Eniola Aluko has had an exciting career as a professional footballer. She’s played for clubs including Chelsea and Juventus and she’s one of the few footballers to have played for England more than 100 times. She’s experienced incredible highs, and some challenging lows that have found her holding tight to her faith. The lessons she’s had to learn along the way are what led her to write her first book, They Dont Teach This.
We sat down with Eniola to chat about all things football, faith and finding who you are.
You have had an extremely eventful life so far and have achieved so much. What was the reason you wanted to write a book as well?
Yes, I think it is safe to say my life has been eventful! Full of amazing highs and difficult lows with lots of lessons and memories packed into 32 years that other people may not necessarily have experienced but would be able to relate to in some way and apply to their life. I think this is what made me feel comfortable in sharing my story in a book because I was confident my life would resonate with other people and hopefully inspire them to be better and stronger.
Writing a book was never on my radar until I was approached to write one and then it felt right to do it with a talented ghost writer, Josie Le Blond and my publisher Vintage/Penguin who gave me a lot of creative control in how to communicate my story in the book. I am super proud of it!
That’s amazing! Your faith is a huge theme throughout the book, which is obviously reflective of your life, How did you first come to faith?
I feel as if the book in itself is a blessing from God to be able to communicate with many people around the world and impact them positively.
My mother had a strong faith in God as a born again Christian when I was growing up, and around her 30s her faith really strengthened. We would go to church as much as we could without it clashing with football on Sunday. We used to have bible study with my mum to understand the principles of the Word and we would recite Psalm 91 every night before going to bed. These were deep rooted seeds planted within me from a young age, which meant that whenever difficulties came, my faith in God was a natural comfort and safe place.
It’s great to hear from someone who has gone through their teen years with faith in God. I recall reading you describe your teenage faith as ‘simple and strong’. Would you still describe your faith in the same way or has it become more complex as challenges have come your way?
When I was younger, I definitely had what I call childlike faith; The faith that is unshakeable. Whenever I wanted something that seemed out of reach to happen, I would pray about it as a kid and believe it would happen, and it did. For example, I remember when I was 12, I was desperate to go swimming with my classmates. I came on my first period 2 days before and had no idea what was going on. I prayed that my period would go just so I could do the swimming class, and it went. It sounds a little far-fetched but it’s true.
As an adult, I have obviously had difficult times when I have doubted whether God is listening or is in whatever situation I am in. I have questioned faith at times and questioned God’s plan when I have failed too but, fundamentally, I have always tried to tap into the childlike faith I had as a kid. I felt super powerful with it.
When you are going through something tough, is there a specific bible verse that brings your heart and mind back to God?
My go-to verse that always strengthens me is 1 John 4:4 “Greater is he that is in me than he who is in the world”. Often this is an amazing reminder to me that God has my back and that people or situations in the world that come against you that you often can’t control are not as powerful as God. It also reminds me that I am God’s daughter.
Another go-to verse is “No weapon formed against me shall prosper” (Isaiah 54:7)
Love those verses – they are great ones to memorise. It can’t always have been easy for you growing up as a girl who loved football but in a society where football was ‘for boys’. What was that like?
My identity growing up was very much tied to football and being the girl that played a sport that was meant to be exclusively for boys. That came with its pros and cons as I was popular in my area and accepted very quickly by people who saw my talent, however for people that didn’t understand or were jealous I had difficulty with that and wanted to be liked by people who didn’t like me. Coming to terms with who you truly are can only happen if you let go of the desire to be liked by everyone. That has been a long process for me because as a kid I just wanted to be liked.
The desire to be liked is something most of us will struggle with! Social media has a huge influence on how people feel about themselves, and there is a definite pressure to look a certain way. What advice would you give anyone who is struggling with insecurity and self-acceptance?
Yes, social media is hugely influential and has been a gift and a curse for this generation. There is a huge comparison culture and perfection culture which is very dangerous. The desire to seek validation from others is also heightened by social media. I always try and advise people that validation, self-love and self-worth starts from themselves first before getting it from anyone else. It’s the practical ability to tell yourself you are good enough first and foremost and doing that regularly.
Everyone likes to be liked but you have to master liking yourself first. Spend time alone, read stuff that empowers you, follow inspirational accounts, surround yourself with people that see your light. These are all ways to reinforce self-love rather than getting it from elsewhere.
Amazing advice! Was there a turning point for you in realising that God didn’t accidentally create you as a woman and a skilled footballer, but that it was His perfect plan for your life?
Yes, I have had so many moments when I knew that God put me on this earth to play football and open amazing doors that would never be opened without football. I have had so many full circle moments recently that made me realise it was all part of God’s plan for me to be a footballer. For example, when I was a kid, I used to love Ryan Giggs of Manchester United and pretend to be him in my back garden. Fast forward several years later, I worked with Ryan Giggs as the first female football pundit for ITV at the men’s world cup in 2018. These are not coincidences; they are all moments orchestrated by God through the gift that is football.
What a testimony! God has it all planned out doesn’t he. Do you ever have moments of self-doubt? What do you do when they occur?
Self-doubt is natural. Even Jesus went through doubt. So, I expect it to happen and when it does, I try to do practical things to drown out the voice telling me I am not good enough or can’t do something. What usually works for me is to watch myself back in interviews or games when I have done something positive and remind myself I have done it before I can do it again. I also practice positive self-talk, almost like a battle of voices in the mind. You have to be competitive with that negative voice and kill it by speaking positivity out loud. It is amazing the effect it has on your confidence.
Definitely going to try that. It does often seem like life is all about the big defining moments, but it’s actually more about the every day decisions and habits that get us there. Do you have any habits or routines that help you stay disciplined, faith-filled, and focused?
Yes, life definitely is about the small everyday habits and decisions. I think writing plans down is really important. I write down the things that make me happy and that I want to do and make myself accountable to that list so that anything outside of that happiness list I do not do. I try to read the bible as much as I can through a daily devotional and always listen to gospel music which puts me in a mood of praise and gratitude.
One of my favourite phrases of the book is ‘failure is the best teacher’, but failure can be daunting, and the fear is what stops us from trying in the first place. What advice do you have for anyone who is fearing failure?
Yes, fear of failure is a pretty real daunting emotion. I always dealt with it by saying to myself ok if I do this thing that I am scared of failing, what is the worst that is going to happen if I fail?? You just try again or do something different. Many times I have failed prior to huge success. You have to put yourself back in the position to potentially fail in order to succeed. So, the two come hand in hand. On the other side of fear is something great.
Usually minimising that fear by saying what’s the worst that can happen really helps you to see it as something that can be overcome. When you see it that way you’ll be amazed at how likely it is that you will succeed because you just go for it not allowing fear to stop you.
Thankyou so much Eni, you’ve really inspired us to dream big, not be held back by fear, and trust in God’s perfect plan for our lives!