RACHEL Brown has always been one to set herself goals, ever since throwing a envious glance at the boys playing football while in primary school.
Brown wanted to do it and she did it.
The Burnley-born goalkeeper quickly realised that football was the sport for her despite being the only girl in her team.
But it was something she wanted to do and she went for it.
Now she is at the pinnacle of the game. Something she aimed for and she achieved it.
But despite the determination, the drive and the desire, Brown has always remembered those who made it possible.
Phillip Lombard at St Stephen’s School in Burnley. Ann Smith at St Christopher’s High in Accrington, Linda McGee and Jackie Goddard at Accrington Stanley Ladies. Mum and dad, Margaret and Tim.
They knew what she wanted and they helped her get it.
That is the reason why Brown, capped 82 times by England, the veteran of two World Cup campaigns and an Olympian after representing Great Britain at London 2012, has never forgotten her roots.
“It is something I will always remember and that is the reason why I try to do as much as I can to support local sport,” said Brown who is life president of Accrington Stanley Ladies. “If I am available, I will always try and attend local events because it is important to me.
“That is where my journey started and that is where so many people gave me a helping hand.”
That is why she realises the importance of awards such as the Lancashire Telegraph Grassroots Heroes Awards which are now in their fourth year.
“Awards are important,” she said. “They acknowledge the hard work coaches and unsung heroes do – people who are generally not in sport to win awards but do such a vital job.
“The work coaches do at this level is massive. Forget about the elite coaches who work with the one per cent of athletes, it is the 99 per cent who do it at grassroots level who give youngsters that first step on the ladder.”
Brown’s journey has taken her nearly full circle.
From primary school in her native Burnley, Liverpool Ladies back to Everton Ladies – via a successful stint in America – and now at Burnley’s football business college, UCFB where she has been appointed as mentor.
But every route of that journey, the key ingredient has been enjoyment – something instilled in her by her teachers, coaches and parents.
“Had I progressed no further than Accrington Stanley Ladies then I would have been happy,” said Brown.
“I’ve always played for fun, for the enjoyment of the game and that has been the main thing I have been taught from a very young age.
“That is something I always tell youngsters today, as long as you are enjoying yourselves that is the main thing.”
It was back at her first school, that Brown got a first taste for football where she quite literally made the leap from netball with the girls to play alongside the boys.
“I remember lining up to play netball and looking across at the lads playing football and thought that is something I wanted to do.
“I would throw myself around and leap about in the play ground and my PE teacher Phillip Lombard noticed and said I could have a go at playing football with the boys.”
Brown never thought of herself as breaking the mould or doing it for the girls. It was simply a case of playing football.
“It never really occurred to me that I was the only girl in the team, the only girl on the pitch,” she said. “There were the occasional comments but I just ignored them.”
Brown played for Bank Hall in the Burnley Youth League but because ‘rules are rules’ she not allowed to play in a mixed team when she reached the age of 12.
It could have been the end of her fledgling fooball career but thanks to a teacher at St Christopher’s it wasn’t.
“I stopped playing for around 18 months after that because there were no girls teams and I was not allowed to play in the boys’ team.”
By that stage, Brown was studying at St Christopher’s and it was there that her teacher, Ann Smith, suggested she joined Accrington Stanley Ladies.
“Ann knew I liked to play football and suggested I join Accrington even though I wasn’t really old enough to play senior football.”
At Stanley, Brown was taken under the wing of senior players Linda McGee and Jackie Goddard, something she will always remember.
“They were great and I still keep in touch with them,” said Brown who remembers her first Stanley game.
“We played in a game and we lost about 12-0 and I was awarded player of the match.
“It was a baptism of fire but it certaily helped me.”
Brown got her big break when she attended a Bob Wilson Goalkeeping Camp where she won the keeper of the camp award – again she was the only girl.
Her success saw her invited to attend trials with Liverpool Ladies who she went on to join.
“I remember going to training and there were hardly any players, then someone said half the squad was away at the World Cup,” said Brown.
“I didn’t even know there was a World Cup for women let alone think I would go on and play in one.
“Football for girls and woman has come a long way since then which is great to see.”