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Follow my five week journey in Moscow

Hi everyone! A few weeks back I pledged to WIF (Women in Football) that I would write a blog about the challenges women working in football face. So here it is. (Yikes!) From choosing clothes and makeup, to breastfeeding in toilets and trying in vain to get back my pre baby body, I won’t hold back. I’m ready to share. Enjoy!

Alison Bender

Oct

We need to talk about miscarriage

I was standing in a tunnel at West Ham waiting for interviews, as I always do, as I have done for years. Negotiating with press officers, chatting to fellow reporters, memorising questions and joking with security, but something was different this time around. I was taking painkillers and experiencing terrible cramps and heavy bleeding after I had lost my first baby. I don’t want sympathy. The choice was mine to return to work, I wanted to take my mind off it, doing what I do is the best thing for me. My husband tried to stop me, but presenting gives me strength so off I went, microphone in hand, little secret in my head.

That’s the sad thing. The secret. I was afraid to tell anyone. If people knew I was trying for a baby maybe I wouldn’t get a new contract or another freelance gig. Most of my bosses and colleagues were male, would they understand? More importantly most people just don’t know what to say.

I don’t think my situation is unique at all and that’s why I wanted to share it. I’ve had two miscarriages at 12 weeks, one sadly dragged on a little longer, one before my first baby boy and one before my baby girl. Each was extremely painful, for very different reasons. I am incredibly lucky that I have two healthy children but something has been troubling me lately and it’s why I have chosen to write this blog on miscarriage.

I am surrounded by friends who are suffering this pain, some of them many times over, many of them struggling to conceive. Some are several rounds into IVF treatment and a few looking at other options including adoption. And those are just the ones I know about. The more I talk about it the more stories are shared with me. It seems we are all walking through this life with a lot of secrecy when it comes to starting a family. Surely this can’t last forever?

I know friends who have been so devastated they can’t bear to see another 12 week scan photo on Facebook, they can’t feel happiness towards another friend’s joy because it’s just too raw, and frankly they think they are going through it alone. They are all living in this secret world of sadness.

I want to tell you about my second miscarriage. When you have a child already you can’t help but plan your lives around this news, what the age gap will be, how they will interact. What work or holiday choices to make. This is a good point for me to say be careful when you talk to people about “age gaps”. What you think is a very innocent comment could well be reminding someone of a child that never was. I have a close friend who lost a baby at full term and you can’t imagine the amount of questions she gets about why her kids are so far apart in age. Seriously, just a little tip!

My body is not great during pregnancy, in fact I hated every second of being pregnant (another taboo that I’ll write about one day). I was bed bound and everything made me feel sick and dizzy. I threw out everything that was perfumed, my deodorant, even my moisturiser. I changed my diet completely, gave up caffeine and alcohol (no mean feat for me) and couldn’t walk let alone exercise. When I found out we had lost the baby I couldn’t help thinking that my poor body had carried for a total of 6 months without a baby to show at the end of it (again, I must point out here that two 12 week miscarriages is not atypical, sadly this can be “normal”).

When I found out the sad news this time I decided I would let nature take its course as it had the first time round. Unfortunately my body was not playing ball. I tried acupuncture and various things to help things along but each day that went past I noticed my tummy growing and my sickness increasing, even though I had lost the baby. It was a horrible feeling and I eventually I had to opt to have the D&C operation. Imagine all of this whilst trying to juggle work commitments (being on TV not least!) and not tell anyone what’s going on. I can tell you it’s not easy.

As I sat in the waiting room surrounded by women, another reminder of just how common this is, every girl looked sad, no one spoke. We waited for hours and no one said a thing. I just wanted to hug them all.

When I was young I didn’t want to hear about this stuff, it seemed negative and didn’t really affect me so what’s the point? I also thought I would be the exception. Well there is a point. We need to talk about it. Why? To normalise it, to educate, to make people realise it’s very common, and perhaps to alleviate some of the shock and pain that comes with it. 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage. That is a high number so why on earth does it come as such a shock to so many?

