Marieanne Spacey

If you were on Family Fortunes and Mr Dennis said they'd asked 100 members of the audience to name a female footballer in England - you'd be guaranteed points if you answered 'Marieanne Spacey'. It was probably the Channel 4 coverage of the WFA Cup in 1989 and her ability to catch the eye with the odd blistering goal from 25 yards which made the name recognisable.

Ten years on, she's just won the Premier League National Division top scorer award, both cups with Arsenal and been recalled into the England squad. Not bad for a mum. Marieanne started playing at British Oxygen in 1979 at the age of 13 - which makes her (shhh) 33 now, though she'll be '30' in next year's Arsenal squad info' as they've kindly started subtracting at each birthday. She joined the famous and successful Friends of Fulham, who became Wimbledon, before donning the colours of Arsenal in the nineties.

Jen O'Neill learns not to call her Max.
"I hate that. I detest it. But it's a football name. Max is easier to say on the pitch and it's certainly better than 'mum'!"

In the beginning:
"I started playing football with my dad, my brother and my uncle, kicking a ball around outside the house. Then I started playing for a youth club team when I was 9. Unfortunately, we had to kick my sister out of the team, because when we were winning 12 or 13-0 she would score own goals because she felt sorry for the other team. My family have always been very supportive and even now, without them I wouldn't be able to play.

TV Stardom:
"With Friends of Fulham when we'd just won the cup, we went to a local McDonalds and everyone turned to look and whispered to each other, 'That's Friends of Fulham, they've just been on the telly.' That was our first real instance of being noticed and we didn't really know what do to do. I'd played for England for years and never had that, it was weird."

Have playing standards improved since then?
"I actually think that that Fulham/Wimbledon side was on a par with the present Arsenal team, though it's hard to compare. The present Arsenal girls are a lot younger and fitness levels are much higher, but still, that team on its day would have been better than any other, even now. It was a collection of such talented individuals - Terri Spriggett, Debbie Fox, Brenda Sempare.
"People should remember and respect there was a game before 1993, that pioneers built the foundations and paved the way for what is happening now. There were so many talented players, like Teri Wiseman (England and Fulham goalkeeper) She was a mentor to me, I learnt so much off her. Martin Regan and Barry Williams (ex England managers) were brilliant but they're forgotten now.
"Every team now has good players, though all I tend to see is 'who is in my way of scoring goals!' This season particularly, the girls are looking after themselves better and working on their game. In some ways it has affected 'team spirit' - not that we don't have that now, but we used to finish the game and then pile down the pub for a sing song on a Sunday night. That doesn't happen anymore, because people know they are better off going home, re-hydrating and stuffing themselves with pasta!"

Why did you move to Arsenal?
"I went to Arsenal because I felt stale at Wimbledon. I met Vic Akers (Arsenal manager), had a look round, joined in a training session up and down the Highbury terraces and then I signed. It was a step to make me a better footballer and I've relearned how to play the game.
"Football comes first here. We're part of the fabric of the club and we strive to reach the standards that are expected. A lot of people seem resentful of Arsenal because of the support and attention we receive and our success. But are people jealous of what we're getting or are they envious because they're not getting it? That's the way I see it. What we get - we work for. We don't just turn up on the first day of the season and get given a pair of boots and a tracksuit. A lot of us do community scheme coaching and media work. "When we travelled in our open top bus last year with the two cups, we thought everyone would follow the men's bus and we'd just have the stragglers who couldn't keep up! But people stayed and congratulated us before they moved on - it was fantastic. We had breakfast with the male players (we got photos and autographs because we're still fans!) and they said we deserved it and should enjoy it. If you could take what Arsenal FC have done for women's football here and put it into every other club - the profile of the whole game would develop.
"This year's cup final was a real highlight in that sense. It was well publicised, there was a good crowd and it was such a buzz. In the dressing room before kick off they said it may be delayed because there's still 3,000 outside! I've played in 6 cup finals (won 4) and scored the winner against Liverpool, but this year goes down as my favourite. There was a whole spectrum of people there. That's the point of what we're trying to do - entertain the community.
"We get on average 100-150 supporters at home games at Borehamwood, though when Arsenal is live on SKY we get about 3. I'm not knocking SKY, their involvement in the women's game is great, but they concentrate on the show piece cup final when surely there must be time slots available for a weekly round-up of the women's game - for consistency."

How has having a baby affected your footballing life?
My daughter Sophie is 3 and having her has changed my whole outlook. The girls love having her around (well they say they do) and they talk to her, which is part of her development. She comes to all of the games and has a good laugh. She's left footed and got a real strike on her!
"I used to take football really seriously. I hated losing and tried to win battles on the pitch. Now I don't feel the pressure and I enjoy my game a lot more. I felt I had to really train to be in the Arsenal and England teams.
"Last season, I was seriously considering packing in, because I hadn't got my fitness back. I wasn't reaching my personal standards and thought, 'Will I ever reach them again? Should I go while people remember Marieanne Spacey as Marieanne Spacey and not, 'Marieanne Spacey - well she came back after a baby and wasn't the player she was before.'' But I've trained consistently and now I've got another season in me and even just got back in the England squad. I honestly thought that wouldn't happen again. When I got the letter my legs went weak. I've played 76 times for England and now I feel like the new girl!"

Have you worked to develop your shooting power?
"No, not really. You see the goal and shoot and if your timing's right then it flies! Shooting is all about timing and I've been lucky that my timing is good. You can coach a player to kick and head a ball, but there are some things that come down to ability and instinct. You can't coach someone to get the ball on the halfway line and run 40/50 yards and strike the ball into the top corner - that's just the sort of instinctive player I was. I'm greedy. Sometimes I think, "Why didn't I pass?" I just can't do it. I can't head the ball either! I had two really good chances in the cup final. One of them I thought I'd given away a throw-in rather than scoring! I just lay there laughing. It would have been nice to score - but the result is the important thing.

Even though you won the game, Vic still wasn't pleased with the performance. Is he a hard manager to please?
"Yes he is, because he knows what the girls are capable off and he wants us to constantly attain those heights. He was a 'pro' himself so he understands players have off games, but this season, we had one or two days when everybody was 'off'. Like Tranmere away. We could still be playing today and still not score - our attitude was wrong, but that helped in the cup games because we didn't want to have that feeling or get the roasting we got off people afterwards, again. From then on our attitude changed. Vic hammered us after the Ilkeston game we won 6-0! Though that was the game before the cup final and he had to ensure we didn't slip into a 'Tranmere' mentality.

What in the game still frustrates you the most?
"This will go down well! We need a better standard of refereeing. The game is moving on and that side of things needs to move too. Wendy Toms was superb at the cup final. If you knew you were being refereed by a Class 1 or 2 referee then you'd know they will only make a few mistakes. Instead, we turned up for a game and the assistant had a pint of lager in his hand. It's the Premier League National Division and it seems like some of them just treat it as a 'Sunday run-up-and-down-the-line' joke."

Do you take it slightly tongue in cheek when you attend these big award events now, considering you've been playing for 20 years and you've been there all of the time?
"Yeah, a bit. They probably think. Oh, just give her a trophy and she might stop playing!"

See Marieanne In Action