A final dreamed of at ‘yellow flats’

By guiding her side to a Champions League final, coach Emma Hayes – raised on the Curnock Street Estate – has become a role model for girls and women

Thursday, 6th May 2021 — By Catherine Etoe

Emma Hayes-etoe2

Emma Hayes: ‘Oh my God, my dreams came true!’ Photo: Catherine Etoe

CHELSEA boss Emma Hayes made history on Sunday when she became the first Englishwoman to guide a team to the Champions League final.

And when she spoke after the breathtaking 4-1 win over Bayern Munich that secured this achievement, her first thoughts were of the estate she grew up on.

In an online press conference attended by scores of journalists, the 44-year-old told the New Journal: “You know, I’ve played this out on the Curnock Street Estate. You know, I’ve entered that pitch every day as a nine-year-old about to play the Champions League final. Oh my God, my dreams came true today!”

Those words would make it into almost every national newspaper on Monday morning. Which is great, because her story demands the biggest platform possible.

But it is our readers who will know those “yellow flats” in Camden Town without the need to ask Google Maps, and our readers who have followed her coaching journey every step of the way.

Two decades ago, Hayes hit the headlines in this paper after deciding to leave her home, family, friends and job to chase a “New York fairy tale”.

The then-24-year-old was a sports development officer with the West Euston Partnership at the time, running football programmes and after-school sessions in West Euston and the Bourne Estate.

Along with Camden’s other inspirational coach, former Arsenal great Kirsty Pealling, Hayes had also given football-mad girls a chance to play by setting up training sessions for under-16s. But Hayes, who kicked off her coaching career with a community sports leader award gained as a Parliament Hill School pupil, had boldly decided to take on a coaching role in New York.

She would go on to manage in the women’s top-flight in America, assist Vic Akers at Arsenal in their quadruple-winning season of 2006-07, transform Chelsea into one of the best clubs in Europe, and make the shortlist for “best FIFA women’s coach”.

Thankfully, the New Journal has always put women at the heart of its sports coverage, so in the past 20 years we have kept tabs on the progress of this coach from Bayham Street.

Now, it may sometimes seem banal that we never fail to mention where Hayes went to school or which estate she was raised on whenever we write about her successes or Chelsea’s. But, like her, we understand the power of that association. Hayes says she only had the men’s game as her footballing inspiration growing up. “I never had female role models,” she added.

Well, girls and women kicking balls and coaching in the playgrounds, estates and parks of her old stomping ground today definitely do. Take a bow, Emma Hayes, you’ve done yourself and your hometown proud.

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