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Yankey ready for her Olympic challenge

TAKING THE MIC: Rachel Yankey (right) speaking at the Deloitte’s event

RACHEL YANKEY has told Kick It Out it will be an ‘emotional experience’ appearing at Wembley Stadium during this summer’s Olympic Games in London after being selected in the final Great Britain's women's squad on 26 June.

Born a stone’s throw away from Wembley Way, the Arsenal Ladies star will feature in the Team GB side which takes on Brazil at the home of football in the group stages on July 31.

“To play at Wembley is a massive honour for anyone, but having grown up and still living in the area, it’ll be extra special for me,” said the 32-year-old, speaking at an event to promote Kick It Out, football’s equality and inclusion campaign, and Deloitte’s ‘Diversity Week’.

“I’ve grown up with the stadium as a constant backdrop and I still work in schools and parks which overlook it. It’ll be an emotional experience for me.”

It’ll be another landmark moment for Yankey. The lively England winger equalled Gillian Coultard’s international caps record of 119 during the recent crucial Euro 2013 qualifying victory over Slovenia, and will be looking to surpass this feat when Hope Powell’s team come up against Croatia in September.

“It was brilliant to equal Gill’s cap record. She set the standard and I feel privileged to have matched that. It’s not something I ever really gave much thought but as it got closer and closer, more and more people talked about it,” commented the former Fulham, Birmingham City and New Jersey Wildcats player.

“I still feel fit and healthy, and like a valued member of the team, so I think I’ve got a decent amount of games left in me! First and foremost though, I’d just love to be involved when we face Croatia. It’s about us qualifying automatically and my focus will always be on winning the game. Sure it’d be fantastic to beat the record, but the result is much bigger than that.”

ENGLAND STAR: Yankey in action

Since making her first team debut for Arsenal back in 1996 as a 16-year-old, Yankey’s career has been littered with silverware at club level. Winning the FA Women’s National Premier League seven times, the FA Women’s Cup on nine occasions and the UEFA Women’s Cup are just some of her achievements to date. Now she’s keen to pick up some honours on the international stage.

“It’d be lovely to win something with England as I haven’t really come close yet,” admitted the veteran, who missed out on Euro 2009 when the Lionesses fell at the last hurdle against Germany in Finland. “It’s been fantastic winning trophies with Arsenal, Fulham and New Jersey during my career but internationally, that’s something I’m eager to do.”

The profile of the women’s game has received a welcome boost following the introduction of the FA Women's Super League (WSL), a semi-professional set-up, in April 2011. Having placed a particular focus upon making the league as interactive as possible, attendances have increased by more than 600 per cent, viewing figures of live broadcast matches now stand at 450,000 and social media activity is at an all-time high.

Arsenal claimed last season’s title and the FA WSL Continental Cup, and Yankey and her team-mates are now looking to repeat this accomplishment after making impressive starts in both competitions this term. “It’s so far so good for us at the moment. We haven’t lost a game yet and we’re looking to continue our unbeaten run and we’ll see how far we can go with it in what is a very competitive league.”

She added: “The WSL has had a real impact on the women’s game. The quality of the teams are much better and the football is improving as a result. There’s much better fanbases around it than there used to be too and there’s a real concerted effort being made to get more supporters involved on an interactive level. It’s brilliant to see.”

Outside of her playing commitments, Yankey, a FA Level 2 coach looking to obtain her UEFA ‘B’ License, carries out training sessions with youngsters in primary schools across Harrow and her home town Brent. Looking ahead to this summer’s Olympic Games, she reaffirmed the importance of youngsters embracing the event and learning vital lessons from it.

“I work with kids of all different abilities. They love playing football and are so passionate about it. During the Olympics, they’ll be able to watch a whole range of sports on the TV and really begin to understand what being part of a team is all about; coming together as a unit and working hard towards a goal. In the summer, all eyes will be on team GB and we’ll be looking for all the support we can get!”


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