I would be here, and I am! So hopefully that’s an inspiration for everyone!”
Keep an eye on the United App and ManUtd.com over the coming weeks for more International Women's Day content.