12 October 2020
Michaela Gooden has swapped her career as a player to that of an agent © Nahwand Jaff
Tomi Otekunrin is a freelance writer who is keen to share uplifting stories of women working in the football industry, not just those who play the beautiful game, but also those whose contribution is key off the field.
In her latest article, Tomi feaures footballer turned agent Michaela Gooden, which she has kindly allowed us to share the following excerpt from:
Most millennials have had multiple careers, sometimes all at once. Ex-footballer turned agent Michaela Gooden takes this to new levels. Over the course of her career, she played at Fulham, had a brief stint at Millwall, jetted off to America on a scholarship, then returned to England to play for Fulham again. She also spent this time working as a stylist, before eventually deciding to become an agent. Impressive is not even the word.
Michaela grew up in Putney in southwest London, the oldest of four children. She supports Arsenal and has always been surrounded by football, mostly thanks to her family. “I had lots of older cousins and they were all boys,” she says. “In order for me to fit in I had to be involved in what they were doing.”
A lack of funding in girls’ football — a persistent problem today — meant Michaela had little choice but to play with the boys. “I remember being at the same ability if not better than a lot of boys growing up,” she smiles.
She joined Fulham in 1998 and stayed for nearly a decade, a time she describes as the best of her career. “I was at Fulham from nine to 18 years old,” she says. “It was honestly the best football I’ve played. I had the best girls. It was just amazing.” She realises now the profound impact that time had on the rest of her career. “I think subconsciously, I would compare my first time at Fulham to anywhere I would go, and expect that and more.”
After leaving the Cottagers she spent a year at Millwall, before setting off to the States on a football — sorry, soccer — scholarship. She attended a number of colleges, the first being Louisburg in North Carolina and the second being UTM in Tennessee.
For a young Black woman going from cosmopolitan London to a small, predominantly white town in Tennessee must have been a complete culture shock. “UTM was a small university in the city of Martin which was in the middle of nowhere,” she says. “I think the only people of colour were a few guys on the football team, then myself and my friend, who was from Mexico.” She had a similar experience on the field. “A lot of the players I played with hadn’t actually left Tennessee, so they were shocked to see a Black player from England. They didn’t think Black people lived in England.” Michaela admits homesickness started to creep in. “I think this is when my love for the game started to die down.”
Like any good athlete, Michaela took the challenge on the chin, moving back to England and briefly stepping away from football. When she did return, it was back where she started, at Fulham. But her second stint at the club didn’t shine quite like her first and, slowly, she realised a painful truth: it was time to move on.
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