Even the hospitals need educating. When I turned up for my own scan the lady on the desk asked me if I could pay upfront for my baby scans. I said to her politely, I hope you don’t mind if we can do this after? What if I’ve had a miscarriage? I don’t really want to pay for a picture of sadness. I’ve been here before. She looked so confused and said she’d refund me if it was bad! I couldn’t quite believe her response. I was so nervous, I didn’t want to have to deal with this. Then as I walked away from the desk, she smiled “don’t worry, you’ll be fine!” How on earth can someone say that when there’s a 1 in 4 chance you will not be fine? As it turned out I was not fine, but of course I didn’t have the strength or the will to go back and tell her. It’s not her fault of course, this is the point, there is not enough education on the topic.

When I was at school it was all careers, league tables and university chat. We had sex education, but it all seemed to focus on just how easy it is to get pregnant and how it should be avoided at all costs rather than the reality. Not only that, many schools promoted careers and later family choices without speaking about what the flip side of that choice can look like.

I’ve spoken to a lot of friends about this. It’s become my “thing” I guess you could say, I want to help women (and their partners) but I want to do it right. One close friend pointed out to me “It’s great that you’re doing this Alison, but what’s your POINT? She had a good point, what IS my point? I guess I just want to start with knowledge, and education, that’s a start, and also just accepting life isn’t this rosy place where everything comes easily. I guess I want people to understand that pregnancy is not a right. Yes that’s easy coming from a mother of two kids, and I’m not here to preach or judge or change minds, but I do want to help.

I also want this to be a message to anyone who is making big family decisions based on work or other life commitments. I did it, planning in my head: how old the baby would be at the World Cup, telling everyone how I wanted to have fun with my husband for a few years before we decided to have kids, even speaking about how I wanted to drink at this wedding or that festival so we would wait until after to try. Will I have a summer baby or a winter baby? I’m afraid I don’t know whether to laugh or cry when I hear girls talking like this. It is not that simple, and if you HAVE chosen to TRY and have a family, please don’t wait around for this occasion or that one, you may sadly miss the chance altogether.

I guess I hope that the conversation continues and one day there is a healthier attitude towards starting families. People won’t talk about women’s “body clocks” so negatively, even dating attitudes will be different. It has to start somewhere so why not here?

I want to end this blog by sending my love and strength to all the women and partners who are suffering the struggle of conceiving or miscarriage, it’s so tough and painful and I really do feel for you.

Ali x

I’d also like to say that the Miscarriage Association is an incredible organisation who are doing so much for miscarriage awareness. Please check out the site:
https://www.miscarriageassociation.org.uk/
They have made a sad but wonderful animation, which helps understanding what to say to someone who has experienced a miscarriage.
https://www.miscarriageassociation.org.uk/your-feelings/simply-say/
Baby loss awareness week runs from 9-15th October. Please share your stories if you are able and help normalise this taboo subject.


Jul

England’s journey is over, but mine is not

The England fans to my right were going crazy, I was going crazy, at that moment (albeit in the 5th minute) England were going to a World Cup final. I leaned over to my colleague and mouthed: “It’s a bit early to score though isn’t it?” That game seemed to last an eternity, I don’t think I’ve ever looked at the clock so many times. With every passing minute England looked more and more fatigued and Croatia looked more and more energised, this wasn’t supposed to happen, Croatia were supposed to be shattered.

Cut to the final whistle and England players falling to their knees, our journey was over. I stood and stared into the pit of England fans. I can’t tell you what the Croatia players were doing, it was all blurred out, all I could see in sharp focus was our England players and Southgate with all his trusty staff around him applauding our wonderful fans. I stopped for a moment to take it all in, then a quick glance down at my phone and a message from my cameraman, I had to go.

