Chloe Morgan and Rachel O'Sullivan are two pioneers who have contributed years of invaluable expertise to the exponential advancement of the women's game, from solid hands in goal to steady hands documenting the game, the pair are the voices behind the Upfront Podcast - a women’s football podcast that keeps you up to date with everything from the WSL and beyond.
For Chloe and Rachel, it started with a love for football from a young age. “I started playing football when I was six or seven,” says Chloe. “At the time it was just down my street or at the park, but then I started playing for school and when I was around 12-13 I got scouted for Leyton Orient. I wasn’t bothered at this point, I just wanted to go to Claires Accessories with my friends and look around the shops on the weekends.” Continuing to keep up appearances on the pitch throughout her teens and then university – where she was studying for a degree in law – Morgan eventually ended up playing in goal for a grassroots side her father (coach Clive) managed.
Previously an outfield player, it was here that everything changed. Morgan ended up trialling and playing for a few professional clubs, before eventually ending up as the first-team goalkeeper for Spurs, which would see her progress with the team to the Championship and then eventually to the WSL. “When we reached the WSL in 2019, to my surprise, I was offered a professional contract. This was all running alongside my legal career, so I made the decision to take a sabbatical for a year and thought I’d give it a go and see how it went. I’m kind of an accidental professional footballer.”
Rachel’s introduction to football was somewhat similar. A young girl who loved the game but struggled with the fact there was a severe lack of opportunity for women in football, she started playing in the school playground. “I was spotted playing football in school and was told I had good feet. The teacher told me I should try to play as a goalkeeper in hockey. I trialled for the team and it turned out I was good. I played for a while and to quite a high level. I studied abroad for a year in Amsterdam, but I actually went to play hockey for a year because they were the best at that sport. Football took me there really though, as I always loved the game.”
Whether it was the power of goalkeeping or just totally coincidental that the pair would use their lives to further champion the game, it’s unknown. Both have participated in numerous ways in an attempt to build the women's game into what it has become today.
Rachel runs the leading women’s football platform GirlsontheBall. “It was the London Olympics in 2012 that sparked it for my partner and me. There were 70,000 fans at Wembley for Team GB vs Brazil and we came home and wanted to find out more information surrounding the game, but there wasn’t much out there. You have your OG’s like She Kicks and Tony Leighton who used to write about it, but there wasn’t much. So we tried to provide information and we’d go to matches and Tweet live, take photos, and post blogs to see how it went.” Since that moment it's been a whirlwind of success for the platform. GirlsontheBall will celebrate its 1000th game this year.
“The woman’s game relies on athletes and people around it to keep investing, pushing, and proving that it deserves to be there”
The growth of women’s football has been incredible to see and one that will hopefully continue to gather more interest and investment as time goes on. Since the women’s EURO, clubs in the Championship have seen a 20% rise in fans going to the games. A stark contrast from the days of Chloe playing in goal for Spurs in her early days at the club. “It was around 19 years ago when I started playing for Spurs and we were playing on dodgy pitches, two-three people watching the games, sandwiches on the pitch, that kind of vibe. That was only a decade ago,” she explains. “You look at the last seasons I spent with there, there was food, nutritionists, kits, injury prevention, medical support. There’s obviously still a lot of problems within the women’s games that, but it massively improved.”
The pair actively talk about inclusivity and representation within the Upfront Podcast and express gratitude for the many avenues that have led to the rise in the women’s game. From the boom of technology and social media, individual efforts from people like themselves, and most importantly the fight from everyone involved in the game who has kept the dream alive. “The woman’s game relies on athletes and people around it to keep investing, pushing, and proving that it deserves to be there,” explains Chloe.
During the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and the terrible death of George Floyd in 2020, Chloe saw this as a pivotal time for the growth of women’s football. “I was grateful to be involved in important conversations surrounding race and representation around this time and naturally it opened up conversations around gender equality and a whole host of different conversations that we should have been having sooner. What are we doing, what are we not doing? That raised a lot of discussion around women and women’s football and this then pushed clubs to become accountable for their actions. A few clubs were clearly embarrassed about what they weren’t providing and then that escalated things, especially from the top clubs.”
For the early adopters of the women’s game, there was plenty of heartbreak in past tournaments, and Chloe and Rachel have been there to witness it all. Since then, it’s become undeniable that the 2022 women's EURO had a huge impact on the women’s game. “We have a women’s football podcast! Even if you told me 5 years ago that I would be doing this on a weekly basis, I wouldn’t believe you. And there are 4-5 other women’s podcasts all having important conversations around the game. There’s a women’s football show on Sky Sports, Barclays has invested 30 million into the game in recent years. We do still have these grievances, but so much has happened in such a short space of time, it’s crazy.”
The pair reminisce about their favourite episode of the Upfront Podcast when the Lionesses won the EURO last summer and they recorded live from Wembley Way. Rachel tells us that she got a notification on her phone that stated it was exactly 10 years ago since she was at Wembley watching the women play in the Olympics in 2012. The reason she’s sitting here today.
Whilst the show runs weekly and talks about the WSL, features guests and covers important topics within the women’s game, we’re excited to learn that the show will be travelling to Australia for the World Cup for coverage over the tournament.
If you want to relive the moment of the Euros final on Wembley way (which we highly recommend), then you can listen to that episode here. Keep up to date with the Podcast by following Girlsontheball and Chloe.
Upfront is STAK production, available to listen to on all podcast platforms.