INSPIRATIONAL WOMEN IN THE GAME - TONI UPTON
Tell us about how you got involved in football?
I grew up in Shetland but have always been a stalwart Middlesbrough fan due to it being my Dad’s hometown. Dad was and is a massive influence to me in sport and, as well as getting me into being a fan, he was always there for a kick around in the garden.
I was particularly small growing up but was always throwing myself full on into the football matches in the school playground. That iconic image of Juninho facing up to Phillipe Albert really resonated with me and I remember I played without fear.
I joined a local boys’ team at around 8 years of age. At that time there wasn’t any girl’s teams around, but I loved getting stuck in and played for Delting FC until 12 when girls couldn’t be involved anymore. Thankfully it wasn’t long after that there were some girl’s and women’s teams that were formed on the Island.
What do you enjoy about playing football?
I absolutely love being part of a team. On and off the pitch, it’s like being part of a family. I feel so fortunate to have played alongside some amazing people throughout my time playing football and have made some amazing friends. I love the feeling of coming off the pitch shattered but knowing you have given everything to try and help the team, whether that’s to play a good pass for a goal or to help encourage someone when they lack confidence. You can’t always win but whatever the result you are in it together.
What are your greatest achievements in football and why?
Playing for Shetland Women’s FC in their first Island Games was a great achievement for me. I’d just turned 18 and to represent my home island and play against teams like Bermuda and the Faroe Islands was an amazing experience. Scoring against Guernsey to help the team earn a point was the icing on the cake for me too.
I also have to say being selected to Captain Darlington Women’s FC in their debut season as a club is a huge honour for me. I had been 3 years out of playing when I attended the open trials and I was just chuffed to be selected to play for a club again never mind being Captain. My Dad used to attend Darlington games with his Dad when he was a lad and it means so much to be involved in a club that was important to my family as well as having such a great history.
What is your best memory in football?
Watching Middlesbrough win the Carling Cup Final in 2004 was amazing. Due to heavy snow in Shetland it took us 3 days to get off the Island, with a couple of nights spent in a hotel near the airport before we got away. I remember Dad driving through some pretty hefty snow drifts to get to the airport one morning, it was amazing that when we got there the only damage to the car was the P on the reg plate being upside down! It was definitely worth it though to watch Middlesbrough lift the cup!
What are your goals in the sport?
I would love to help Darlington FC Ladies to (at least) one promotion. Being part of this squad is an incredible opportunity. The work that goes in behind the scenes by the coaching staff and others involved with Darlington FC is unreal and the team deserves to be playing at a high level.
I’m 35 this year so my other goal is to keep working hard to stay fit and hopefully have a few more seasons in me. I’m already planning my off-season fitness work to meet a shorter-term goal, which is to improve my speed and agility on the pitch for next season.
What are the biggest obstacles you have faced in the game?
It is so great to see that Women’s Football is starting to get the recognition it deserves with many more opportunities for girls to get into the game.
When I was growing up the biggest obstacle was that there wasn’t girl’s teams where I lived (Shetland being a 12-hour ferry journey from Mainland Scotland). The combination of my passion for wanting to play, my parents support to drive me to matches and the welcoming nature of the boy’s teams and management I played for meant that it wasn’t a block for me. There was still some stigma around girls and women playing football but thankfully not in the set-up that I was able to get involved in. I owe so much to the coaches and players at Delting FC that welcomed me into the team and treated me just the same as the lads.
What advice would you give to females wishing to get involved in football?
I’d say go for it. There are some amazing teams out there at various levels that are always looking for players. Do a bit of research to see what teams are in and around your area. Depending on what you want to get out of football, whether you want to play at a high level or are looking for a fun, sociable experience there are teams out there for you.
I have been bowled over by the professionalism of Darlington Women’s FC, from the coaching sessions to the social media posts, it has been an amazing experience being part of the squad from day one. Even more important, the team spirit is brilliant!
Joining a new team or attending a first training session can be a daunting experience, it was for me, but since moving to the North East of England I’ve felt welcomed by teams I’ve joined and ended up building some brilliant memories.