I ran through the crowds winding around celebrating Croatia fans trying to figure out what I wanted to say, it felt all too familiar, I’d done this before. Here at the Luzhniki in the pouring rain ten years ago as I watched John Terry slip and miss a penalty it had been my job to talk to the fans and now I was to do the same thing with the England fans. Sometimes you don’t need to say much, the story tells itself. Tonight, like all those years ago the fans were sanguine, they were proud. They were still in shock that England had reached a semi final and won a penalty shootout along the way.

I composed myself, put a dab of lip-gloss on and then stood in front of my camera to hear the familiar voices of Craig Burley, Shaka Hislop and the wonderful Dan Thomas who has been such a huge part of my footballing life, from our days at Real Madrid TV, and now he was here in my ear asking me to put such sadness into words.

A few interviews later I found myself on the Russian Metro with its chandeliers sand intricate architrave heading back to bed for my three hours sleep before I’d have to get in front of a camera and do it all again. I set my alarm for as late as humanly possible.

6am and I was heading off to a café near the Bolshoi for an appearance on BBC5 Live sports Breakfast with Rachel Burden. As I sat in the sun with a coffee and a headache it reminded me of my less innocent years where I’d throw myself on a sun lounger in Ibiza after partying the night away, just to make sure I could get a tan. Rachel is someone I’d listened to many times over the years but I’d never actually met her. She is a wonderful broadcaster, calm, relaxed, in control, and put last night’s events into words perfectly.

The early morning sun was hot and I’d come out without sun cream, or any real plan, so I sat in Red Square feeling slightly dazed before a Victoria Derbyshire appearance from yet another gorgeous backdrop before tackling the job of finding “sad fans going home” for ESPN. Whilst in Red Square I bumped into the BBC ‘s Natalie Pirks, also a mum of two. We just gave each other a huge hug. This job is wonderful and exciting and glamorous but we both knew how each other would be feeling so a hug was all we needed. It’s weird, I hardly know her at all, I couldn’t tell you the name of her husband or kids, or where she lives, but we have both shared this experience and we both know a hug was the appropriate thing.

That day was crazy, I appeared on back-to-back TV and radio stations all day,racing to various sets, dusting my face with powder and off we go again until I finally came back to my hotel, downed a couple of glasses of wine with my news editor and hit the sack. They say be careful what you wish for, I’ve always wanted to be this person, after years of hard work, being in demand is what you want, but boy it takes it out of you.

It’s a far cry from my normal life. As a mum of two pre-school kids I spend most of the time trying to keep on top of my job while doing the mum thing. Baby song classes, teddy bears picnics, scrambling around the floor on my hands and knees. It was nice to get my identity back for a short while. I’d kind of forgotten what it was like to be me. When I was busy it was great because I didn’t have time to miss my old life, but the very next day it hit me like a tonne of bricks. I was pining so much, coming down off a great high. England were going home, but I was not.

One last push, the final.


Jul

England won on Penalties!

I watched England win on penalties.

It took me a good 24 hours to calm down. I was so wired. That night I couldn’t sleep and the next day I had to ask myself if it was a dream. It took a five-hour stroll in Gorky Park to finally wind down.

Everyone will have their story, where they were, what they were doing when England finally broke the hoodoo and won on penalties. For me, I’ll always be grateful to say, I was sitting in the Spartak stadium, right above the all-important goal.

As I arrived at the stadium I was blown away by the Colombian support, if I wasn’t English I’ve had been supporting Colombia. Their fans were great and you couldn’t help getting swept up in the emotion of it all. I met one guy who’d driven from Brussels for this – he was living his dream.

I’m working for ESPN (and a few other media organisations) and it was my job to wrap up the game after it had finished. After Harry Kane’s penalty had put the score at 1-0 I saw Ryan Giggs pass me and head down to the pitch with about ten minutes to go and I was getting my stuff ready to do the same and head out towards my camera.

I had actually woven down a few floors of stairs already when something stopped me, I just had a funny feeling, so I climbed back up the stairs and went back onto the concourse and waited by the disabled access area, I just knew it.

