Alex Greenwood's grassroots story
When I think back to playing football in those early days, it was just me playing on the streets in Bootle, Liverpool. I can’t really remember not having a ball in my hand or by my feet as a kid. My Mum used to say ‘as soon as I could walk, I was kicking a ball’.
I used to play with the boys outside my Nan’s house or outside my house. I was always surrounded by a lot of boys because then it was more a boys’ sport rather than a female sport, so I grew up very boisterous.
In any field we could get hold of, it would be two jumpers down and playing football. I spent a lot of time at my Nan’s house so I would be playing with a group of friends there and even in the playground at my school, whether it was playtime or after school or getting into school 20 minutes early so we could play. I was – and I would say I still am – completely obsessed with football.
Where I’m from, Bootle, everyone seems to know everyone and I had cousins and a lot of friends from school who I would play with. I then went to Everton at a really early age, six years old, so then I trained with girls as well. I was too young to play in the team but I was able to train on Tuesday and a Thursday nights. The standard wasn’t as high as when I would play with the boys on the street so it was important that I carried on doing that.
Before Everton, I would go to this thing called Mini Kickers and even when I started at Everton, I would still play for Sunday league teams because I was too young to play matches for Everton. I would play in any team. My Uncle ran Bottle Boys team and he would get me a kit and I would play in the tournaments on a weekend.
I grew up playing for Northfield, among other teams, and I think I might have been one of the only girls in the league but then once I was playing for Everton, it was only really them I would play for.
Playing for my school was massive for me too. I played for St Monica's Primary School, where the boys were so open to me playing. I never had any issues with me playing growing up. They treated me like a little sister and would look after me. I would get the odd look because it was a girl playing but as soon as I stepped on the pitch, it would all change. I was well respected, even by the male teachers. I know some girls have their stories but I never came up against anything.
In secondary school, I had started to grow up a little bit and playing football at high school was a bit different as I had different groups of friends and things like that. I was also playing international football at quite a high level so to play at school wasn’t really allowed.
Growing up I was a left-back but in those early days I was a centre midfielder. My idol growing up was Steven Gerrard so I wanted to do everything he did. I played there for a large part of my childhood and I do think it has impacted how I play now and is a massive part of why I am the footballer I am now.
Alex Greenwood on Lionesses Live connected by EE
Alex Greenwood and Ellie Roebuck bring you behind-the-scenes access during this summer's tournament
Obviously, it was not often you would get a left-footer in a team and then when Mo [Marley] and Andy [Spence] took over me as a player, they wanted to make use of my left foot and I ended up at left-back. But I was such an attacking player, I didn’t want to be back there initially. But with coaching, I adapted and look at where I am now.
I stayed at Everton from six years old until 19. Mo Marley, Keith Marley and Andy Spence were pivotal to me. Those three were the biggest reason I am where I am today, along with Andy Johnston. I was friends with his daughter, who also played, and he was another one who was so instrumental to me.
Mo, Keith and Andy were so important to me. If there were times that I couldn’t get to training or I needed to be put right in my place, they would do that. I would say they were like family to me growing up.
Obviously, the majority of my role models growing up were male, so it was Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher, who was from my area, and I was really fortunate to train with Fara Williams and Jill Scott. Rachel Unitt was also a massive inspiration of mine. I absolutely idolised her and I still do to this day. Kelly Smith as well, although I wasn’t within touching distance with her like I was with Fara, who I would see on a daily basis.
Those early grassroots days were massive for me. I am a street footballer. I grew up playing on the streets of Liverpool and would play there from the minute I woke up until my mum would call me in. I would tackle on a concrete floor so I have no fear of tackling on a grass pitch.
I’m not saying it is wrong but it is different now and I definitely think me growing up on the streets of Liverpool and being bullied by the older kids helped me, where an older lad might have two-footed me or pushed me over and you had to get up and get on with it. There was very much the attitude of ‘If you want to play with us then you have to play like us’. I do think that is a mentality that I still have now.
You look now and organisations like the FA are putting on free sessions for kids and it is huge. It is so important that there are opportunities for young kids, whether they are privileged or underprivileged. Whatever area you come from, we want them to have the opportunity to play football.
Fortunately for me, I was recognised playing football on the streets at a young age but the game has moved on now and there is talent out there that we still haven’t seen because they haven’t had the opportunities to go to these football sessions or they don’t know about them. It is down to us to make sure they know about all the sessions they have available to them and provide them with opportunities.
My overriding memory when I look back to those early days of football is just pure happiness. I absolutely loved the game and I was obsessed. I am 28 now and the love for the game I had then is the same now.
I now get to do it for my job and if you had told me back then when I was causing mayhem in Liverpool and kicking balls against people’s windows that I would be playing for my job I would have laughed at you. But I was so blessed that I had people who looked after me and supported me in what I wanted to do with my life. I can’t remember ever not enjoying my football.
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