Wednesday 13 December 2017

Striker... The goal that changed Stephanie Roche's life

Top; shorts, both River Island. Shoes, Carvela, Brown Thomas. Photo: Kip Carroll.
Top; shorts, both River Island. Shoes, Carvela, Brown Thomas. Photo: Kip Carroll.
SL_steph129-Edit
Jacket, The Kooples, Brown Thomas. Bodysuit, Topshop. Shoes, River Island. Hat, The Kooples, Brown Thomas. Ring, River Island
Dress, The Kooples, Brown Thomas. Shoes, River Island. Earrings, River Island. Photo: Kip Carroll
Stephanie Roche says she wasn't prepared for her move to France but is looking forward to her chance in America. Photo: Kip Carroll.
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

Andy Warhol couldn't kick a ball to save his life.

So what did he know? Be that as it may, a cynic might say the clock is fast ticking on Stephanie Roche's 15 minutes of fame. The beautiful young Irishwoman - who recently set the football world alight with that goal for Peamount United, and the fashion world similarly alight with that dress by Helen Cody - doesn't seem overly concerned with the concept of time, however. Not least when it comes to the eight years she has been in a relationship with Dean Zambra, without any sign of him putting a ring on her significant finger. I thought it best to ask Dean himself about what he has in store for Stephanie, whatever about his apparent romantic procrastination.

So, when are you going to ask her to marry you? I ask Dean, when he walks in to the top floor restaurant in House Of Fraser in Dundrum Town Centre to pick up Stephanie after our interview.

"It's a question that's been asked of me several times," Dean answers.

Stephanie Roche wears: Trousers, The Kooples, Brown Thomas. Top, Topshop. Shoes; ring, both River Island. Necklace, Fiona Paxton, Loulerie. Photo: Kip Carroll.
Stephanie Roche wears: Trousers, The Kooples, Brown Thomas. Top, Topshop. Shoes; ring, both River Island. Necklace, Fiona Paxton, Loulerie. Photo: Kip Carroll.

By Stephanie?

"Not by Stephanie, no. But pretty much everyone we meet."

You've been with her eight years. What is the delay?

"I suppose we have been so dedicated to football, and our respective football seasons don't run concurrently," says Dean, who plays for Bray Wanderers, while Stephanie played for French team ASPTT Albi until recently.

Would Stephanie's mum not say to you: "So marry football then, Dean!"

Dean laughs. "I'm waiting for Stephanie to give up football and follow my career," he jokes. "No, it is just circumstances that have dictated. It is something that will be down the line for us in a little while, when we get ourselves set up. There is no rush at the minute. It is not going to be tomorrow."

Jacket, The Kooples, Brown Thomas. Bodysuit, Topshop. Shoes, River Island. Hat, The Kooples, Brown Thomas. Ring, River Island
Jacket, The Kooples, Brown Thomas. Bodysuit, Topshop. Shoes, River Island. Hat, The Kooples, Brown Thomas. Ring, River Island

"Financially we are not ready," his almost famous girlfriend interjects. On the other hand the extremely famous Portuguese footballer Cristiano Ronaldo, who was photographed eyeing Stephanie appreciatively at the Puskas Award ceremony in Zurich in January, is on €506,000 a week at Real Madrid.

Stephanie, who announced on Thursday evening that she had joined the Houstin Dash having left ASPTT Albi, where she says she was on €200 a week, wasn't working until she recently began writing for the Irish Independent. Dean, who plays for Bray Wanderers, works in Powercity. She lives at home in Shankhill with her mother Anne, and Dean lives with his parents in Glenageary.

"I think Dean has it so cushy at home, he doesn't want to move out! I think that's part of it," Stephanie teases, before getting all serious. "Living at home isn't easy. I'd love to have my own home. In France, I had my own apartment. I got a taste for it."

"I would love to be able to afford to buy my own house," she adds, "but right now, obviously, it is very difficult for anybody to buy a house in Ireland, let alone somebody who has not been working."

"It is something that I need to consider over the next few years, and decide whether I'm going to give everything to football any more, and not be able to live properly, or, I suppose, get a full-time job and put football to the side a little bit, but not right now. It's difficult. Last year, it hit me that I need to be settling down and realising what I'm going to be doing with my life. There is no hurry."

What about kids?

Dress, The Kooples, Brown Thomas. Shoes, River Island. Earrings, River Island. Photo: Kip Carroll
Dress, The Kooples, Brown Thomas. Shoes, River Island. Earrings, River Island. Photo: Kip Carroll

"I'd love to have kids," says Stephanie, who, in fairness, is only 25. "I want to have kids. But right now it's not possible. And it's not just because I'm a footballer, there are a lot of working women out there who can't afford to have kids. They haven't got time to have kids and that's what it is with me right now.

Also, obviously I'm not working, and football takes over my whole life. It's the same with Dean and Bray Wanderers. There is going to be a time over the next few years when I'm going to have to decide what I'm going to do."

Would you like a baby first and then marriage? Or vice versa?

