Rugby League: Sophie's freedom of choice makes Wembley history : Liz Kahn on a winning performance by the first girl to play in the schools match before the Challenge Cup final

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The Independent Online
SOPHIE COX made history when she became the first girl to play rugby league at Wembley, in the curtain-raiser to the Challenge Cup final. The 11-year-old played full- back for Rochdale Town, who defeated Sheffield 12-6.

'I played quite well,' Sophie said afterwards. 'I am pleased with myself, I think anyone would be.'

Sophie's trail-blazing almost faltered when the North-west Counties Schools Rugby League declared that, according to its constitution, girls were not allowed to play the game.

After an article about her plight in this paper shortly before Christmas, the English Schools Rugby League stepped in and moved the goalposts. Sophie was on her way to Wembley and a proposed change in the rules means that many other girls will be able to follow her.

Like most professionals who make the same trip for the first time, Sophie claimed that she was not overawed by the occasion: 'I felt a bit tense and nervous running through the tunnel, but then there was a huge cheer from the crowd of about 60,000. Once I was on the pitch the tension wore off and I enjoyed the game. Wembley was much smaller than I had imagined, which was a surprise.'

Her celebrity is far from over. Much in demand by local and national television in recent months, Sophie will be the subject of a seven-minute slot on Blue Peter next Monday, which means another away match since the Cox household does not possess a television set.

Many more appearances are planned. 'I have realised my ambition,' she said afterwards. 'Now I would like to go back to play in a cup final at Wembley when I'm grown up.'

(Photograph omitted)