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Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Reading’s Deanne Rose: ‘Representation and role models matter so much in sports’ | Football

Deanne Rose may be living more than 3,000 miles from home, after being signed by Reading last July, but that hasn’t dented her plans to give back to the community she grew up in. In June, she will hold her first soccer camp in her hometown of Alliston in Ontario, Canada, for girls aged between eight and 14. “I thought it was the perfect opportunity when I come back home to be able to give them something,” she says of her plans. “Representation and role models just matter so much in sports and for young kids growing up … I want [the camp] to be really enjoyable and set the platform and the landscape for what it could be in the future.”

That her family and community is what drives her is clear to see: when she helped Canada become Olympic champions in Tokyo last year, scoring a pivotal penalty during a shootout against Sweden in the final. “They couldn’t be in Tokyo but I felt them the entire way,” she wrote on Instagram afterwards, alongside a photo of her with her medal, alongside family and friends, in Alliston. “To my support system and the countless people not seen in this picture, this gold is ours.” Her hometown is clearly proud of her, throwing a parade for her on her return, with residents lining the streets.

Rose describes growing up in a “Jamaican-Canadian household”: she was born in Alliston to Jamaican parents and has three siblings. She tried out various sports with her brothers growing up, but settled on football – her mum signed her up to a local side when she was just four. “My mum has been there from literally day one,” she says. “She was the one that was driving me from practice after work and rushing me to all these places. She definitely would be the number one person that has had the biggest hand in my football career.”

Rose’s career is already impressive. For example, she’s a world record holder, as the youngest ever Olympic women’s football goalscorer, which she achieved by scoring in Canada’s 2-1 bronze medal victory over Brazil in 2016. But, only a couple of years earlier, she considered giving up football altogether. After being called up to a national camp, she ultimately didn’t make the under 15s squad.

“In Canada, 14 to 16 is around the age where a lot of females stop playing football,” she explains. “So, it was hard for me, because I was going through a period where you don’t know where you’re going. So you’re like, ‘Should I continue? I just got cut from the national team’…it was a really big setback for me.”

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But she kept going. Around a year-and-half later, Rose got another break when she received an invite to train with the under-17s squad. Very quickly, things exploded: aged just 16, she earned her first cap for Canada’s senior squad. She is proud of her national side, too, with her team releasing a statement in Black History Month last year, where the squad made a “commitment to educate and enhance our awareness on the experiences and realities that our black teammates and black people face everyday”.

This was, in part, due to Rose’s own conversations with her teammates. “It was a conversation that we had had last year in camp, whether we wanted to do that, and I said my piece in terms of explaining that racism isn’t just in the States,” she explains. “I think, because we’re so close to the US, we get put in the shadow a little bit and that type of thing. But I wanted to explain to my team what it’s like growing up in Canada being a black female athlete … it meant a lot to me to see my teammates get behind, not only me, but the other girls.”

Deanne Rose in action for Canada against Sweden at the Tokyo Olympics last August.
Deanne Rose in action for Canada against Sweden at the Tokyo Olympics last August. Photograph: Edgar Su/Reuters

Rose was signed by Reading fresh out of the University of Florida, where she majored in sociology, the deal struck a month before she graduated. While studying there, she battled a recurring hamstring injury and, tragically, her best friend, a teammate for college side Florida Gators, was diagnosed with leukaemia, aged 18. Thankfully, she is now four years in remission. “It taught me a lot about loyalty and friendship, and what matters the most in life,” she says of that time. “It really humbles your experience to see someone that you’re so close to go through something so traumatic.”

Still less than a year into her two-year contract with Reading, her first professional deal, Rose has already made a big impact, playing in 19 out of 20 games so far. In December, she was the goalscorer in Reading’s surprise 1-0 victory over current WSL champions Chelsea. It wasn’t just any goal: Rose dribbled from just outside Reading’s box to the other end of the pitch, before striking into the net after a one-two with teammate Emma Harries. “That was definitely a highlight of my pro career so far,” says a smiling Rose. Of her teammates, she adds: “They were super welcoming from the moment that I came to the UK.”

Deanne Rose celebrates with teammates after scoring the goal that brought Reading a shock win over Chelsea in December.
Deanne Rose celebrates with teammates after scoring the goal that brought Reading a shock win over Chelsea in December. Photograph: Neil Graham

While she says that being away from home is challenging (“I’m a family girl,” she adds), she is slowly acclimatising to British culture – with the help of some Netflix favourites. “I just finished Bridgerton…I thought when I was coming to the UK, I would be getting an element of that, which, obviously, I’m not,” she laughs. What does she mean? “I thought everyone would be super posh, I was surprised!”

Looking ahead, Rose hopes to represent her country at the Women’s World Cup next year in Australia and New Zealand. “Winning the World Cup would just mean the world to the team, and me, and the country,” she says. “So that’s my next big goal.” With Rose on Canada’s side, they’re in for a shot.

Get to know the players in England’s top-flight better with our WSL player in focus series. Read all our interviews here.

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