2016 saw what can only be described as a phenomenal display of character and courage as Eniola Aluko pursued allegations of racism against former Lionesses manager Mark Sampson – allegations subsequently shown to be a harrowing tale of institutionalized racism within the England set up. Aluko’s persistence and bravery felt somewhat like a watershed moment for race and equality in sport.
In spite of all of this, it is still the moment that looms over Aluko’s career and is what she is generally associated with. It’s rarely ever Eni Aluko: holder of a first-class honours law degree, lawyer, first female pundit on Match of the Day, UN Women UK ambassador, 102 caps for England and soon to be a published author.
Aluko’s forthcoming memoir They Don’t Teach This, steps beyond just a biography as she explores themes of ‘dual nationality and identity, race and institutional prejudice, success, failure and faith’. The book acts as a personal ode to all she has achieved thus far, aiming to inspire readers to reassess their outlook on life challenges – drawing on her own personal experiences.
Born in Nigeria, Aluko moved to Birmingham when she was just one but – as she reveals in an exclusive snippet of They Don’t Teach This – despite living in England almost all her life, it was being called up to the national team that made her ‘understand’ she wasn’t officially British, at least not on paper. She talks openly and honestly about what it meant to receive the red British passport and take on a second identity.
“No one could teach me how to navigate this hyphenated identity. For me, being British-Nigerian is a tightrope I’ll be on for the rest of my life. And whenever I wobble or feel others are trying to pull me in one direction or the other, I grab on to my hyphen and remember I’ll always be both.” [via the Guardian]
- Williams makes light work of rival Sharapova at US Open
- Althea Gibson: Honoured at the US Open
- England Rugby invites women to release their inner warrior
With her official British citizenship, Eni Aluko went on to become one of England’s top strikers, netting 33 times in 102 caps between 2004 and 2016. She was also part of the history-making squad who won bronze at the 2015 Women’s World Cup.
Among her most memorable England goals is a brilliant solo run against Montenegro, followed by a thunderous finish to top off a hat-trick. Or perhaps the 25-yard strike against Turkey and even the technical dribbling run through the Netherlands’ backline to slot the ball beyond the goalkeeper.
Her national team inclusion came as a result of phenomenal club form, most notably leading the line for Chelsea. She played for the London club between 2007-2009, where she scored 15 times in 28 appearances, and then again between 2012-2018, scoring 32 times in 73 appearances.
Her second spell with Chelsea was arguably her most successful – twice doing the domestic double as she won the league and FA cup both in 2015 and 2018 – while picking up personal accolades as WSL top scorer in 2016 and securing a place in PFA’s WSL Team of the Year in 2015 and 2017. Aluko remains one of the WSL’s most prolific goal scorers, second only to Nikita Parris.
From there she moved onto Juventus, where the Italian league would see her net 13 times in 20 games, helping her side to the domestic double last season.
With such an unbelievable career of football at just 32, it’s easy to forget all of the other incredible things Aluko has achieved in her life. In 2008 she graduated university with a First class degree in Law, continuing on to study for the New York bar exam, taking a similar exam back in England. As if studying to be a lawyer wasn’t enough, she also played football for Saint Louis Athletica where she got 10 goals in 25 games during that period.
The personal accolades continued to roll in as 2014 saw her become the first female pundit featured on Match of the Day, in 2016 she became one of the first female footballers on video game FIFA as national teams were added for the first time – as well as becoming the first female athlete in the UK to sign a multi-year endorsement deal with Under Armour.
In a breath, that’s just a glimpse at the remarkable career and life Eni Aluko has led, as she continues to become one of Britain’s most inspirational sportswomen.
When Eni Aluko first blew the whistle on the wrongdoings going on inside the England set up and was branded a liar, her career felt as though it was in jeopardy and – while her national career was over – Aluko has become a lot more than just another player, and certainly more than just a whistleblower.
In fact, what she did was a milestone for race and equality in football and sparked a much-needed conversation that continues to this day. She emerged not only with her reputation intact but as a pioneer and role model for black women in the sporting industry across the world.
They Don’t Teach This pays homage to a fantastic career and extraordinary life so far in Aluko’s own words. The book will undoubtedly bring to fruition the legacy she has worked hard to build. From growing up ‘a girl in a boys world’, the rubble of 2016 and the solid foundations of the present – Eni Aluko grows from strength to strength. More importantly, she shows that through everything – even when morals are called into question – she never has and will compromise who she is and what she stands for.
Raw, honest and unapologetic.
You can pre-order Eni Aluko’s They Don’t Teach This here.