And then it happened, the roar from the thousands and thousands of Colombian fans, they had done it, they were the 12th man, I just knew it. I couldn’t stop shaking my head and I had to sheepishly climb back into my seat. Oh England, you put us through this every time; we all knew you would do something like this. I couldn’t stop shaking my head.

Fast forward to penalties. I’d thought this through; I ‘d chosen my penalty takers. I knew that Southgate of all people would not want penalties to be the way to go. The headlines would be so cruel, not this man, not penalties. I know this is the last way he’d have wanted to go out, and I know how much they have prepared for this moment. They have re-created tension, they have a list of 23, nothing would be left to chance.

I’d been on the radio earlier that day and put on record that if it went to penalties, England would win, they’d be prepared this time, but I wasn’t feeling so confident now. It just felt like the typical England narrative, we were going home gutted, again.

If you look at Spain’s shambolic penalty shootout against Russia you’ll see Diego Costa telling Fernando Hierro not to give a penalty to Koke, and after it was saved you can see him mouthing: “I told you so”. There was no way Southgate would have had this with England. He admits in his autobiography that at Euro’96 when he was asked to take a penalty it was like a bolt out of the blue. He would not do that to his players.

And so it came to pass. Southgate’s plan starting to unfold before our eyes. As I watched Eric Dier walk towards the spot (who was actually next on the list because Jamie Vardy needed injections in his groin) I could hardly bare to watch, that walk took so long. I’d seen Henderson’s effort saved, I’d seen the Colombian’s celebrating and it just felt like it was prolonging the inevitable, we were going home. I was sitting next to a Colombian legend (Jorge Hernan Bermudez Morales) and I could feel the tension in the air between us, one of us was going home unhappy tonight.

I’m not even sure I remember seeing the ball hit the back of the net, I must have done, but the image was instantly replaced with a sea of red running away from the spot in celebration. We’d done it! We’d done it! I had the BBC crew in front of me and I saw them all rise from their seats punching the air, Dan Walker, Gabby Logan, Rachel Burden. These shiny professionals that we always see sitting calmly in a chair were leaping and whooping and dancing in the stands. It was a surreal moment to say the least and one I will never forget.

The weirdest part of it all is that England were a tiny, tiny pocket in the stadium, I’m sure if you were in that crowd it would have felt differently, but for me, at the other end of the pitch, it felt like I’d witnessed something quite special and there weren’t many people there to witness it in the flesh. Maybe it helped our players to be shooting into a pit of baying Colombians and not see the looks of hope on the England fans faces, who knows? It felt so odd outside the stadium too, a sea of yellow, small pockets of England fans but nothing more.

But who cares, we’d done it. I readied myself, microphone in hand, and said the lines I never thought I’d say. “We’ve just seen history being made here at the Spartak Stadium, England are into the Quarter finals after beating Colombia: ON PENALTIES.“

Alison x


Jul

The "before" pic is the one that matters

So I know a few brave mums have done this already, but I wanted to show you a little something. When you look at this before and after pic, you automatically think the first picture is one with a baby in my tummy. WRONG!

This picture was taken a week after my second baby was born. You can see by the look on my face I’m pretty down about this.

I don’t even have a picture after my first was born because I couldn’t even bear to look at my body, it was so heavy, so unfamiliar, so, well, depressing.

All these stories about mums “bouncing back” and all these celebrity post partum bodies are not totally representative of what our bodies go through so I wanted to share my story.

“When are you due love” said the lady on the fruit and veg stall. My face dropped and I didn’t quite know how to tell her I had in fact had my baby a few weeks ago. I don’t blame her; I was carrying a huge bump and no baby. My son was in hospital for 6 weeks after his birth with medical problems and so I was living in the hospital, this was the first time I’d ventured out, alone. I was feeling a bit down because I was all out of shape and wanted to buy some fresh fruit and try and feel healthy, this was the last thing I needed to hear.