"I'd like to do it the right way."

Which is?

"I'd like to get married first and then have kids," she says. "The traditional way, I suppose. I'm not really a traditional kind of woman, but they are different things that I've been taught over the years. I was brought up to believe that you should get married and then have kids - but it might happen the other way."

"I'll see what happens," she laughs. "Dean's mam and dad will be reading this, saying, 'Jesus Christ. What are they up to?'"

Stephanie and Dean met through mutual acquaintances. One of Stephanie's friends was working with Dean, and, says Stephanie, "it just went from there".

Also, at the time, Dean played football with her cousin in St Joseph's school in Sallynoggin. "So I went to watch to watch a game. Then we met on a night out. It wasn't like a whirlwind romance," she says.

Stephanie Roche says she wasn't prepared for her move to France but is looking forward to her chance in America. Photo: Kip Carroll.
Stephanie Roche says she wasn't prepared for her move to France but is looking forward to her chance in America. Photo: Kip Carroll.

"It was normal, kind of . . . we met and fell in love, as they say," she says, looking morto.

How long did it take to fall in love?

"Jesus," she says, visibly embarrassed. "You're putting me on the spot here now. I don't know, I'd say it was a good while before we both realised. For both of us, it was our first relationship. I suppose a year maybe. A year and a half is when you really, really felt it."

"I think it was a year and a half before I said it. Or we both said it. It is so soppy, isn't it," she laughs.

Having been in a solid relationship with Dean, who is a year her senior, since she was 18, Stephanie is what you might call a down-to-earth and grounded young woman. "I don't know where I get it from," she says. Stephanie says that her parents, Anne and Fergus, split up when she was a baby. "But my dad was always around," she explains.

For some people, the fact of their parents splitting up when they were very young would have a negative effect on their future romances. It obviously didn't with Stephanie Roche.

"No. No. Not at all," she explains. "It's a strange one. I don't know why that is. I met Dean when I was a teenager. He was my first boyfriend. I got on with him, first and foremost, because I had lots of male friends growing up because I played football."

I ask Stephanie at what age did she realise that her parents weren't together.

"I think I just kind of knew. It was always there. Do you know that kind of way?" she replies.

"There was never a big deal made about it. I've never seen my mam and dad fight or anything like that. It was just kind of like, they weren't together any more, and that was it. My dad was always there. He used to come down and bring us to school. Things like that. So it wasn't a case of, 'Where's Dad?' Or anything like that. He was always there. It was never a problem. It was never an issue for me, to be honest."

"My mam is still single," Stephanie continues. "My dad has a girlfriend but he is not married. So it's cool. They are very proud of me, and to see me in papers doing photo shoots. They are happy to see me succeed at whatever I do. They are huge fans of my football but they are also huge fans of me. So whatever I choose to do, they'll be happy with."

"My mum works in the school in Shankhill as a cleaner for the last few months. My dad works in Dunnes. He's a mechanic, and he'll kill me for saying this, but he's getting a bit old for getting under cars. So he doesn't do that any more. He does a few jobs for friends who he would have done cars for over the years. So he would help them out now and again."

Asked what she inherited from her parents, Stephanie says: "My dad was always mad into football. And he'll tell you this himself, he can't play football to save his life. He is not a good footballer but he was always interested in it. He was really, really good to me, growing up. He brought me to all my matches, he'd buy me boots any time I'd want them. He took a good interest in it. And then when he realised that I could play football, when he saw me playing, he was like, 'Oh, she is actually quite good!'"

And when did you realise yourself that you were actually quite good at football?

"I used to be always out on the street playing with the lads in Shankill. And I think all the neighbours used to look out. I actually remember a neighbour who passed away last year, Frank Kelly, and he used to always call me Baggio," Stephanie says in reference to, perhaps Italy's best ever footballer, Roberto Baggio.

"I didn't even know who Baggio was until later on. I used to love when he would go by because he would always say, 'Baggio!' He used to call me a great footballer when he would walk past."

Other signs that Stephanie had a talent for footie was, she remembers, "when I would get people stopping to look at me play on the road, because it was obviously unusual to see a girl playing with the lads. I would probably have been just as good, if not better, than some of the lads I was playing against," she laughs.

Did it hurt their male pride to be skinned alive by a girl?

"To be honest with you, the lads treated me like one of the lads. It was never like, 'Oh, don't kick Stephanie - she's a girl!' We used to kill each other."

And then some. Super-Stephanie can recall banging her head off the kerb as a result of a "clumsy tackle". She recalls: "We were both running for the ball. I think we just caught heels and I just fell forward and I hit my head off the thing. It could have been worse."

"People will relate to this from when they were younger themselves," Stephanie says. "We used to play across from the driveways of the house. I just hit the side of my head off the kerb. My head was really sore. I was only about nine or 10 at the time. So I was obviously crying, like anyone would, not because I was a girl," she adds, unnecessarily.

