Football and faith: Women’s football pioneer Maureen
Maureen Martin has lifted the WFA cup at Carrow Road, established the first women’s team in Norwich and travelled the world playing for England.
While the first chapter of her life was entirely about football, in later life Maureen became a Christian and discovered there is room for faith and football.
Maureen grew up in Norwich into a large family. She said: “There was no football at school, so I played with my brothers. I was better than them, so they always wanted me on their team!”
Maureen has been a Christian for over two decades, but the faith chapter of her life opened only after her football playing chapter had closed. She said: “I couldn’t play football and go to church. Football was my life. The chapter of my church life is a lot shorter. The best thing I’ve done was when I got baptised.”
Maureen joined Costessey Ladies at the age of 21. In 1975 she joined Lowestoft Ladies, the top team in East Anglia at the time. In 1981 Maureen decided to set up a team in her home city of Norwich. She created the team Norwich Ladies, known as The Fledgelings and was determined for them to go far.
At this time women’s football was still emerging from the 50-year ban that halted the sport’s progress in 1921 and there was little investment or interest in the women’s sport. Maureen had to do everything herself; she secured sponsorship, coached and managed the side. Maureen managed the team alongside her full-time job as company director for Anglia Lead Roofing. She describes herself as ‘a bit of a disciplinarian’ and worked the team hard, ensuring they got to training on time and committed to the team.
Maureen went on to earn five England caps, the first of which was against Belgium in 1980 when she captained the team in her debut match. Maureen suffered a serious injury during a match in 1983 against Hemel Hempstead when she broke her ankle. Unable to play again, she continued to manage the Norwich team and led them to victory in the WFA Cup in 1986 at Carrow Road. Ill health forced Maureen to reluctantly retire from football. She often wonders what it would be like to be involved in women’s football at professional level today.
Maureen’s faith journey started in the year 2000, when her mother died of cancer. Maureen said: “It was a horrendous death, I can still see it now.” She received counselling and the counsellor was a Salvation Army man.
“It was good to talk. He helped me a great deal. He knew I was pretty lonely and he asked if I would like to meet up with another lady. She was a Christian and she came round and we had a long chat. She encouraged me to come to church. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go at first because I don’t like all the reading out of books. She said we’d go to a different one to that and she took me to Witard Road Baptist Church. There was a band and Bible teaching. I loved it.
“I sat at the back so not many people could see I was someone new. They noticed though! I really enjoyed it. The next week I was brave and went on my own.”
Maureen never missed a Sunday after that and after two years she became the church treasurer. She hasn’t looked back since and has been a regular attender – first of WRBC and currently a member at Norwich Central Baptist Church.
Crafting is another of Maureen’s passions; she used to run crafting groups in her local area, and in residential care homes, including crochet, card making, scrapbooking and parchment craft. She has carefully organised all her footballing memorabilia, photos, and team lists into beautifully presented scrapbooks, one for each year of her footballing career. Maureen has similarly organised the photos of her baptism and the cards she received at the occasion to mark it as a pivotal moment in her life.
Maureen was baptised at Witard Road Baptist Church (WRBC) on January 1, 2006 by Rev David Adams and church leader David Robinson.
A keen Manchester United supporter, her bookshelves are full of footballing autobiographies and books on women’s football that she has contributed to. Another bookshelf in her Brundall home contains shelves of Christian books, commentaries and notes.
Pictures: Left to right Lowestoft Ladies captain Maureen with John Craven and Southampton Women's captain Sue Buckett.
Maureen getting baptised in 2006 with David Adams and David Robinson