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At the amateur level, there are many inspirational grassroots stories. Abi Ticehurst shares with The Grassroots Post how the beautiful game helped save her from the most devastating time of her life.

I’m not your typical football fanatic, for the simple fact that I didn’t grow up in a household where it was on the TV every week nor did Saturday mean a trip to a stadium home or away. I became a more avid, albeit armchair, fan as I entered my teen years and had always thought I’d like to play football. I had however been put off by the distinct lack of welcome I, unfortunately, experienced by a team on the first day I went to try-outs when I was just fifteen.

The thought that I might like to play still flickered ever so gently in the back of my mind now and then, and whilst scrolling aimlessly through social media one day, an ad popped up for a brand new women’s football team starting up in Crowthorne. I thought to myself, ‘yeah, why not, I’m new, they’re new, I’ll give it a go’. I would have to wait until April of the following year before the team would begin training but I was already excited. I told my Mama immediately and, as always, she was enthralled at my joy and encouraged me to be patient: April would come around in no time. 

Soon, December of that year arrived and the world around me came crashing down, torn apart by the most devastation I have ever felt. My incredible Mama had succumbed to the horrible disease that had taken over our lives. She passed away that month, snatched from my family by the most unrelenting disease that had plagued her for the past four years: cancer. Life has never been the same for me since. The following few months were a real blur and it was just about taking things one day at a time and trying to adjust to the idea that she was no longer here. 

April finally arrived and I’d virtually forgotten about the idea of joining a football team, but the same ad appeared once more on my timeline and I was reminded of how excited I was the first time I’d seen it. My Mama would’ve been rooting for me to go. She was and always will be my number one supporter. 

Curious yet tentative, I turned up to the first session and loved it. There were just three other girls and they were friendly and welcoming. The session hadn’t even finished before I’d convinced myself to turn up again the next week. Football training became an hour every week where I could switch off from the hurt I was feeling and just kick a ball about with the girls. Most of the squad had played football for years and some together for other teams.

Being new to playing meant I wasn’t even sure I could kick a ball, let alone play ninety minutes on a Sunday, but the team were so incredibly supportive and encouraging that I continued to turn up. 

The start of the season rolled around and we’d just about got a team together and secured our place in the local league. That first game I played, I was utterly terrified. The pitch seemed enormous, I still wasn’t convinced I knew my positioning or if I’d get a touch of the ball, but all I could think was that Mama would be so proud. To be brutally honest, we scraped our way through the season. We could barely make a team most weeks and injuries plagued the squad, but despite this, I, we, still turned up to training and match days every week because the team had bonded and nothing beat that Sunday afternoon feeling, even if we were getting thrashed regularly. 

We didn’t have a single point to our name as the new year rang in, but we remained determined as ever to play and we were finally rewarded with a point on the board in January. It made it all the more sweeter having just reached the year mark since Mama’s passing. Then, the pandemic hit and the world came to a halt, football included, and with that so did the team. It was officially folded by the club in July and I wasn’t sure what to do next. I felt a little empty again. Football had become a staple of my week and a much-needed escape. 

But lo and behold, I’d stumble across another ad on social media recruiting players, and in August 2020 I found myself lacing up my boots on a dusty recreation ground in the middle of Bracknell. I knew that I was back in my happy place for those few cardinal hours a week once more.

The camaraderie amongst the team is to be admired: when that dreaded date crept in once more in December and I posted on my socials, having never mentioned the heartache I feel to them, many of the girls shared kind words and it cemented my love for football that little bit more. Every time I step foot on the pitch, I take a brief moment to myself to reflect and think about how proud Mama would be of me taking the leap of faith to join a team and all I have accomplished in my footballing escapades since. 

In a time as uncertain as this, you just have to look to social media these days to see the impact football can have on people’s physical and mental wellbeing. There has never been a more poignant moment, for the grassroots community especially, to come together metaphorically at least and support one another in our beautiful game. So when I hear people say, ‘football, it’s just a game, isn’t it?’, I implore them to look a little closer to home, acknowledge the existence of their local club, and see that it’s so much more. 

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