A few days later I went to register his birth in the hospital and the woman on the desk said “you’re in the wrong place, this is for people who’ve had their babies”, she probably should have known better, but again, there is not enough education about what some post-partum bodies can look like.

Don’t get me wrong. I was utterly delighted (perhaps a little too elated) that I’d had my baby, and I guess that’s all that matters. But I was just a little caught by surprise.

I’ve always been pretty slim and never really had to worry about my weight, so this was a complete shock to me. I knew I had to be patient (and allow myself a year) but it’s so hard lugging around all this extra fat. It was heavy and uncomfortable and I felt in no man’s land in terms of clothes. Add to that I’m on TV so I am judged (to a certain extent) on how I look. I wanted to go back to work and feel confident.

I decided to go on a mission to get fit. I signed up to everything: baby yoga, buggy-fit and got myself a personal trainer. Mel Deane has been a saviour. I’m naturally lazy with exercise and so to have someone giving me the orders was what I needed. When I first started with him all I really wanted was a flat tummy. Now I’ve learned how nice it is to look and feel strong rather than skinny.

I also want to give a shout out to the wonderful Pulsin’ who make incredible Protein bars and Protein Powders. I’m very happy to be an ambassador as I genuinely love their products and believe in their benefits. Any spare space in my suitcase was crammed with them and they are so handy for when I’m on the road.

Listen, I know people look at “these gym girls” and say “she’s gone too far” etc. etc. I used to be the same, but you can’t really control the way your body reacts to exercise. Of course I’d love to be curvy and strong at the same time, but it’s not my body type, so please don’t judge. I admit I probably look a bit skinny in my after pic. but this is me and I’ve always had that body type. We have what we have been given and all I want to do is to take control of my own body again. I’m never going to be how I was before children and I’m (finally) cool with that.

As it turns out, my after picture looks like I’ve lost all of it. Pictures can be quite deceiving. My body is certainly different, but it’s about being comfortable and confident with it. I don’t like to use the word vain, so let’s just say I’m “self aware” (let’s face it!) and not hugely comfortable with too much “warts and all” stuff, but I did want to share that picture as I want girls to know this and not be shocked like I was.

I didn’t write this blog to get a load of praise, for my body or my “honesty”. Some women can’t afford (both in time or money) a personal trainer and I have the utmost respect for mums who spend time with their babies instead of hitting the gym. For me it was so important both for being on TV and for my own confidence to feel good and to be able to fit into my old clothes rather than having to buy an entire new working wardrobe. It simply was my mission, and something I’d discussed with my husband before we had our second baby.

To all the girls out there fighting to love their bodies (with or without kids) we all come in many shapes and sizes. Try to love what you’ve got; the girls who look the best are the ones who are comfortable with themselves.

Alison x


Jul

I got it all so wrong

I read a tweet the other day that made me smile. If you are ever feeling sad, just remember, the world is four point five billion years old and somehow you managed to exist at the same time as the 2018 FIFA World Cup. It’s silly, but it’s true, and somehow I managed to be AT the 2018 FIFA World Cup, and what a tournament it’s turning out to be.

Last night I watched in stunned silence as Russia knocked out Spain on penalties, it wasn’t a pretty game, but all credit to Russia, they did what they needed to do.

That’s the latest in a whole string of shocks that’s seen Germany, Argentina and Portugal all packing their bags, AND England are still in it.

Russian TV was a joy to watch. They threw live to every correspondent they could get in front of a camera, and most of them didn’t seem to know they were on air for a good 20 seconds, it was raw, pure joy and it was great to watch.

As I jumped in my car to head off to work the streets were filled with smiles, flags, high fives, honking cars, and distracted drivers (the last thing I wanted to see, driving over here is questionable at the best of times) this tournament had come to life.

Cut back to a conversation I was having with myself a few weeks ago. Should I go to Russia? I’d read the security briefings, I’d analysed the threats. This is not adding up to the experience I am having right now. Russia is beautiful, clean, exciting and friendly. How wrong could I be?

