As Casey Stoney busies herself making sausage sandwiches and cups of tea, Megan Harris bounces Teddy, their son, on her knee while Tilly, his twin sister, sleeps upstairs. Everyone keeps one eye on the sports news on the TV in the corner. Welcome to multi-tasking in this footballing family.
In some ways it is an idyllic domestic scene and yet Stoney, the Arsenal defender and GB captain at the London 2012 Olympics, wonders how she will feed their children if she has to finish football. Thankfully, that is not happening yet, after she regained full fitness with Arsenal over the winter to earn a recall to the England squad for Friday’s friendly against the United States in Milton Keynes.
If ever this football fanatic needed extra motivation to prove herself all over again, then seeing her partner give birth to their children just before she was rested for the Wembley friendly with Germany in November provided it. “Every time I train, I’m training for these two,” she says.
At 32, Stoney realises she cannot keep playing at the top level forever. Yet as the players’ player of the year at Arsenal, despite playing through a hip injury at the end of the last Women’s Super League campaign, she retains the experience and expertise to bolster an England squad preparing to compete for the Women’s World Cup in Canada this summer.
That would complete a remarkable year or so in which she told the world she was gay and then that she and her partner were expecting twins. Harris, a former Lincoln Ladies team-mate, stays at home to look after the children while Stoney is driven primarily by her enduring love for the game but also by the financial imperative of retaining her contracts with club and country.
“My life has always been football and it’s my passion,” Stoney says. “I have always played football because of my love of the game. I have a hunger to achieve and to play again for my country. I am driven by the desire to play well for my club and win trophies.
“I also want to make my children proud and would love for them to see mummy play for England. Money is secondary to all of this. But I know I need to put things in place for the transition into retirement and make sure I can provide for my family.
“I’ve got under a year left on my Arsenal and England contracts, so effectively my whole income could go overnight, which is terrifying, absolutely terrifying. That’s why I’m looking at what comes next because I’ve still got to keep a roof over our head and I’ve got two children to feed and Megs to look after.
“I don’t want to finish playing,” she adds. “I’m not ready to stop. But if neither of my contracts got renewed, I’d have no choice.”
As Mark Sampson’s England squad convene at St George’s Park today, Stoney’s full focus will be on preparing to face the USA, the world’s No 2 ranked team. But, having recently taken advantage of a two-day visit to the national football centre to get a couple of nights’ sleep while preparing to start her Uefa A coaching licence, the London-born defender also has a longer-term ambition to return there.
“I’ve always had a vision, since I was about 18, that I’d love one day to go on and manage my country,” Stoney says, in a joint interview with The Independent on Sunday and Fanbookz.com. “You can have a dream, can’t you? I’d like to get at least 10 years’ coaching experience first: I’d be keen on working in boys’ academies, different clubs, maybe a WSL team.
“I’ve been an international player, been around the world, but I think you have to get your foundations first. Managing players is not an easy job; managing people is the most important thing.”
Stoney, who has 117 caps and played for Charlton, Chelsea and Lincoln Ladies in between her spells with Arsenal, says she would “love to work in men’s football”. She spent two years coaching an Under-19s male team at the David Beckham academy. “The boys were brilliant,” she says. “As soon as you show you’ve got knowledge, you get respect. Football’s football, whether I’m looking at it or a man’s looking at it.”
She works one day a week for the Youth Sport Trust and is passionate about helping the coming generation of female players get their qualifications. Arsenal Ladies train at tea-time at London Colney so the young players can go to college. But as a member of the Professional Footballers’ Association committee, she wants them to get work experience so that they are not “unemployable” when they finish playing. “We need to look after those players, we have a responsibility to them,” she says.
Harris, 30, is a qualified PE teacher but the duo have decided that, with Stoney the primary bread-winner – she earns around £20,000 from her Football Association central contract – she should stay working. “I’m hoping the FA will put me through my badges,” Stoney says. “I’d like to think I’ve been a good ambassador for the game. I wouldn’t want to spend 15 years in the game and then walk off and start doing something else.”
So how does this very modern couple divide the domestic duties? “I do the cooking and washing and I probably do a lot more of the nappies, because Megs does the feeding and the babies are constant,” Stoney says. “I don’t think she’s had a proper night’s sleep in 12 weeks. Arsenal went away to Japan and I basically slept for 10 days.”
Stoney believes becoming a mother has brought out a more caring side in her and “I’ve had to learn to be organised”. She will prepare two meals in one go and leave tomorrow’s in the slow cooker. “And we use clothes that don’t need ironing.”
She is glad she “came out” this time last year, when they conceived at the third attempt at IVF. “Glad but terrified,” Stoney says, laughing. “I’m glad I did because it made me accept myself at last, be comfortable with myself. I don’t have to hide anything anymore and when you’ve got two children, you can’t really hide anything. And they will know where they came from, from the start. It was a hell of a journey trying to have them. So now they’re here, they’ll have a loving environment and that’s the most important thing.”
“It’s been a manic year really,” says Harris, who last played 15 months ago. “Moving down from Lincoln to Elstree, then up here [near Harlow] for a bigger place just before the twins arrived. Then we needed a new car; I ended up getting it on the day I went into hospital. It’s all been worth it.”
The couple have been together for three and a half years and Harris, whose sister Martha plays full-back for Liverpool and father Glen manages Doncaster Belles, is fully supportive of Casey’s career.
The couple succeeded at the third attempt of IVF. “Financially and emotionally it took its toll,” the former England captain says. “We did try with my eggs. In our first attempt we tried a process called egg sharing where I went through fertility treatment so my eggs could be implanted for Megs to carry; she was always going to carry whilst I was still playing. There’s plenty of time for me to carry once I hang up my boots, hopefully.
“When that didn’t work, we went with a donor with Megan’s eggs. We were living in Lincoln, travelling to London for the IVF clinic, so it was quite a slog.
“When people say IVF is a journey, I know what they mean now. You have so many ups, so many downs, but no one can prepare you for that, or for when it fails. So when people question whether you should have children, I think, ‘You should go through what we’ve been through to get them in the first place’.”
Stoney has learned to distinguish between the rational and the abusive in the hullabaloo over the couple’s life choices. “I’ve been sent stuff through the post telling me it’s a mental illness,” she says. “Interesting, but it goes straight in the bin.”
She is accustomed to testing family situations. Her parents split when she was six years old – “Dad’s Arsenal, but my mum’s side are all Chelsea season-ticket holders” – but she enjoys good relations with both.
“Over the years I’d like to think I’ve been quite resilient, on and off the pitch. Every setback makes you stronger,” Stoney says, before getting her Arsenal training kit on. “But I think everything happens for a reason, and now I’ve got the best reasons. I’ve got the best life in the world. I don’t get paid £1m a year, but your riches are the people around you, your life experiences, and I’ve got two beautiful kids, a wonderful partner, and I play football for a living.”
Casey Stoney is a columnist for Fanbookz.com, the only football-dedicated social media and news platform
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies