Remi Allen is a fighter.
Possessing a never-say-die attitude combined with plenty of natural ability, the Reading midfielder is someone you’d always want playing for your team rather than against.
No better was this proved than in the recent FA quarter-final win over Manchester United, where she scored one and assisted another during extra time to help secure a dramatic 3-2 victory.
However it’s not just on the pitch where Allen is forced to go into battle; it’s also with her own mental health.
While there is now much more acceptance and understanding of mental illness both in sport and society in general, often the discussion surrounding it refers to overcoming it as though it’s a one-off problem.
Yet for many, including Allen, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Mental illness can be a constant battle, a daily struggle to keep everything in check while at the same time trying to lead a normal life alongside everyone else.
And Allen is keen to point out that, just because she is doing a job so many people would see as the ultimate dream, professional athletes are no less likely to have their own problems.
“Something I’ve learned as I’ve got older is that it doesn’t go away,” the former Birmingham player said.
“Just because I have a great football career it doesn’t mean that I don’t have mental health problems, I don’t struggle, I don’t suffer.
“Football has been the biggest constant in my life and it’s something that has helped me through so many bad times but it can also be another reason why I struggle.
“But with mental health problems one of the best things to do is to exercise. Some days when I’m struggling and I’ve got training I think I don’t really fancy it because I don’t feel great but when I get out there and I come off I feel so much better. I
“Mental health is something I will always struggle with, it’s a lifelong thing and not something you just snap out of, but football a great outlet and release.”
I believe mental illness deserves to be treated like any other illness. Do you? #MentalHealthIsHealth
— Remi Allen (@remi_allen) April 12, 2019
Allen first opened up publicly about her mental health in an empowering interview with SheKicks magazine last year.
In it she recalls how the difficulties during her childhood not only had a huge impact on her at a young age but still affect her even today.
Despite the obvious hesitancy she felt about openly discussing an issue it took a long time for her to even realise she was suffering from, the England youth international said it was one of the best decisions she’s ever made.
“The project I did with SheKicks was actually something I came up with myself,” she recalled.
“I’d been thinking about this idea for ages, going into different clubs and speaking to different players and getting everyone to share their stories to help.
“But I just daren’t say it, I daren’t speak to SheKicks or anyone.
“Then I did it and the feeling I got was just unbelievable.
“I was thinking ‘will anyone else be struggling? Will they tell the truth?’ There are a couple of people I know who have so I went to them to ask them to pass it on to the rest of the girls in the club and they said they wanted to do stuff, they’d been struggling and I was like ‘wow, I didn’t know that.’ It was a liberating feeling.
“By the time it came to putting the stories out, mine was the first one and I felt sick. I was thinking ‘what have I done? I don’t want to do this.’
“But the feedback I got with people saying how I’d inspired them and helped them was unbelievable and I’m so glad I spoke out, even just a little bit.”
Having taken this huge step, Allen now wants to help further mental health education in sport to make people not only aware that these problems exist, but also how to spot them and help others going through tough times.
The 28-year-old said: “It’s ok to have bad days. It’s ok to feel like you don’t want to get out of bed, you don’t feel good about yourself or you feel like other people are judging you constantly even though they’re probably not, that’s just how you feel.
“I recently had a period where I felt horrendous for about a week but then I woke up and had a lightbulb moment where I thought ‘I feel really good today, really positive.’
— Remi Allen (@remi_allen) February 27, 2019
“You have to accept that will happen and you have to manage how you feel every day of your life and not beating yourself up about not feeling great.
“I still think it’s a massive taboo subject and I think some of the girls didn’t know how to approach me. I still think it’s really difficult for those who aren’t really that close to you to know how to react.
“I don’t know how we do it but I really want to kickstart making changes within clubs because they should be able to help a bit more than they are at the moment and I feel like that’s purely down to not being educated enough.”
It’s not just improvement in mental health understand and provision Allen is striving for; it’s also complete equality in the acceptance and coverage of football.
The drive to get more of the women’s version of the game in mainstream media has been noticeable of late, in particular given that there is a World Cup taking place this summer.
And while many more people are not only aware of the fact the fact that women also play football professionally, they also embrace and celebrate it.
But Allen knows just as well as anyone that there is still a long way to go, heightened by an unsavoury incident on the same day her side beat Keynsham Town in the FA Cup back in February.
Recalling what happened, she said: “We’d just won and there was a big men’s game on so we said ‘shall we go into the pub to watch the second half?’
“There was about six of us with our kit on and we had a couple of very respectful blokes asking us how we got on, about the game etc.
“And then one guy walks in who is a friend of them all and just rips into women’s football, saying we should never be playing football, it’s a man’s game, all of you combined couldn’t beat me and more and more disrespectful comments.
“You’re always going to get these people and you just have to handle it. But it was very insulting because I do this for living and, while I get the joy and the pleasure of doing that, I’ve also had to work really, really hard to get here.
“I have to work really, really hard every day, no less than any man who plays football, yet they don’t get grilled in that way.”
In the pub with the girls watching the game.. Random man “Let’s be honest Women can’t play football” I am incredibly privileged to be a professional Footballer, something I worked my arse off to be. Its 2019 & we still have to deal with such #Disrespect #Insulting behaviour!! 😡
— Remi Allen (@remi_allen) February 10, 2019
As the women’s game continues to grow, so will the level of scrutiny that Allen and her colleagues are put under, something she accepts as par for the course.
What she won’t tolerate however is people telling female footballers that their opinions are less valid than a man’s just because of their gender.
This is an argument that erupted earlier this year after Jake Humphrey took it upon himself to stand up in defence of female pundits such as Alex Scott and Rachel Brown-Finnis after the came under intense fire from a plethora of bigoted male armchair fans clearly intimidated by the fact that these woman had much more knowledge, expertise and class than them.
And while slightly frustrated that it took a man to make this into an issue everyone took seriously, Allen knows that there are more and more people on the side of female footballers and pundits and that ultimately they will always come out on top.
She said: “I can’t believe that me and you can sit at a table and discuss football and someone can say that you know more just because you’re a man. What gives you the right to say that you know more?
“In terms of knowledge, Alex Scott’s is spot on. She says the same thing as a Graeme Souness or any other male pundit. Yet because it’s coming from her mouth it’s not accepted.
“It’s just pure ignorance from narrow-minded people.
“All we can do is keep playing, keep performing, keep appearing in the media, doing our job and our roles.
“We’re the ones who are actually winning because we love what we do and we’re open-minded people who don’t judge women or men. We’re better people for it.”