A lot of it is my fault. I’d been here on that fateful day in 2008 when Chelsea lost the Champions League final on penalties. That grey, drab, rainy, depressing night has stuck as an indelible image. I’m so pleased I have had the opportunity to update it.

I have been here 3 weeks now and I’m having the time of my life. Day one I felt uneasy, I arrived with no Russian, no money and no sense of direction. My Russian SIM didn’t work in my phone and I’d been warned about walking on my own, but I was hungry, and decided I needed to venture out to find some essentials.

The weather was odd, it was very humid with occasional thunderstorms, and the streets were empty as it was a public holiday. There was a strange pollen blowing around which added to the weird uneasy feeling inside of me. I walked up and down the canal looking for street names but they all said the same thing, in Russian characters, not what I had been told to look for. I finally got directions from a fisherman (who I passed three times before I plucked up the courage to talk to him).

I managed to buy myself a sandwich with a salmon and egg filling, even though I thought it was cheese and tomato, but hey, I had found food. I am a hunter, gatherer, sort of!

Three weeks later I’m running around this City like it’s home, I can say a few pleasantries in Russian, I can successfully take the metro and the tram and I can even find proper food for myself. Things are looking up.

I want to end this little blog with a message to England fans. Please come to Moscow, you’ll be so surprised. There aren’t enough England fans here and the ones I have met left their shirts and flags at home. Come. Be proud, we might just do something special. Remember those 4.5 billion years, we’ve only won the World Cup once. So far…

Alison x


Jun

Get your tits out


Left: Hosting an event for Women in Sport 6 months after having my baby. Right: Reporting at the Bernabeu while breast-feeding, not an easy combination.

One of the biggest challenges for a working mum is the early years. I missed the 2014 World Cup as my baby was so young. I recently had a chat with a football mum who went to that tournament and had a really, really tough time. It’s so hard to know when is the right time. So much can happen. I guess you have to make the decision and be bold with it. Tournaments aside, I had a tough time knowing when was the right time to return to work. Rewind a few years.

“Get your tits out for the lads” was the chant from the away end (Newcastle fans, for what it’s worth) as I strode along the pitch, microphone in hand. If I’m totally honest, a small part of me was a little chuffed, I was nearer 40 than 30 and it had been a long time since I’d received any attention on the pitch. The sad reality is that the reason for the attention was that my breasts were massive, not because I’m a big busty girl, but because I’m a working mum, a breastfeeding working mum, and it was time to express.

For those of you looking a little blank right now I won’t go into detail- look it up, but I can tell you the least glamorous part of my job is having to sit and express in a stadium toilet because there is no way I’m wasting this “liquid gold”, and even if I have to work away from my baby, he will get every last drop of the stuff, albeit a little late.

I can remember clearly sitting in the loo at the Emirates and one woman shouting “What on earth is that noise?” as I sat there with my electric pump. I was just too embarrassed and maybe even ashamed to say what I was doing, that was then, now I will shout it from the rooftops because the reality is that if you want to be a working mum, this is what you have to do, and people need to accept it.

I can actually laugh about it now, but back then it was tough, jumping on the tube and rushing home (breasts sore and swollen) to my baby to feed him after matches – basically trying to “have it all”.

One day I recall sitting in the press room at West Ham and a load of grown men got all giddy and introduced themselves to me saying they’d never met me before, they had totally met me before, they just hadn’t met the “me with these huge boobs”, it actually makes me laugh and I do find it quite funny. It’s not that I’m trying to grass on my male colleagues, I just find it fascinating and funny and a little sad.

That was a few years ago now, I’ve just had my second child and now my family is complete I feel reflective and want to help women in future generations to not have to go through what I went through because they think there is no other way.

I’d like senior executives to be aware of our challenges and to try to help our jobs remain when we come back as much as possible.

