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Newspaper Article
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When this edition of headway comes through your letterbox the 2003/04 football season will have just started. But imagine if your team won the ‘treble’?

Well, former Institute student Una Nwajei’s team did just that. But Una’s dream was not achieved as a supporter, rather as a professional footballer for Fulham FC ladies team, which in the 2002/03 season won the National Premier Division, the London County Cup and the FA Cup.

"The whole experience was amazing and sometimes I have to pinch myself," remarks Una who played her part by scoring 16 goals in all competitions during the club’s successful season.

Una graduated from the Institute in 2002 with BSc (Hons) in Business and Information Technology. It was while she was studying for her degree that she played for Southampton Saints ladies team. Her interest in football stemmed from her days growing up in Nigeria where she played football with her brother and sister in their front garden. When they came to England to live, she was disappointed to find out about the differing attitudes towards the sport: "I was not allowed to play football with the boys at school or join any football clubs so I used to spend a lot of time playing football with my twin sister at home after school."

When she reached the age where she was deciding to move into higher education, Una found out that Southampton Saints was the only southern side playing in the national division, so she applied to the Institute. She was offered the degree of her choice, enabling her to combine her studies with playing football.

"When I was a student, I found the studying and training quite exhausting, as both required a large amount of effort," she reflects, "I didn’t have time to live the student life."

However, her hard work all paid off when she attained a highly sought after 2:1 BSc (Hons) in Business and Information Technology. Soon after graduating, she was called up for the England squad and approached by Fulham FC to play for their ladies team. At that time, Fulham had the only full-time professional ladies team in Europe, which enabled Una to achieve her dream of becoming a professional footballer.

Una comments: "When I joined Fulham, I trained six days a week: four hours a day on Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays, on Tuesdays and Thursdays I trained for eight hours, and on Sundays we would play a 90-minute game. With the FA cup and London cup matches, we would sometimes play a midweek game too. We had one day off a week, which was Wednesday. It was hard work but has been a thoroughly enjoyable experience."

Being part of the England squad has enabled Una to travel to many countries and play against some of the best teams in the world. She loves being part of this, but admits it is hard work keeping her place as centre forward.

At only 26 years of age, Una already has had many highlights in the game and scored some spectacular goals with her favourite typically being against her old club.

 

"I particularly enjoyed dribbling the ball around the keeper to score a great goal against Southampton, where we won the game 5-0."

Despite more women now playing football, the Football Association’s plans for a professional women’s league are some way off. Unfortunately, this has resulted in the ladies team at Fulham having to revert back to being a semi-professional side, after just three seasons as professionals. This has meant that Una is looking for a job while she continues to play part-time for the club and England. Her career ambitions aside from football are to utilise her degree to become an IT technician or systems analyst. She may also consider following in the footsteps of her twin sister, Dona, who also studied at the Institute at the same time as Una, and is now a Police Officer. Whatever happens, Una’s playing days are far from over as she promises to be a permanent fixture in women’s football for many years to come.