Transgender footballer opens up about her journey in accepting her identity: 'For the first time in my footballing life I felt like it was the place for me'
Transgender footballer Sammy Walker has opened up about her journey growing up within Watford's men's academy and the struggles which she had to go through.
During her teenage years, before transitioning to become a woman, she was scouted by Wycombe Wanderers and then moved on to join The Hornets.
And nine years after leaving the sport, Walker has spoken about her experiences in the game.
She said: "For the first time in my footballing life I felt like it was the place for me.
"Growing up, I knew I was not the same as other guys I played football with, and it was really difficult.
"I was quite feminine. At the time I attributed it to being gay, because it was the only thing I was exposed to."
But at the age of 15 she had a 'lightbulb' moment when her friend came out as transgender.
"Suddenly I was aware that this was probably my issue too," she said. "But with that realisation came the daunting prospect of actually going through with it all."
Walker was aware that it was a big decision to make and that it is a major thing to tell both her family and Watford.
"There was nobody playing professionally at the time that had come out as being on the LGBTQ+ spectrum. It felt like a long way to fall at the time.
"I would carry myself, speak and do things a certain way in order to try to appear more masculine."
At the age of 17, Walker took the decision to leave Watford academy, but does not recall it being a difficult choice to make.
"It was a surprisingly easy decision to make - I knew that it was going to be difficult to be professional and still be transgender," she said.
"I had spent most of my teens on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications and the lift of the pressure was actually a relief."
After the decision to leave football, Walker struggled to accept the truth about her identity and turned to alcohol and drugs to 'numb the realities' of her life.
She only became clean once she officially came out as transgender at the age of 26, and started the transition a year later.
She started to gravitate back towards football, doing kick-ups in the kitchen, and concedes there is a part of her who longs for the days when she was involved in the sport.
She said: "I missed being part of a team, match days and being in the dressing rooms before games, having a laugh and a joke, then playing. That was a nice way to spend a weekend.
"I tried playing ladies football when I came out but when you first transition you don't necessarily look the part, and I found there was a little bit of hostility towards me."
Walker struggled to find a side that would accept her for who she really was.
However, after nine years out of the game she finally found a club called Soho FC - a 'gay LGBTQ-friendly London team' - where she was 'immediately accepted'.
"My experiences within LGBT football have definitely made me feel like I have a place within football again and has made me determined to spread the message that sport is for everyone." she said.
Walker now features as a guest striker for Soho FC in tournaments and exhibition games, whilst also playing for another inclusive team, Bristol Panthers.
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