"One of the lads' mams came out and was looking at my head and was getting really panicked because it looked bad, but I was ok. I think I got a bit panicked myself because I had a big cut and blood coming down the side of my face. I went into my neighbour's house and she cleaned it up for me and then I went home to my mam and she was like, 'What happened to you? What were you doing?'"

"But I think I had so many cuts and bruises from football growing up that it wasn't anything too unusual," she laughs. "I always had some sort of mark. But I think that was the first time I got a really bad bang on my face. But she was never telling me not to play football or anything."

Born on June 13, 1989, in Holles Street Hospital, Stephanie was the youngest of four children - Eric, Paul and Sinead - and grew up in Shankill. She shared a bedroom with her sister until she was 12; when Sinead "started to work in an hairdressers in Enniskerry and went to live with our auntie."

Manchester United fan Stephanie only had two posters on her bedroom wall. "I think I had a poster of Ronaldo when he first came to United," she says. "I loved him. I remember his first game for United and his little spaghetti hair. And now look at him."

"I also had a poster of Ryan Giggs." She makes a joke about Ryan's famous hairy chest.

Does Dean have a hairy chest?

"No," she laughs. "God, no."

Joshing aside, Stephanie has some serious points to make about women's football. She sees no reason why it cannot be as big a sport globally as male football is. At the moment, however, she thinks there it is the overwhelmingly misogynist, caveman perception "that women can't play football" that is the stumbling block to this, hopefully inevitable, progress for the women's game.

"And obviously," Stephanie adds, "there's a lot of pig-headed men out there who wouldn't look at women's football. I have played football with men. I think it is just a case of getting people to get up off their arses and actually go and watch a game, rather than say, 'Ah, sure, women can't play football.'"

Having watched Stephanie's goal on YouTube - along with millions of others - you would like to imagine that she would be good enough to get on to the Ireland men's team as a striker. She laughs at this.

"Oh, I don't know. It would be a big step up for me but I would give it a go."

Presumably, you at 25 would be faster than Robbie Keane, who is 34.

"Ah, Robbie Keane is a bit of a legend. I can't be saying I would be better than him. I would love to be able to, but women's football is a technical game. The men's game is more powerful, more pace, and I'd be slight enough as a footballer. I'd be more of a technical player than powerful."

But strikers are all about technique when it comes to scoring goals, I suggest, adding that Lionel Messi is hardly bulky.

"That's true. But I'm not the quickest."

Can she bend it like Beckham? I ask her to explain the process to a layman.

"I'm left-footed, unlike Beckham. But I'd plant my right foot beside the ball, use the front inside of my left foot to whip the outside of the ball. And hopefully into the top corner."

"Look," she adds, "I've played football for the last 15 years now. It's only in the last year that I've started to get, not something out of it, obviously I've enjoyed it all my life, but the last while I've got a lot of recognition over the goal and the Puskas," Stephanie says of the award that saw her finish second to a no less brilliant goal from Colombian James Rodriguez

"I think I was quite lucky in relation to sexism. I was lucky enough that I had a lot of people support me. My mam and dad were brilliant, particularly my dad. He always encouraged me. And in school, it was never, like, 'What are you doing playing football? Don't be doing that.'"

"I was always encouraged to do it, and now I think I have been quite successful through all of that encouragement and support," Stephanie explains. "I have been in football for 15 years, but it took something so simple to get me recognised and to get women's football recognised. I just hope in the next few years that I'll be able to help push women's football here. That's something I'd love to be able to do."

Would Stephanie do something like I'm a Celebrity . . . Get Me Out of Here!?

"If I was offered," she laughs. "I might do it. I'd have to keep all my options open. If someone was throwing that kind of money at me to do something, I'd have to consider it. But as of yet, no one has."

"It's hard to say what's in line in the future. I'd like to keep playing football for as long as I can, but obviously I need to concentrate on my life and try to maybe go and buy a house or get married. It's been difficult for us," she says, "because football is our primary focus at the minute."

"I've seen a few people saying that the Ronaldo and Messi picture takes away from the fact that I did so well in my football. I think that's stupid," Stephanie says, emphatically. I think people are happy to see an Irish person being looked up to by superstars."

Did you feel Ronaldo's male gaze?

"I didn't even know that he was looking at me until I saw the photographs."

So, did you break up his relationship with Irina Shayk?

"I didn't. She wasn't at the awards. I got a lot of slagging on Twitter. I'm guessing they were broken-up beforehand."

I say to Dean, who has reappeared at his newly famous girlfriend's side, that Stephanie has just told me that Ronaldo has been texting her now that he's single.

"Sure I have his number myself," he jokes. "He's a good pal of mine."

Were you jealous when you saw she was being eyed up by Ronaldo?

"We thought it was funny," Dean says.

Then Dean goes to the shops - to "get an engagement ring", he jokes - Stephanie smiles: "We get each other. We both know each other inside out. We'd do anything for each other."

And when that happens, Stephanie will be up the aisle to Dean as quick as Robbie Keane . . .

Read and watch regular updates from Stephanie Roche in her role as columnist and reporter for the 'Irish Independent' and Independent.ie

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