Emma Lipman: My story so far
Manchester City Women's Emma Lipman is enjoying the best years of her career, competing in the top flight of women's football in England - but it hasn't always been plain sailing for the defender, as she explains...
My story is just one of many. It's not been an easy ride but I've made it and I feel everything that has happened up to now is just the beginning.
Just to give you some background: I play for Manchester City Women. I signed my first contract last year and - thanks to Nick Cushing - I've managed to secure one for this season as well.
Alongside that, I'm working in the Sports Science team at the Academy as an Athletic Development coach. That involves working with the nine to 11-year-olds, developing an athletic development movement program.
I'm so fortunate that I'm in a position where I can focus on the two passions in my life: playing football and developing people, at the same time. I love my job and I feel so privileged.
There have been so many challenges along the way to this point. One of the earliest challenges I faced was at the age of nine, when I was playing for the school's boys team.
I was picked to go and take part in district trials which was an amazing achievement. There were only three of us picked - two boys and myself - and I was so excited. I went home and told my family - only to find out the next day I wasn't allowed to take part because I was a girl. At the time, it was devastating.
I started to wonder where football could take me. Where was my future? I always knew I wanted to be involved in sport but I didn't know how. There was nothing to aspire to at that age but I kept on playing regardless.
That happened to a lot of girls I know and we ended up questioning again: what is our next step?
That's when I joined a girls team. I started off at Coventry City Ladies - I've always had sky blue in my life! - and I was there from the age of 10 to 17.
I made my first-team debut at 14 in an open-age team. I was the youngest by far and it was quite surreal. I came on at half-time and we were 2-0 down in what was a crucial game - we were competing for the league.
I've always loved the game. I wouldn't say it's a hobby - it's always been so much more than that - but I always wanted to know what the next level was and how I could make football the most important thing in my life.
I still couldn't see how that was possible at that time so my next challenge was going down the education route. If I couldn't play football, I wanted to be involved in sport another way so I went to university.
I spent three years doing a degree at Leeds Met. I played a bit of football while I was there but it was never the main focus that I wanted, though the team I played for was quite professional and successful.
When I finished uni, an opportunity came up to play for Leeds United Ladies so I moved across to join them and I stayed there for two and a half seasons.
It was a step up because at the time, they were in the league equivalent to the WSL 2 - but in order for me to make that move, I had to work on my mentality.
I've always been my worst enemy because I've always had that bit of self-doubt. I always ask myself: can I do it? Am I good enough? Am I confident enough?
There comes a stage when you have to get past that because otherwise, you're never going to get where you want to be.
I had another opportunity to work on that when I went into employment. At my first job, I met someone that really had an impact on my life and developed me as a person.
He made me realise I can do anything I want to as long as I put my mind to it. That was one of the biggest things I learned.
When the opportunity to join City came up, I knew it was the moment I'd been waiting for. If I was ever going to put football as a priority, that was the time and I was going to grab it with both hands. If I didn't, I might have never had that chance again.
To stand any chance of getting a contract, I had to be in the best physical shape I could to be. I had never pushed my body to the next level before but that's what I focused on, knowing that was the only thing I could control and that everything else would take care of itself.
I couldn't control someone else deciding whether they would give me a contract or not - but at least I'd have known I had done everything I could.
When they were handing out the contracts, I was told I would be getting one and it was the best feeling ever to know all the hard work I'd put in had got me to that moment.
I continue to work on that every day. I know I'm good enough to be here and I want to carry on playing my part in delivering the message we're trying to convey. We want to do more than succeed on the pitch - we want to leave a legacy and inspire the next generation.
By no means is this the end of my story. I'm going to continue to work hard for the team and be the best I can be, inspiring other women to let them know the opportunities are there if you want them and it's so exciting to think what lies ahead.