by Tom Dean
For the vast majority of fans packed into the AMEX Stadium watching England’s final World Cup warm-up match, the result will have been a disappointing but relatively simple outcome to digest.
New Zealand had beaten the Lionesses 1-0 – a win that would ordinarily paint a smile across the face of any football-loving Kiwi – but for Katie Rood, merely attending the game had become a matter of self-preservation.
Three weeks earlier the Lewes FC and Football Ferns striker had been told that she would not be a part of Tom Sermanni’s final 23 players to travel to France and the news nearly broke her.
How would you react if everything you had dreamed of and worked so hard to achieve was taken away from you in instant?
Rood had been a part of the squad that qualified for what will be the biggest women’s World Cup in history and had even been an unused substitute in New Zealand’s 1-0 win over Norway in April.
The 26-year-old was not embarrassed to admit that the decision had come as a surprise to her either, compounding the distress and heartbreak of it all.
Her response was to defiantly pull on her match-worn (but definitely washed she says) ‘Rood No.9’ Football Ferns shirt and turn out to watch her country take on one of the pre-tournament favourites, not as a player – but as a fan.
In truth it was a sad sight to see her waving and chatting to would-be teammates as they crossed to and fro the pitch and tunnel but it was something, after much deliberation, that she felt she had to do.
And as the final-whistle below and the 20,000 fans trickled out of the Brighton stadium, she stayed behind to share her story.
“Every decision I made from waking up in the mornings was geared towards getting into that World Cup squad so to not get there is devastating,” said Rood.
“It was 4am when the news came through and I had to go to the coffee shop down the road to use their Wi-Fi because I had no data.
“The e-mail came and I was just in shock more than anything – I think I might have even laughed.
“It was a strange experience. I don’t remember much after that.
“In the end I bought a ticket last minute and just thought that I need to suck it up, face the reality of the situation and own it.
“It has been a bitter pill to swallow but at the same time I am a fan of women’s football and of the Football Ferns and the England team.
“Now I can take it one of two ways, right? Play the victim card and feel sorry for myself or use it as fuel to fire the next mission.
“I’m going to do my best to make sure it’s the latter.”
Rood isn’t just any footballer though, in fact, she is completely unique.
She is the ONLY player in the world who plays her club and international football for teams that imposes gender pay parity.
Affectionately known among the Lewes FC family as ‘Roody’, she arrived on loan at the pioneering club from Bristol City at the beginning of the year and has now made the move a permanent one.
Back in July 2017, Lewes announced that it would give exact equal resources to its men’s team, currently playing in the seventh tier, and its women’s team in the newly formed second tier – the only club in the world to do so.
Since Lewes’ trailblazing commitment, the governing bodies of New Zealand (along with Norway) have pledged to follow suit making Roody the only player to overlap both teams.
Quite the accolade right? Well it depends how you look at it…
“It goes to show that although the women’s game is making progress, here we are in 2019 where only one player in the world is being treated with the dignity and respect that really should be a given to everyone by now.
“It shows how much of a shift is needed and I’m grateful to be representing two organisations that are proving it is possible.
“The more Lewes pushes the message the better the football is going to get because when players feel valued they feel like they can give more to the club.
“The club hasn’t done anything special really when you think about it.
“It was a simple decision to relocate resources and budgets to give all their players equal opportunity. I don’t see why any other club can’t do the same.
“What does make Lewes special is that they haven’t done this as some PR stunt – they’ve done it because they believe it’s the right thing to do.
“The more people willing to stand up for an equal playing field then the faster we can get there.”
Born in England, Rood moved back to her native country at a young age and came from humble beginnings, first playing rugby and hockey before settling on making a go of trying to become a professional footballer as a teenager.
Since then the dream has always been to represent New Zealand but she believed that she would need to represent her country before the shot at making it as a professional would arise when in fact it actually turned out the other way around.
After an agent got hold of some footage of her playing against some under-16 boys in 2017, Italian giants Juventus got in touch and offered her a one-year deal.
“It’s hard to describe an experience like that because it still seems so surreal. It wasn’t all smooth sailing and I’d say it was one of the most challenging years of my life but I couldn’t be more grateful for it,” she said.
“I got to experience the day-to-day Italian culture, cuisine and traditions, I learnt a lot of the language and for the first time ever I earned enough to live comfortably whilst training and playing for one of the biggest and best clubs in the world.”
It was shortly after signing for the Turin club that her dream became a reality and after her first call up to the national team, she made her debut against USA in front of 35,000 fans.
Rood is currently on stand-by as one of a handful of players that could be called up if a member of the squad is injured up to 24 hours before New Zealand’s first game of the competition – a clash with European champions Netherlands on June 11.
But despite all the disappointment and uncertainty Rood remains positive about the competition as a whole and insists there is plenty to get excited about whether you are a player, a fan, out in France or watching from home.
“I think America are either going to absolutely dominate, or trip up fairly early on,” she said.
“If they slip then I think that opens the door for so many potential winners!
“I’d say France would be most likely and then there’s Australia and Japan who will put in some convincing wins I’m sure.
“My surprise team would have to be Scotland because they have that underdog mentality but also this aura of confidence about them, not to mention some fricken good players!
“I’d like to think England have the quality to go far but I also think they could drift a little.
“New Zealand have a tough group but I’m confident they can get out of it if they perform to the level that they’re capable of. After that then anything is possible!”