With the announcement of her retirement from football last year, Eni Aluko hung up her boots on a long and illustrious career in the game, that includes 102 caps for England, placing her tenth on the England women’s list of appearance makers, and only one of eleven English women to currently have amassed over 100 caps, and twentieth on the list of most England caps across the men’s and women’s teams, surpassing players like Bryan Robson and Gary Lineker. Her England career saw Aluko score 33 times for the Lionesses, and compete on the world stage from the age of fourteen, as well as featuring in two Olympic Games. On the domestic stage, Aluko made her in mark in England, America and Italy, wracking up trophies along the way, including the WSL title, FA Women’s Cup, Community Shield and, in Italy, both the Serie A title and the Coppa Italia – a rather impressive CV. But, sadly, perhaps, Aluko’s on-field accomplishments may have been somewhat overshadowed by her treatment by a former England manager and the FA, which led to investigations and an inquiry into racism and bullying within the establishment.
There is plenty then to cram into Aluko’s autobiography, and unsurprisingly the situation within the England set-up takes up a good portion of the book, shedding light on a rather unpalatable experience for Aluko whilst representing her country. Her determination to fight inequalities and pave the way for a better, more inclusive future in the women’s game is bigger, though, than the sport itself, and undoubtedly she has shaped things to come. Indeed, as with other female footballers of her generation, on the field, Aluko represents part of an incredible period in the women’s game, which saw a momentous leap in visibility, professionalism and recognition. Her story of growing up in a world dominated by the men’s game and having to carve out a space for herself within the sport in her early years will resonate with many amateur female footballers of her generation. So too will the competing demands and prospects for women at the start of the millennium who wanted to become footballers but for whom the opportunities and realities often meant balancing education and careers with playing. Aluko epitomises that conflict but also the accomplishment, having achieved a first-class honours law degree alongside her footballing career. It is a story that sets the women’s elite-level game apart and shows just how far progress has been made in recent years, thanks to the likes of Aluko and others pushing for change.
Whilst the early years of Aluko’s life and footballing career are dealt with to some extent, her year in Juventus doesn’t feature much, perhaps because of the book’s publication date, but it is a shame not to have more on this period of Aluko’s career, as one of few English players to have competed in Italy’s top league. Nonetheless, there is plenty for readers to get stuck into in this autobiography – a book that reminds us, if nothing else, that some things are bigger, more important than what happens on the field.
They Don’t Teach This – Eniola Aluko / Shortlisted Sports Book Awards Autobiography of the Year
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