Rachel Brown-Finnis starred at World Cups and Olympics
She is now a high-profile broadcaster on British television
The former Lioness told us about the transition into TV and her latest project
Considering the bravery and mental fortitude needed to face a penalty, dive into studs, boots and limbs, and recover calmly from an error watched by thousands, it’s no wonder goalkeepers are considered a breed apart.
For almost two decades, Rachel Brown-Finnis survived - and thrived - in that high-pressure role. Then, with retirement in 2015, came the question that countless footballers dread: what next?
The profession in which she has since established herself could be considered just as daunting. Speaking live on TV, under the glare of lights and cameras - knowing the slightest slip will be gleefully snatched upon by sceptics and trolls - brings a pressure that would leave plenty wilting.
Perhaps it’s no surprise, therefore, that the former England keeper - who won over 80 caps for the Lionesses - has found comfort in some of the same techniques that served her well on the field.
“I prepare for every show like I would for a big game – with research, mental preparation and so on,” explained the 40-year-old. “My goalkeeping background has definitely helped, I think, because as a keeper you need to be able to get over disappointment quickly and refocus after a big save. Basically, you need to be the most emotionally stable person on the pitch.
"It’s the same now in front of the camera: I need to be calm, gather my thoughts, think rationally and not allow emotion to impact how I do the job.”
That methodical approach has certainly paid off, as Brown-Finnis - one of the first prominent female pundits to analyse both men’s and women’s football in the UK - is now a well established, well respected figure in her field. But like most female pioneers in the beautiful game, petty and personal online abuse was the price she paid for ascending to such heights - particularly in the early days.
“Being a keeper probably prepared me for taking that kind of stick too,” she said, laughing. “I think it’s getting better though.
"If you think about it, we all grew up watching football on TV and all we saw were men anchoring the shows, doing the commentary and providing the punditry. Seeing that established format change was a shock to the system to some people, but they are now seeing that women have something of value to add. I’m proud to have been part of breaking down those prejudices and helping to make a change.”
Rachel Finnis-Brown factfile
England caps: 82
Major tournaments: 2 FIFA Women’s World Cups™ (2007 & 2011), 1 Olympic Women’s Football Tournament (2012), 4 UEFA Women’s EUROs (2001, 2005, 2009, 2013)
Career highlight: “The 2012 Olympics stands out. I’d been to Wembley as a child in 1988 for my first ever game, and to be back there as an international footballer at the Olympics, in front of a huge crowd, was just mind-boggling. I’d been through six knee surgeries by that point and really doubted I would get in that squad. But I quit my job as a teacher to give myself the best possible chance, and it all paid off. It was emotional to see not only my journey going full circle but the adulation that women’s football was getting, having fought for that for so long.”
Trivia: Brown-Finnis split the bulk of her playing career between the red and blue halves of Merseyside, making her name with Liverpool before returning from a stint in USA to spend 11 years as Everton's No1.
Brown-Finnis sees her latest project, an ambitious show aimed at finding women’s football’s next superstar, as another indication of how far women’s football has progressed in the mainstream media.
“A show like this would have been unthinkable a few years ago, and it’s only come about because people are seeing how popular the women’s game is,” she said of BT Sport's 'Ultimate Goal'. “It’s something that’s never been done before. We’re looking for players from across Europe who’ve missed out on more traditional opportunities, or who’ve dropped out of the game – to have children, for work or whatever reason. Just any girls or women who, because of circumstances, have not been able to reach their full potential.
“We have a week of intense training, cut the group down to 16, and then the goal of the programme is to showcase these players to Europe-wide scouts, who’ll be invited to the showcase game against Birmingham Academy. We’ve got girls coming from Holland, from Germany, from Ireland, from the USA, and it’s a chance for them to put themselves in the shop window.
“We’re looking at it going out some time in November and it’s been exciting to be a part of it all. It’s been something different for me personally because most of my work is on live games, so this, as a production – needing to do retakes, with storyboards behind everything – is completely new.
“To be filming it at St George’s Park is special too because I remember when the Lionesses moved here that it was a big moment for us in seeing real parity, having felt like second-class citizens for a long time. I’m proud to have been part of that journey as a player, and now to be part of progress for women’s football in a different area.”
This article is part of our 'Women in Football' series, in which we offer a different behind-the-scenes look at some of the protagonists of the women’s game. Next week we'll focus on Russian coach Elena Fomina.