When I became pregnant with my first child I was so afraid that it would end my career. I wanted to be a mum but I was so aware that after 20 years working hard in this competitive industry I was finally at the peak of my career and time off might ruin it all.

At the time I spoke with the controller of radio 5 live Jonathan Wall whose words stuck with me throughout my pregnancy and early months of raising my baby. He told me about one of the BBC’s top presenters who’d had children and told me she had become a more rounded, confident presenter because of it. Only now can I say this is true for me too. I am less nervous and a little more relaxed. Let’s face it no one wants to see an anxious presenter. I guess it’s because football and presenting is not the only thing in my life now.

I spoke recently with a very senior figure in Sports TV who has concerns. He wants to encourage his girls to be parents if they want to be, but he knows as well as I do that a year out in this industry is a lifetime. Things change quickly and before you know it your job is gone and a shiny new person is in your place. What I can tell you now is that it happens anyway, so you might as well enjoy your time with your child if you want to. I rushed back to work desperate to impress, but of course juggling both means inevitably someone will have to fill in for you, so take your time, enjoy it, it goes in a flash.

My first child had medical problems and I lived in hospital with him for a month, I tweeted and read articles everyday. Life was simple, it was just be there for him and keep on top of the football news, and it helped me, it kept me sane.

Having said all this I have no regrets, football is such a part of my life I would have found it hard to give up, even if just for a year.

I’m enjoying writing these blogs, it’s cathartic, and if I can help someone all the better. We live in a generation where people are not staying silent on things and it feels great to open up.

Alison x


Jun

Happy Father’s Day

Well how could I not write a blog on Father’s day when my husband is being “Super Dad”? Yes I know the kids are both of ours and I shouldn’t be grateful that he’s simply doing what parents do, but he is going above and beyond by holding the fort for five weeks while I’m here in Russia, which means a whole lot of bath and bedtimes (which I can tell you are both wonderful and exhausting in equal measure), night time wake ups from the kids and I doubt any social life. Hats off to all the single parents out there. What a job you do.

It was he who encouraged me whole-heartedly to go to Russia. “You must go, this is what you do” and it’s he who’ll be on the end of the line 24/7 when I’m feeling down, or stressed. I know it’s a cliché but he really is my rock.

Father’s day now always reminds me of the embarrassing moment when I dissolved into tears in front of Roberto Martinez. Two years ago I was in Paris for the Euros. My husband had come over on the Eurostar to see me for a couple of days with my son. As I said goodbye to them and walked back along Boulevard Saint-Germain I bumped into the now Belgium coach (a pundit for ESPN at the time) just heading off to a father’s day lunch with his little daughter and wife. She is about the same age as my boy I’d just said goodbye to. Suddenly I felt a stinging in my eyes and I started welling up. The nicer he was to me the more upset I was getting. Finally his wife just wrapped her arms around me and gave me a huge hug, and I bawled! It’s tough being away from family, especially on notable days.

Here at ESPN I’m very lucky that it’s like a big (multicultural) family. Many of the guys here are Dads and so they’ve organised a big cake for them all. It’s a lovely touch and something I know is appreciated.

Anyway, I just wanted to give a big up to all the amazing dads out there, especially my own. I couldn’t be prouder of him. He started with nothing, was bullied at school and grew up in a very poor household after his own dad left his mum with him and his physically disabled brother. Dad grew a fighting spirit and started his own business (even though he barely had an education). He’s one of the happiest and most confident people I know and the biggest party animal you’ll ever meet. His positive attitude is an inspiration. Dad has suffered four primary cancers but he’s come through them all. He said he wants to live to 100 and sometimes I believe he will.

Happy Fathers Day to all of you out there x


Jun

I'm going to miss her first steps!

People always tell me my job is so glamorous, sometimes it is. Today it is. More often than not it is lot of waiting, usually in the freezing cold. Travelling the length and breadth of the country and creeping into the house (and out of it) at ridiculous hours. “I deserve days like this,” I told myself.

