Speaking to Her Football Hub, former Belle Sophie Walton has opened up about the challenges she faced when she became pregnant while playing top-flight football and how she found a home at the Belles.
From contracts which did not include maternity pay to unspecific medical guidance, Walton found there was very little support for her when she announced she was pregnant in 2016. A struggle ensued which was so arduous for the midfielder that she left the team she was with and fell out of love with the game entirely. After the birth of her son, she had intended to retire from the sport entirely until then-manager Emma Coates gave her a call.
“I was fortunate to receive an opportunity from Doncaster Belles who were absolutely brilliant with the way that they treated me coming back,” Walton told Her Football Hub.
“If I struggled for childcare, I could take Alfie-J to training with me. They were really accommodating – we even had physios babysitting him on the side-lines.
“I remember taking him on the team bus down to Oxford because I had no childcare. We had a four-hour coach trip with a one-year-old and they made it all possible. I couldn’t have asked for any more from Doncaster and my experience there.
“Alf’s been able to share a lot of my footballing memories with me. Doncaster realised that simply pregnancy is going to happen. You shouldn’t be punished for it.”
Walton expects things to change going forward and has been pleased to see more clubs working to support young mothers playing the game.
“I think in the future you’ll see girls at 25-26 who realise they can start a family and still play at the top level,” she added.
“I’ve already seen the change in support that players get, so the more that continues, the more common it will be in the top levels.”
“If you’re organised, you can do anything. Stay positive, let your body do what it needs to, and you’ll get there eventually.”