Balancing life as a rugby player and working full time is a struggle that many of the women who play in the Allianz Premier 15s face. Gloucester-Hartpury’s Millie Wood faces the same challenge and things have been made even harder for her as the COVID-19 pandemic forced her into finding a new job.
“It’s a tough one. For the last year and a half I was a self-employed painter/decorator so being self-employed I was kind of on my own schedule which made it easier to fit in around training but recently with the numerous lockdowns a lot of people are doing their own painting or they don’t want other people in their house so I really struggled to find work.
“As of the beginning of February I actually took a job with an estate agent which is long hours. It’s 8:30 until 18:00 most days and then Tuesday and Thursday I get to leave a little bit earlier to get to training. It’s long hours and coming from being a decorator where I’m out and about and coming into this job where I’m sat behind a desk, I am really enjoying being in an environment where you are working with people.”
Not only is Wood enjoying her life off the pitch, she is also living her childhood dream of playing rugby at the highest level. Having initially grown up watching the sport, she soon become obsessed with it but if it wasn’t for an after school club being set up, there’s a chance that it never would have happened.
“My earliest memories are of coming to Gloucester games with my dad. I used to be much more of a spectator. My brother played down at Old Pats and I used to watch and think ‘I’d really like to get involved with this.’
“I played a bit of tag throughout primary school and I’d often play for older age groups just because there weren’t many girls so I’d often play in my brother’s year, who was two years above me, and that didn’t go down well! That almost dried up when I went to secondary school because there was no rugby for girls, and it wasn’t until about year 9 when a guy called Ken Cuthbert came in and ran an after-school club for touch rugby for girls and from there we just played local tournaments.”
It was this after school club that kept the dream alive.
“There was a big gap after primary school going into secondary school where there just wasn’t the opportunity to play, I don’t think it was ever going to come until Ken set up that after school club and I’m very grateful to him for doing that because otherwise who knows what I’d be up to now!”
Wood has gone on to have an incredible rugby career so far but the real highlight is being able to inspire the next generation coming through.
“The other day all the girls who have been involved with England all got a little card in the post. No idea who it was, and I assume it was a young fan and it was really touching that they went out of their way to do that. We’re just normal people, we’re by no means like the male professionals. It was really touching and that’s what’s more encouraging for us is the young girls who are coming through and wanting to play and for us to be able to say to them stick with it, it’s worth it in the end.
“Stuff like that is becoming more common on Instagram and that might be because as we get older the younger ones start getting social media and things but it’s great to see and it only takes one kid for you to feel that it’s worth it.”
As positive as social media is in these examples, there are also too many examples of negative comments in the women’s game and the only thing to do is to try and find a way to use those comments for good.
“It’s a bit sad but we’re using it in our favour with all of the negative comments that we’re getting and that the controversy of that is kind of causing it’s own wave for us. It speaks volumes itself without us even having to take to the pitch just to show people what we get for playing a sport that we love to play it’s just… To put that out there and show the negative comments we get is almost more shocking than if they just sat down and watched the game and tweeted that they had a nice time watching it. One day it would be great to have the highlights of the games speak more than the negative comments from the ignorant people. There’s a long way to go.”
As it is International Women’s Day, Millie wanted to take the opportunity to give a message to any young women looking to make it.
“When you feel like the outlier or the outcast within a situation where you’re in a world that is typically male and you’re kind of the odd one out being a girl in that situation, it’s only going to show you as a strong person for sticking at it. You will get to the point where you are the person who isn’t an outlier and you’re a leader in that group and you find other people who are the same as you and you get to the point where you will look back and you’ll be glad you stuck with it even in the tough times because eventually it will be worth it.”