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My best teacher

The boys had a school team, and my brother played for a local team, but I wasn't allowed to play. My job was taking the oranges on at half-time

Portrait by Richard Lea-Hair

I grew up in Horley in Surrey and went to Horley first school, but I don't remember a lot about it. Then I went to Yattendon middle school when I was seven, and there was a PE teacher there called Mr Bennett. He was a huge bloke with a big moustache and a big voice - a typical PE teacher. You always paid attention to him.

I was never a big fan of gym. But Yattendon was where I really started to play football. There weren't any organised girls' teams then but I used to play with the boys in the playground. As soon as it was break time I'd rush out and we would pick teams. I was always going home with bruises and rips in my skirt.

I was the only girl playing and, to start off with, all the boys were very intimidated and said things like: "We shouldn't let her play, she'll be rubbish." Later, when they got to know me, they accepted me because I was as good as them. I remember a few of the girls wanted to be my friend because I knew all the boys. But they would never join in, so most of my best friends at school were boys.

The boys had a school team, but I wasn't allowed to play. And my brother played for a local team, which my dad managed for six years. I would go along and train with them but I could never play there either. It was frustrating - my job was taking the oranges on at half-time. I used to think, "I should be in this team", because I was good enough.

The PE teacher who made a real difference to me was Nicky Dawes from Oakwood secondary. All the PE staff at Oakwood were good, but Miss Dawes was the one I really got on with. She gave everything to the job, and I suppose I identified with her.

She was always encouraging me to play sports. Every day I would stay behind after school and play some kind of sport. We weren't allowed to have a girls' football team, so one of my best friends and I set up our own after-school football sessions. There were only about four of us who would do it regularly, but Miss Dawes would always be there to help.

She desperately wanted me to be in the hockey team, but I didn't like hockey because I didn't trust all the other girls with those sticks. They seemed so lethal and clumsy, and I didn't want to get whacked around the head. One time she was so desperate for me to play that I had to get my mum to write a letter to get me out of it. I felt really bad, and was quite upset about it at the time, but we laughed about it later.

I think Miss Dawes is a police officer now. Her support was important when so many others were saying I shouldn't really be playing football. She kept me interested in sport at the stage when a lot of my friends were doing other things - clubbing, going out, and all that. She made it easy because she was so willing to transport me to matches and drop me off at home afterwards. She took it beyond what a normal PE teacher would do.

When I went to Reigate college at 16, there was a guy called Paul Walker who was very encouraging towards girls' football. He was brilliant. He was probably the reason I got an A in my PE A-level, because he was a fantastic teacher. Some teachers didn't have time for girls' football but he used to coach the girls' team and encouraged us as much as the boys.

At that point I was playing for the college team and for Horsham Ladies in the Southern League. The college team made it to a cup final and within about 10 minutes I had scored a hat trick. Mr Walker took me off and said:

"I want to give the other girls a chance to play, because you will go on to win other things." I was upset because I wanted to play, but I respected him too because I understood that he wanted the others to feel part of it.

Faye White is captain of Arsenal and England Ladies football teams. She was talking to Matthew Brown. See Teacher magazine, page 6

The story so far

1978 Born in Horley, Surrey

1983-1994 Attends Horley first school then Yattendon middle school and Oakwood secondary, all in Surrey

1992 Plays for Horsham Ladies football club in the Southern League aged 14

1994 Attends Reigate sixth-form college

1995 Selected for the England squad

1996 Signs for Arsenal Ladies

1997 Makes England debut as substitute against Scotland

2002 First game as England captain

2002-03 Out of game with a knee injury

2002 Turns semi-professional

2003 Appointed assistant development officer for ladies' football at Arsenal

May 3, 2004 Leads Arsenal to 3-0 victory over Charlton Athletic in Women's FA Cup Final

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