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Women's Football News
Just before Christmas, one of the women's game's best known players and biggest characters in recent years, Ann Marie Heatherson announced her retirement from playing football.
After making her breakthrough into the first team at Charlton Athletic, then one of the major title challengers in the Premier League, and winning the FA Young Player of the Year award in 2004, the striker scored the winner in the FA Community Shield against Arsenal a few months later, the start of a season which culminated with them winning the FA Women's Cup Final, beating Everton 1-0 at Upton Park.
Following successful spells with Fulham and Millwall Lionesses, Annie went on to join Bristol Academy when the FA WSL began in 2011 and she came very close to more trophy success, reaching two more FA Cup Finals and finishing as runners-up in the league.
Annie then joined Yeovil Town, staying with the club until the end of her career, and enjoyed more success as she helped them win the WSL 2 title in 2016.
We talked to Annie in length about her career and her plans for the future:
WSS: Annie, was there anything in particular that made you decide to hang up your boots?
AMH: Unfortunately, due to having covid and then it progressing on to Long-Covid it has caused me some health issues. As we are all aware, I'm not a young spring chicken anymore (not like I have ever been a spring chicken!) and at the age of 36, it's time to consider a new path in life and it feels right to say goodbye to football.
WSS: How tough a decision was it?
AMH: The decision, unfortunately, has been quite easy. After getting relegated two divisions and the club going through the financial difficulty they have, I believe that was the turning point for me. I've had a great career and I don't regret anything in my football career, it just happens to be that covid hit me at just the right time and with some of the youngsters and the great direction the club is going in, I can finally leave and know the club I fell in love with is in great hands.
WSS: When you started off as a youngster at Charlton, could you ever have envisaged the progress that women's football made during the course of your career?
AMH: Oh God, no! When i started playing, I had to pay to play and even though there was a pathway to being an England international, that was all there was. Centre of excellence and pathways was not a thing in those days. Then Charlton came along, and it was one of three clubs I believe at the time who had sponsors and money from outside business. To be a part of something where people and business want to invest was unique, but at the same time, it gave you hope that the women's game could grow - but all female footballers knew it would have to take someone with drive and passion to get this up and running. What the FA have done for the women's game and how that has pushed and pushed to make sure women have the same rights as the men is actually incredible! A lot of people won't know this, but this is only the beginning. The women's game has gone a long way and I have faith it will get further.
WSS: So what would you say was the highlight of your career?
AMH: I have so many to be grateful and thankful for. Winning the FA Cup with Charlton was amazing and working with those players was a dream. Being selected to play for my country and my time at Bristol Academy was amazing. I always loved being an underdog and what we achieved at Bristol Academy was a fairytale. It's always nice wanting to show people that anything is possible - like Millwall, Fulham, Yeovil, Charlton and Bristol achieving the status that everyone would agree wasn't possible is always something I loved. I guess it was a way to show people that working hard, working together and putting your belief in something could help you achieve anything.
WSS: Who would you say were the best players that you played alongside, or against?
AMH: Well this list can go on forever! Working with players like Casey Stoney and watching her grow into a great captain, and now an amazing manager which I think we can all agree on, also Karen Hills who was one of the most unbelievable defenders in the women's game and she was never noticed, which amazed me. Fara Williams, who can see absolutely everything and until you ended up with a one-on-one, you never even knew she saw that run. Players against, well that's easy - Kelly Smith who you can't put into words as she is just amazing, and soon as you knew she was playing or coming on there was a fearfulness of that. My last one is most definitely Jordan Nobbs, I was at Yeovil in the mini super-league and we played Arsenal twice in one week. The first game, she walked over us and in the second, I was asked by the manager at the time to mark Jordan. I cannot express how much I hated that decision! Jordan is sharp, quick, explosive and reads the game so well that as someone who had to mark her for 90 minutes, she was always three steps ahead of me. To mark her for 90 minutes really showed me how she is one of the best, if not the best in the English game. After that game I developed a deep respect for her and the England players.
WSS: You went so close to winning the league title both with Charlton and Bristol Academy, playing in a title decider with both. How frustrating was it to go so close with both teams?
AMH: This is the story of my career I'm afraid. I've played in seven FA cup finals and won only one and even then, I hit the woodwork three times during the game! It's always sad not to win the league because that is the one and only thing I've actually never achieved, but been so close. I'm always about turning negative moments into positives though and yes, at the time I was heartbroken, but actually if you said to me at the age of eight that I would be in seven FA Cup finals and two league challenges but not win, I would have snapped that right up - no questions asked! So yes. it was hard, but I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to play a part of these games.
WSS: Who would you say have been the biggest influences on your career?
AMH: 1000% my dad. I was at an age of having no education and not much in my life, in terms of feeling that I was doing good, and my dad, Martin Heatherson, sat down and really thought about how he could help me to grow into the woman I am today. He could have easily given up on me as I was a very challenging child and I was very set in my ways. He did the most amazing thing and made some decisions in my life that helped me a million percent. He was the person who got me into football and made sure I worked hard and accepted that sometimes you won't succeed and you will fail, but that's life. So he taught me that no matter how down, sad, upset and wanting to quit, it was up to me to turn that around and blaming others wasn't going to help my journey in life. I am forever thankful for everything he has done for me.
WSS: Your final seasons were spent at Yeovil at all of the top three levels, can you see them moving back up the pyramid in the future?
AMH: Yeovil are currently in a great position in terms of financial stability with the new owner Adam Murry. With him in the driving seat and all of his knowledge and position and dreams, I have no doubt in my mind that Yeovil will be back in the top tier again. I guess that for myself, this is the sad part as I wish Adam had been around years ago in the women's game. Now I can't wait to watch him work his magic on Yeovil. a really dedicated man.
WSS: What are your plans for the future, are you hoping to stay in the women's game in any capacity?
AMH: For myself, the game has been amazing and it has really supported me through some tough times and I am forever grateful for that, but I believe that football was there to teach me, support me and lift me up when I needed it, but my purpose is now somewhere else. I am very passionate about children and their struggles in life. I never got support at school because people didn't understand my struggles. That wasn't down to people not wanting to understand, but back in the 90's ADHD and Attachment were not very advanced like they are nowadays. Now, I believe I hold more knowledge to help and support these students so that they can get an education and school not to become such a struggle and be defeatist over things in our life. So, my new role as Pastoral Care in a secondary school has given me a new drive, passion and love for my next chapter on my journey.
Our thanks and best wishes to Annie!
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