Women’s football has seen a huge surge in popularity in recent years, however funding for girls’ football doesn’t seem to have kept up with this demand. This means many of those wanting to participate have to travel further distances to clubs or academies than their male counterparts have to. Someone who has had to move to pursue her dream is Flo Allen. Having been born in Norwich, she moved to Bristol to attend their Centre of Excellence at 16 years old and has also represented England at several age levels. So, I spoke to her about her career and her hopes for the future.
As with many people wanting a career in sport, it has always been a passion for Flo. “I’ve always loved sport from a young age,” Allen told me. “Any sport, I would give it a go and try to play it! I used to play a lot of hockey and cricket throughout my time at school but my love for football was superior to every other sport. I would go with my Dad to all the Norwich City games from about the age of 6, so I think that’s where fell in love with football. I started playing with my local boys’ team and from there it has been my main sport ever since.” This love of football meant her childhood dream was to play for the senior England Women’s team and when Flo was called up to the U15s, this dream became more of a potential reality. “From there, my football went from strength to strength. There is no way I would have ever imagined that I would be able to call myself a professional footballer, I have to pinch myself occasionally just to make sure I am not in a dream! Although there is still a long way to go and lots of hard work to be done before I reach my ultimate aim of playing for the England seniors,” Allen explained.
Unfortunately, at the age of 16, Flo had to leave Norwich where she had lived since her birth. “The FA announced that it wasn’t going to grant Norwich with a centre of excellence licence for the following year,” she said. This left her in a difficult situation as to continue and progress in her career, she would have to find elsewhere to train. “I knew I would need to be playing football at the highest level I possibly could to keep improving as a player and unfortunately staying in Norfolk wouldn’t have given me that opportunity,” she added. Looking back, she admits that it wasn’t such a tricky decision as it was one step closer to her dream, though it was much harder for her family with such a large distance between them.
After spending time in Bristol City’s Academy, Flo was offered a professional contract by the club. “When I moved here to chase my dream of playing professionally my aim was to get a contract by the time I was 18, I achieved that aim which made me feel extremely proud,” Allen said. However, with her ultimate dream to play for the senior England team, she knows there is still more hard work to do and is determined to show her skill and talent to earn her place.
When Flo signed with Bristol City WFC they were in the second tier of Women’s football, however in 2016 they secured promotion to the WSL1 after they finished second in the league. “I certainly will never forget our penultimate game that season against Everton. Our goalkeeper pulled off a last-minute penalty save to secure us promotion. I don’t think I have ever experienced so many emotions in one game, it was surreal,” Allen told me. She was also keen to praise her teammates, saying: “credit to the whole team for how we did it as every individual played a huge part in making it a tremendous season to remember. On reflection, it is really special to me as I learnt a lot about myself as a player, especially as it was my debut season in adult football at such a young age. I was lucky to be a part of such a successful and tight knit team and those memories will certainly be cherished.”
But it’s not only domestically in which Flo has played, having represented England at several age levels, and it’s something she has never got used to. “Every time you pull on the shirt it’s an honour and I never take it for granted as you never know when it could be your last. I’ve been fortunate to experience it multiple times, having been lucky enough to play in the Euros and a World Cup. I recently went to La Manga with England u19s where I was extremely honoured to have been captain for the tournament. That gave me the same feeling as to when I first pulled on an England shirt,” Allen told me.
Although she has been lucky enough to play for the national team since her early teens, Flo struggled with a lack of openings in her childhood. “When I was younger there was a lack of opportunities for girls to play football compared to boys and it wasn’t until I joined Norwich’s girls centre of excellence that I was playing with just girls. When I was first starting out playing for my local boys’ grassroots team it was difficult, but with perseverance, strong support and understanding from club coaches and family you forget that you are the only girl,” she explained.
Having played football for as long as she can remember, Flo Allen has had to overcome many challenges, but her advice to those wanting to play the sport she loves would be: “work hard, listen hard – never believe you know more than you really do, always play with a smile on your face, believe in your dreams and don’t stop until you’ve reached them.” She will continue to work hard until she makes it to the senior England Women’s team with that as her ultimate goal, and in the mean time will continue to contribute to the success of Bristol City WFC in any way she can.
(photo credits: Bristol City Football Club and JMP photography)