When the striker called out racism in the England camp, it ended her international career. She explains why the fight was worth it
Eniola Aluko is one of only 11 female footballers to have played more than 100 times for England. She has scored some of the Lionesses most memorable goals, was the first female pundit on Match Of The Day, and is a qualified lawyer, having graduated from Brunel University London with a first in 2008. But it is as a whistleblower that she is destined to be best remembered. And, like many whistleblowers, she has spent the subsequent years being rubbished by those she exposed.
Now she has written a memoir. They Dont Teach This is a fascinating examination of her multiple identities British and Nigerian, a girl in a boys world, footballer and academic, a kid from an estate with upper-middle-class parents, a God-fearing rebel. But the book is at its best when she reveals exactly what happened after she accused the England management team of racism, and the Football Association of turning a blind eye to it. Aluko does not hold back and few people from the football establishment emerge with their reputation intact.
Aluko now plays for Juventus in Italy, but we meet at her old stomping ground, Brunel. She has been delayed by traffic, which gives me time to explore the sports centre. On the wall are three huge, framed posters of Brunel alumni sporting legends. Guess who they are, I say to Aluko when she arrives. Mo Farah, definitely, she says instantly. And? Erm oh, Usain Bolt! Obviously! He trained here. And the third? She is stumped. Then she looks. Oh. My. God! It is a poster of her playing for England. Wow! Thats amazing. She looks genuinely thrilled.
Aluko has a small, mobile face with striking features big, brown eyes and a huge, ear-to-ear smile. When she is unhappy, she makes no attempt to hide it; her glare is as forbidding as the smile is winning. And there havent been many times over the past five years that Aluko has had reason to smile.