A Sheffield teen is the only girl in the whole of England playing boys’ football in her age group.
Niamh McKevitt, aged 16, has broken the mould when it comes to girls’ football and at the age of 12 decided she would rather play in boys’ teams.
At that time, the FA ruled girls could only play with boys up to the age of 13, but each year since then – partly because of Niamh – the age limit has been lifted by 12 months.
Niamh said: “I was five years old when I first became interested in football.
“Every Tuesday, my dad used to play in a five-a-side team and he used to take me and my little brother Evan along to watch. It wasn’t long before we got bored and started playing with one of the spare match balls at the side of the pitch.”
Later, when Evan joined Sheffield Wednesday Soccer Skills sessions on a Saturday morning, rather than sitting on the sidelines, Niamh was persuaded to join in.
Niamh quickly fell in love with the game and when she celebrated her 12th birthday she was the only female footballer to take advantage of the FA’s new ruling.
“At the time I was playing for a girls’ side at Middlewood Rovers, I was enjoying it, but there wasn’t much opposition,” Niamh said.
“I reckoned that if I joined a boys’ side I would become a better footballer.”
After trials with a number of clubs, Niamh was signed by Millhouses Boys. It was the start of a competitive career in the game and also the start of proving wrong those who doubted girls could compete alongside boys at that level.
She said: “There were always shocked faces whenever I turned up and you could hear people muttering from the sidelines, but honestly, it has never taken me long to be accepted as just another player.
“I’m not one of those skilful footballers who is really beautiful to watch. I play in defence and I’m one of those solid players, so after five or 10 minutes the opposition and any parents watching tend to forget that there is a girl on the pitch.”
Spells at Derby followed and Niamh also became the first girl to play for Sheffield Wednesday Boys Elite Player Development Centre.
She was later signed by the Republic of Ireland’s team as her mother is Irish.
Having got her GCSE results yesterday, Niamh is now exploring the possibility of winning a football scholarship to an American University.
n Niamh has written a book about her experiences. Playing With The Boys is published by Vision Sport Publishing.