4 minute read

In her occasional series, Rosamund Urwin meets parliamentarians to discuss how they are relaxing away from Westminster. Here, Tracey Crouch explains her love of football.

When Tracey Crouch was in elementary school, she was “effectively banned” from playing football. The Conservative MP for Chatham and Aylesford, co-captain of the women’s parliamentary team, was reprimanded by teachers every time she kicked a ball. “It was not deemed appropriate,” she recalls. “Every time I was caught I would go play British Bulldog or marbles. It never occurred to me that I should stand up and say, “I want to do this.”

I accepted back then that there were things girls weren’t allowed to do

At her secondary school, Folkestone School for Girls, football was not on the curriculum, so she did netball, hockey and gymnastics. “I think I accepted at the time that there were things girls weren’t allowed to do,” she adds. “Now I realize that was completely unfair.”

Crouch, 47, first played street football. On the Kent estate where she grew up, almost all the children in the neighborhood were boys, so she and her sister played sports with them. Her first real competitive game was at the University of Hull, where she studied law and politics. She was a natural, stepping straight into the first team as a striker and winning the ‘golden boot’ of top scorer. She says football taught her “respect, the importance of teams, and that you lose, sometimes completely, but you will have someone around to pick you up”.

After moving to London she played in a women’s league, but when she reached her thirties it started to lose its appeal: “Our opponents were often teenagers, so they scored six goals before half-time, had a fag and a beer, then hit six more goals.While working as the chief of staff to David Davis, then a shadow interior secretary, Crouch began coaching a women’s team and is now an FA qualified “I started with the under-10s and then I stayed with them until they got into the ladies,” she says. “I watched them grow into these wonderful women.” Three days after her first election to Parliament in 2010, her girls’ team won the cup.

A year later, the Football Association barred her from playing in the men’s parliamentary team, due to their strict rules on mixed football. Fortunately, a women’s team was created, which she co-captains with Labour’s Alison McGovern. “It’s cross-party, but we have more Labor MPs – the Tory ladies aren’t interested,” Crouch said.

Her prowess on the pitch led David Cameron to ask her to become sports minister in 2015, but she was disappointed that it didn’t include school sport. Crouch thinks there’s a larger problem: that many departments – Health, Education, Environment and Transport – all have partial responsibility for wellness and exercise, but it’s not their priority. She wants the government to create a department of wellbeing to help tackle chronic illness in the UK. “We need to reconfigure Whitehall to focus much more on improving people’s well-being – physical and mental health,” she explains. “You can pull elements from other departments, creating a department whose mission is to reduce the number of people who have to rely on the health service.”

For her, it’s personal. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2020, she read studies that showed exercise could reduce the risk of a recurrence. Due to the lockdown, football was banned, but she became an avid cyclist and took long bike rides between chemo sessions.

Football, however, remains his great sporting passion. She shares a season ticket for Tottenham Hotspur and hailed the Lionesses’ recent success, believing it reflected years of hard work from those behind the scenes. “That was awesome,” she smiles. “And no one put a flare in their butt to celebrate!”

Rosamund Urwin is a journalist with the Sunday Times.

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