Meet the HABs (the husbands and boyfriends of the England women's team)
Thursday 10 September 2009
As England take to the football field tonight against the old foe, Germany, at least the players won't have to worry that their partners will be caught dancing drunkenly on bars in high heels, rampaging through the local fashion boutiques or punching nightclub toilet attendants. The HABs – husbands and boyfriends of the England women's team – tend to be a more sedate bunch than that.
These devoted fellows, who follow their wives and girlfriends around the globe, will roar from the stands as England contest the final of the Women's European Championships – the first the national side has played in since 1984.
The men are a more down-to-earth crowd than their bronzed, big-earringed counterparts from the men's game. Mark Wilkinson, fiancé of the 27-year-old Arsenal Ladies and England midfielder, Katie Chapman, said yesterday on the phone from Finland: "It can be hard at times because Katie is often busy training and I am busy at work. But together we work it out somehow. In reality we are just a family like any other – we still have to look after the children and get by."
The couple have two sons: Harvey, six, and Riley, one. "I work during the day and Katie looks after the children then," said Mr Wilkinson. "Then when I come home I take over and she goes away to train. Once she has done her personal training, she goes away to train with her team."
He added: "There's nothing extravagant about our family life – no photoshoots, no partying into the early hours. We don't need the glamourous things which seem to go with the lifestyle of a footballer's partner. I work for EDF Energy during the day and Katie usually has to change her schedule to fit in with mine." Despite admitting there is little glamour associated with the women's game, Mr Wilkinson admitted that his fiancée's job has given the family the chance to visit places they would not otherwise have seen.
"It is quite a commitment but we try to travel as much as we can to see Katie and support her. Admittedly, with Katie playing for England, we have had quite a few opportunities to see parts of the world.
"We have been out to France and China before coming here to Helsinki. We would probably not have been able to enjoy that if Katie were doing a different job." It is Riley's second European championships.
He thanked his employers for allowing him to stay on in Helsinki: "I originally booked some time off but with the side doing so well, I had to call them up and ask if I could stay. Luckily they were very supportive and agreed that I should be out here to support Katie." With that, he had to dash away – the youngest man in the family was crying for his father. "You know what it's like," said dad.
Ms Chapman admits that it is difficult juggling motherhood and her playing career. "The demands of international football are huge," she said, "and it's tough to balance that with being a mum.
"My comeback after childbirth was made a bit easier because when I was pregnant I trained all the way through. I was still kicking a football when the boy was inside me. I just followed the same programme the doctor gave me when I was pregnant before, when I played until I was six-and-a-half months preganant."
She added: "When they [the children] are with me I know they are well and they are my biggest fans so it's great to have them beside me."
Her England teammate Casey Stoney, 27, a defender for Chelsea Ladies, said: "It's an amazing feat to be an international player and a mum – I think Katie has been our best player in the tournament. Every mum wants their kids around. It makes them happy and means they are a better player."
England's 29-year-old goalkeeper, Rachel Brown, who works with disadvantaged children in Merseyside, has spoken of the challenges of balancing football with a life away from the game. "My schoolfriends are married with children – it's what any respectable 29-year-old female should be!" she said. "If I had not got into football, I would probably have progressed as a teacher, earning twice as much as I earn now, settled down and married – but with half the memories." If England win tonight, she won't care.
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