History, Legacy and Jurgen Klopp – Furness on a “Life-Changing Year”
In her latest column for BBC Sport, Liverpool midfielder Rachel Furness looks back on Northern Ireland’s historic year, becoming her country’s top scorer, Euro 2022 and a surprise meeting with Jurgen Klopp.
It’s hard to sum up 2021, but one thing is clear: it has been the best year of my life.
The past 12 months have changed my life, both for myself and for Northern Ireland. From qualifying for Euro 2022 to the experience of playing at Wembley and Windsor Park before making more history against North Macedonia – on the pitch we have had a remarkable year.
Then, on a personal level, becoming Northern Ireland’s top scorer makes me so proud.
To end the year winning the BBC Northern Ireland Sports Personality of the Year award, and having it presented to me by Jurgen Klopp, was an incredible feeling.
Thinking back to Northern Ireland’s victory over Ukraine, where we made history by qualifying for Euro 2022, I would say these two games were life-changing, not just for us as as players, but for everyone in Northern Ireland.
Success breeds success and everyone is on this path with us now. I want women’s football to be massive in the country and to make it happen.
If you look at the opportunities that play-off victory has already created, like playing in massive stadiums and the full-time setup that’s going to happen. It could change the lives of girls.
If the girls go full time and smash the euros, how many doors could that open? This would have been unthinkable in the past and it will take the game to another level in Northern Ireland.
The turnaround over the past two years has been incredible. Since I started in 2005, I remember playing in front of 10 or 20 people and we were giving out free tickets.
Now people are having a hard time getting tickets, which is gross in a way because you want everyone to have the opportunity to come see us, but it’s great that we have that level of support.
Young children come to us now after games and ask for shirts and boots. They are inspired to go out and play.
I noticed last week that a young girl had asked Santa for my soccer shoes on her Christmas list. Something like that is so touching. I just sent them to the North Pole and something like that shows how much of a game-changer we are.
Unity and solidarity
We’ve always been a talented bunch, but now we’re thriving and the whole team played a huge part in our journey. We are literally going through brick walls for each other.
When we qualified for the Euro, I was dazed for a few weeks. I think it will only be when we get to England that we finally achieve what we have achieved.
Playing at Windsor Park National Stadium for the first time since its redevelopment before facing England at Wembley were two nights I will never forget. As a team it is important that we can experience these bigger stadiums before next summer.
Even beating North Macedonia by nine and 11 goals, which was a record for this team, would have been unthinkable in the past. I was at the other end of those scoring lines. It’s not pleasant, but no team has ever felt sorry for us.
Scoring more goals in a green jersey than any other player was another incredible feeling, especially in another big win against North Macedonia in front of a full house at Seaview.
To get this record for myself, my family after everything I’ve been through – I hope people see how much this means.
I’ve heard people say my celebrations are crazy, but that’s how important it is and I wear the green shirt with pride every time.
I can’t mention this year without thanking Kenny Shiels and his team. I would have hung up by now without him and he cares about us, not just as players but as people.
A mess to meet Jurgen
The winning sports personality has yet to fully penetrate. I know how huge an achievement it is and who has won it in the past.
It was a complete shock. I was doing an interview, it was almost a casual thing, and I was told there was a surprise – I turned around and Jurgen Klopp was standing there.
I was like ‘what’s going on on earth?’ I’m not ashamed to say I was a little emotional. I was a bit of a mess for 10 seconds.
He’s just a lovely man and makes you smile. He is a lot like Santa Claus and brings joy wherever he goes.
Fair play with him, he said we are having a fantastic club season and that he has also seen Northern Ireland again. It just goes to show how honest it is to take some time right before a game.
It’s fantastic, but I wouldn’t even be considered without the team behind me.
I’ve worked my entire career to qualify for a major championship, so winning an award like this epitomizes everything I’ve worked so hard for.
I’ve always said I wanted to make a difference in the game and leave a legacy behind, and I hope winning the award makes young girls and boys think they want to be the next sports personality of the year. or qualify for a major championship.
It’s time to think before you go again
I can’t wait to spend a few days with my family over Christmas and reflect on what has been a fantastic year.
The whole journey is what dreams are made of. We hope this is just the start with the arrival of the next generation. It just makes me want to do more with Northern Ireland.
I think after this year I’ll allow myself a nice Christmas dinner. Christmas has been difficult last year, being separated from parts of my family and this year I will make sure to cherish a special time.
I’m always going to run on Christmas morning, but I’ll make sure it’s a good run so I can enjoy dinner.
It’s been the best year of my life, without a doubt, and I hope it gets even better with what’s to come. I just want this feeling over and over again.
From the club’s point of view, I hope I’m coming out of a promotional season with Liverpool and that racing in the Euro with Northern Ireland will be an absolute dream. We’re not just going to dial the numbers and we’re going to compete.
I would love to score a Euro goal and I would love to get a first win, but just dating this group of girls will be a fantastic feeling and a proud moment for everyone in the country.
Better times are coming for us, don’t doubt it.
Rachel Furness was speaking to Andy Gray of BBC Sport Northern Ireland.