Exclusive: Abbie Brown on playing football abroad

At just 22, Abbie Brown has already played competitive football in four different countries.

Her career has already included stints in American University system and professional football in Israel.

From Horsforth in north-west Leeds, Brown joined her first football club at just four years old.

“There was no girls’ team in my local area,” the winger told Her Football Hub. This resulted in her playing with, and against, boys.

Copyright: Lenoir-Rhyne University

Brown moved to Leeds United Girls’ Centre of Excellence at the age of 14. She then graduated into open age football at Bradford City.

“I was only 16, whereas everyone else on the team was 22 or older, better and more experienced. It pushed the younger players onto the bench,” Brown said.

“I wanted to play more but I wasn’t, so I decided to go to America.”

“Football is definitely the go-to sport for girls in USA”

Brown went on to discuss how her journey to American football began. “Whilst I was in the Centre of Excellence, a girl in the age group above me had gone to America on a scholarship, and that’s where I heard about it.”

Brown was enticed by the emphasis on high-quality football that American Universities offered. This has become an all too familiar reality for girls wanting to take their football careers to the next level.

“It seemed really good – you got to play football every single day, have good facilities whilst getting a free degree out of it.”

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Brown made it clear why an American football scholarship was such an exciting prospect.

“In America, football is seen as a women’s sport rather than a men’s sport,” she said.

“Boys usually go into American football or baseball whereas girls go into soccer.”

For Brown, American sport culture was a lot more welcoming of budding female athletes. “Football is definitely the go-to sport for girls in America,” she commented.

Transitioning to the American Style of Football

Middle Tennessee State University quickly recruited Brown, with the help of an agency.

“One of the reasons I chose there was that they already had two English people on the team, so that helped me to settle in. They were used to having internationals on their team.”

Middle Tennessee State University is one of America’s 353 Division I Universities — the highest level of intercollegiate athletics — meaning it has larger budgets, advanced facilities and more athletic scholarships to offer.

Copyright: Lenoir-Rhyne University

Brown’s memories from her time there certainly corroborated this. “We would wake up at 6am, football train from 7-9am, weight session from 9-10am and then class would start at 10.20am.”

Despite the intensity of her schedule, Brown fondly recalls her time in the US.

“If you get the opportunity to go to America, you definitely should,” she said. “Try your hardest. Effort doesn’t go unnoticed.”

After spending two years at her Division I university, Brown transferred to Lenoir-Rhyne. She moved to the Division II university based in North Carolina to get more game time and experience.

She graduated with a degree in Sports and Exercise Science. The left-winger went on to score a total of 23 goals and earn a place in the Scholar All-America Second Team in her senior year.

Transitioning to Professional European Football

Keen to pursue a full-time career in football, the 22-year-old competed in the Women’s Premier Soccer League for Ashville City FC.

Professional Portuguese team Valadaras Gaia then offered her a contract.

“I went there at the start of August in 2019, but I only lasted until the end of the month,” Abbie Brown said. “I never settled in due to the language barrier. They’d never had any internationals on the team before.”

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The footballing standard was never an issue for Brown. Her side competed in the top division of Portuguese football against the likes of Benfica and FC Braga. Language differences made it hard for her to socialise with the rest of the team.

“I felt really left out all the time – the only time I’d really speak to people was when I saw my friends and family on FaceTime. If I’d have stayed for the remaining eight months my mental health would’ve tumbled.”

Signing for Maccabi Emek Hefer WFC

Following her short spell at Valadares Gaia, Brown moved back to England at the end of August. Contractual agreements meant she was only able to sign a contract with a different club in the January transfer window.

“My plans were always to move away in January if I got any offers,” she explained. The winger signed for Leeds United to maintain her fitness levels before receiving an offer from Maccabi Emek Hefer in January.

Maccabi is an Israeli women’s side that competes in Ligat Al Women, Israel’s top division.

Copyright: Lenoir-Rhyne University

“Once it didn’t work out in Portugal, I knew I needed to find a team that had some English speakers in it. Thankfully there were already two Americans on the team.

“The owner of the club and his two daughters that played for the team spoke fluent English too.”

Abbie emphasised how the lack of a language barrier aided her integration into the team. They sat fourth in the league before the arrival of the coronavirus. 

Adapting to cultural differences 

Brown also had to adapt to cultural differences in signing for an Israeli side, with religion a strong element.

“I did the Shabbat meal every Friday with the family that I lived with. We all drunk a sip of wine and got a piece of bread with salt on it.”

Playing football in a country 3,178 miles from England also highlighted some major differences in playing styles.

“English football is the most technical that I’ve played. In America it’s more focused on the fitness and conditioning side but in Israel, everything was at 50% and very slowed paced.

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“If we did that in America, we’d be running sprints because we’re not doing it good enough.”

To Brown, it was clear the difference in funding is what is holding the quality of football back in Israel.

“In America the facilities were top-notch. In Israel we mostly just trained in random fields.”

When Abbie Brown gets the right opportunity, she will be more than capable of making a real impact in the world of women’s football. 

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