Former England star Kerry Davis had to make car parts while playing for her country but is proud to have paved the way for a generation of success.
The 60-year-old has been inducted into the National Football Museum’s Hall of Fame having made history as the first female black player to play for England 40 years ago.
Davis and England struggled just to get recognition in their era, while the Lionesses’ Euro 2022 triumph in the summer launched the women’s game to another level.
That left Davis knowing her efforts to put England women on the map have been worth it.
The forward, who won 82 caps, scoring 44 goals for the Lionesses, said: “I was there for the final against Germany and when the whistle went my first thought was ‘where is this going to take women’s football?’.
“‘Finally, women’s football is going to be respected’. Those were my first thoughts.
“When I played I paid to play football. Everybody volunteered, whether it be the coaches, the manager, now it’s just like a world away to what I was used to.
“The TV channels were not interested. The newspapers were not interested. If local players were playing for England, you’d get the local papers that would show a little bit and put the score in but it was a battle.
“There was nothing, not really sponsorship – nothing. It was hard work all the way through, that’s the only way you could describe it. We love to play football and that was the enjoyable thing. We could just put that stuff to the side and go play football and enjoy it.
“It’s taken longer than I thought it would to get to here but I’m very, very happy that it’s got here. My generation and the generation before me have been waiting a long time for this to explode and to be on the back pages.”
But Davis feels there are still hurdles for the women’s game to overcome despite the summer’s success.
She said: “Definitely. I’ve always played against boys or men and some of them feel women can’t play football. Then when they see you play the thing they think ‘Oh, yeah, they can’.
“But it’s not always been respected. It’s just like taken off in, let’s say, the last five years.”
Forward Davis also faced a battle against racism growing up in Staffordshire.
“We moved to a small village, we changed school and we suffered racism and football helped me to escape from that,” she said.
“I played with the boys at school and had somebody to hang around with, I could hold my own at break time and it just kept me away from some kids who were not very nice.
“It had a big impact, you find most people that have gone through that type of behaviour from other people, they carry that. You carry it, probably for the rest of your life.”
Davis started her career at Crewe and made her England debut in 1982, scoring twice against Northern Ireland, before signing for Lazio in 1985.
The following year, she moved to ACF Trani, and finished second in Serie A. After a season at Napoli Davis returned to Crewe in 1989 – before playing for Liverpool and Croydon – and worked part-time in a factory making car parts.
“I wanted to be able to play football full-time. In Italy, I had the opportunity to be one of the best. I like to test myself against the opposition. I liked the big games,” she told the PA news agency.
“When I came back I worked with the electrical components for the cars. I didn’t last very long. It wasn’t for me. I applied and got it but that was not a positive experience.”
Now, though, having been inducted into the Hall of Fame in Manchester on Thursday, Davis remains too modest to call herself a pioneer.
She said: “I think that’s what other people say, isn’t it? It’s not so much for myself to say. I guess I was.”
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