I was sitting in the rooftop pool at the Ace hotel in LA watching “Honey I shrunk the kids” on a big projector screen thinking, “I really am living the dream”. I was hosting a football show for ESPN and here I was with my producer relaxing after the show, watching the sun go down in a hotel that was far too cool for me, surrounded by twenty-somethings with blue hair, piercings and barely there slashed swimsuits. I was in my element, snapping happily for Instagram and pretending for one moment that I was as edgy and cool as the people I was surrounded by.

My producer ordered us cocktails and as I began to sip something didn’t seem right, it tasted weird and I really didn’t fancy it. A few days later I was interviewing Frank Lampard at New York City’s training ground and I began to feel really sick and dizzy. I was rushed to a hospital just outside NY and put on a drip, they confirmed I was pregnant and so began a tough 9 months that saw me too sick to get out of bed some days.

Of course I should have been delighted (and I was) but one of the first things that ran through my mind was how old my baby would be at the 2018 World Cup. I’d missed 2014 in Brazil as I was still breastfeeding my first child and although I absolutely love being a mum and don’t regret a thing, I’m acutely aware that I’m at the peak of my presenting career and after years of hard graft I’m finally experienced enough to be doing what I do at a World Cup and I did not want to miss another.

The answer is she’ll be 14 months. Do I go? Should I go? Will I be judged for going? Will I be judged for not going? These are all the questions mothers face. I’m not suggesting men don’t go thorough a similar process, it’s a tough decision to leave your family for 5 weeks and I’ve spoken to plenty of men who are feeling torn. I equally feel for all the mums whose husbands are away for long stretches and so a lot of the childcare falls on them, it’s tough. Thankfully I have a lot of support around me and I decided I should go.

So here I am in a hotel in Moscow prepping for the opening day of the tournament. I’m likely to see some incredible things, perhaps a moment of magic from Messi, or a nervy penalty shoot-out, but I can’t help but think of the things I will miss. My baby’s first step is the biggie. Every day in the last month leading up to the tournament I’ve been walking around with her, willing her to take those steps, but it never happened.

She is still not walking and I well up when I think I left behind a crawling bundle of chubby joy and I’ll return to a slimmed down walking “child” who comes running up to me at the airport shouting “mamma”.

The first thing I should say is I have no regrets. It’s everything I hoped it would be and more, and the tournament hasn’t even started.

What a time it is to be a woman in football (wif), we even have our own emoji on twitter thanks to the incredible work done by WIF. I’ll admit I was slightly uncomfortable about the whole WIF thing in the beginning. I am here on merit and hard work and I don’t want to be a ticked box, I love my job and I’ve never felt it’s relevant that I’m a woman. However I realised that’ s not what WIF is about. It has managed to unite, educate and promote and it’s something that will be felt in generations to come.

I’ve always felt a little bit alone in the press box, the writers are in a group, the commentators are in another and I was always on my own, learning my lines, scribbling down team news and standing in front of a camera. Suddenly I’m starting to feel we have a group. WIF has given me the confidence to reach out to other women and hear their stories and I feel a real bond that I’ve never had before.

Finally I don’t want to hide the fact that I’m a mum, it’s a big part of who I am and I’m not scared to say it. I’m aware I’m not alone in this, there are mothers and fathers leaving their kids all the time, that’s life, but that’s exactly why I want to talk about it. No one spoke to me about it and so it came as a complete shock to me, all of this.

I will be blogging about it as part of a pledge I made for WIF and I really hope I can help inspire other girls to follow their dreams and TRY to have it all (whatever that means). I will also be contacting my school to see if I can talk to young girls about making future decisions highlighting the challenges of motherhood, something that was never available to me.

Not every woman wants to, or is able to be a mother, so this blog isn’t exclusive to mums, there are certainly challenges us women face whether we are mums or not. I have been chatting to loads of girls here in Russia and I hope I can share many of their stories.

Speak soon.

Alison x