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  • Faithful to my Homeland, the Republic of Poland

     

  • ASHANTI AKPAN

  • "I don't think there is a limit to what I can achieve as a girl footballer. If I need to get more physical or stronger, I will."
     

     

     

    I was born in Poland, but we moved to England when I was seven. I guess the main reason for that is that there were more opportunities for us - myself and my brother, Ashley - to develop as players here.

     

    I started playing at the age of 3,5, and quite quickly I was spotted by the coach and told I should try a professional club. Shortly after that we moved to the outskirts of Warsaw, and I started playing for Kosa Konstancin - and later came here to play for Chelsea.

     

    I have grandparents in both countries and speak with them in both languages. Sometimes they funnily mix them going like "can you give me that szklanka"?

     

    Every time I go from England to Poland I find it so much cleaner. I also like how it snows in winter. When it comes to food I like that too, and there is this great kebab place in Warsaw... (laughs). We try to go over to Poland as much as we can and often visit this seaside resort called Chałupy.

     

    My favourite position on the pitch is central midfield, so I have control over what is happening on the pitch. Most of the time I am assisting, but the coaches now want me to be a bit more selfish and drive the ball, too. I look up to some of the top players like Ronaldo, to their determination and love of the game. I want to be a bit like him but in my own, unique way.

     

    The boys are more physical on the pitch, but the girls are more tactical and like to do more passes. When we play against them, we try to come up with some little creative combinations to get around them tactically.

     

    I prefer playing against girls, because it's more about skills and tactics. When we play against boys, they mostly do long balls, and sometimes towards the end of the game we lose focus instead of playing our usual game. When we play more technical, we are simply better, so it benefits the whole team. Also, the boys like to dive. (laughs)

     

    The boys at school know that I am a Chelsea player so they sometimes want me to play for their times teams. But often at the start of the year, they go on about the fact that I play for Chelsea girls, and that surely it's not that difficult to get in there because girls cannot be that good. Then we go out on the pitch, and I prove them wrong. (laughs)

     

    There is always this awkward silence afterwards as if they were trying to avoid the topic altogether. But once I played with them they want me to play on their team every time - so they change their behaviour and start to respect me.

     

    I don't think there is a limit to what I can achieve as a girl footballer. If I need to get more physical or stronger, I will. Saying that boys are stronger or faster is not right, because girls can do that, too. You always start somewhere and carry on improving, but it is about your determination and hard work.

     

    Obviously, I support Chelsea in Premier League and try to watch all the games, but sometimes they play at the same time as I do, and then I watch the highlights on the Match of the Day. When I see them play, I feel like I want to be with them on the pitch to help out and often comment and say things like "oh, they should have passed there". (laughs)

     

    I regularly get messages from people from around the world. Only recently a girl from Germany asked me for a photo with my signature; another one came to see me when I was playing a tournament in the Netherlands. This kind of engagement with our fans makes me work even harder. I have even started practising my signature so that I am prepared for it! (laughs)

     

    I am yet to choose the national team. Maybe now you can say that England has a better team right now, but in the future perhaps it will be better to play for Poland. I am not going to decide now as at this point in my career I can go to training camps with both teams.

     

    I often miss Poland here, but then when I am there, I obviously miss England, too. I guess it's just that I love both countries!

     

    Words: Jakub Krupa

    Picture: Jadwiga Brontē

     

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