Exclusive: The Impact of Covid-19 on British Footballers Playing Abroad

The impacts of Covid-19 are painfully evident worldwide. The sporting industry has been hit hard. A devastating chain of events involving league and tournament cancellations ensued following the termination of all professional football in France. Leagues all over the world quickly followed suit.

Abbie Brown, 22, from Horsforth, Leeds, was just six games away from completing her debut season in the top-flight division of Israel’s women’s league, Ligat Al Women. Her team Maccabi Emek Hefer were challenging for the title. A short break home to visit loved ones soon became a permanent move, due to the UK lockdown.

Extended Leave

“At the end of February, there was a weekend where we didn’t have a game, so my coach allowed everyone to have a week off, which meant the international players could go home for the week,” Brown told Her Football Hub.

“As I was looking to book my flight back to Israel, I got a message from the club owner telling me not to return yet, as Israel had imposed a rule saying anyone who flew into the country had to self-isolate for two weeks.”

Brown and her fellow international players became stuck in limbo. Unable to play football regardless of any decision they made.

How Israel Responded to Covid-19

Israel were quick to impose a strict two-week self-isolation rule on those flying into the country. “It was towards the end of February that they implemented this rule,” Brown explained.

Shortly after, Israel applied these changes to sport. “The game I was meant to play the following week was postponed in the hopes that it could be played at a later date. They eventually decided to cancel everything – it just wasn’t going to happen”.

Despite the disappointment of being unable to return to complete the season, Brown gave credit to Israel’s response. “They postponed games really early in comparison to the UK. They [the Israeli FA] tried to leave it as long as possible to try and keep things going. You could tell they really did want us to finish our season.”

Their quick response has meant that easing of the rules has already been able to take place. Brown explains that some of her teammates have already returned to training for the next season.

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Unable to Return

Despite not being able to complete her season, Brown was able to keep a positive spin on things.

“Obviously things didn’t work out in Portugal and then I felt like it hadn’t worked out in Israel either. I didn’t get to finish my season, I haven’t even completed half a season in professional football yet.”

“After I was told not to come back by my coach, everything started getting worse. I think I knew deep down that I wasn’t going back,” Brown said. “I prepared myself for it ending.”

Covid-19 also created logistical problems for the winger. “I came home for a week, so I only brought a small, cabin-sized case. The rest of my stuff is still in Israel. All my clothes and shoes, so at some point I still have to go back to collect my things.”

Life During Lockdown

Having gotten a degree in Sports and Exercise science during her time in America, Brown is in a better position than most to ensure lockdown doesn’t affect her fitness levels.

“I’ve always wanted to become a personal trainer if football didn’t work out, and I already know a lot about training and how to prevent injuries,” Explains Brown, on how she keeps herself in shape. “I’ve designed myself my own training programme.”

Brown finds herself in a boat shared by many female athletes during these uncertain times. She finds comfort in knowing she has a second career option she is passionate about to fall back on if Covid-19 pushes football to the point of financial impossibility. 

Plans for the Future

Brown reflected on what her potential footballing future looks like amidst the chaos of the virus. “In terms of football, I don’t think I’ll be returning to Israel next year. Although it was the most money I’ve earned playing football, Israel wasn’t the right environment to develop.

“I’m still young and want to develop myself as a player but I don’t really see myself doing that there.”

“My plans are to see if I get any different offers from other countries for next season. If any are suitable, then potentially go for that.” As the Covid-19 pandemic goes on, many female athletes wait to see when or even if, they are offered new contracts.

Brown is currently not signed to a club, but is keen to see what opportunities are in store for her.

The summer transfer window is the next chance for clubs to approach footballers with offers. Brown is sceptical as to whether football will be up and running by then.

“It depends on if any teams want me and also when the season is going to restart. I just don’t know.”

Despite her vast experience playing abroad, Brown’s dreams remain to play professional football in England. Offers have cropped up from high-level English teams which could’ve made her dream a reality, however they never suited circumstances at the time.

“Whilst I was in America, I could see myself settling down in England, I see myself living in England.”

Saying this, Brown remains open to the idea of looking overseas again for her next club.

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