Football icon turned pundit Eni Aluko will pull on an England shirt this summer to take part in the 2023 Soccer Aid for UNICEF.
The 12th instalment of the annual charity match will be at Old Trafford, with England taking on the World XI.
Aluko is keen to get back into the action and raise money for UNICEF, and she will be reunited with some good friends as well.
The former Lioness spoke with Her Football Hub ahead of another highly-anticipated Soccer Aid for UNICEF.
Lionesses back together
“One of the things I used to love as a player was the team camaraderie,” Aluko said. “Training hard and then after, you’re having dinner and just chatting about life. That’s the stuff I really liked, the social side.
“Obviously Soccer Aid is a little less serious than an England camp but that’s definitely part of the game that I miss. Once you retire, you don’t necessarily have those team interactions anymore. So this is a good opportunity to come together as a team — I’m really looking forward to that aspect of it.”
In among the star-studded lineups are Aluko’s former international teammates Jill Scott and Karen Carney. The former striker played alongside both for many years with the Lionesses, and she also spent time with Carney at Chelsea.Embed from Getty Images
Aluko will also link up with her former manager Emma Hayes again. The Chelsea Women boss will coach the Soccer Aid for UNICEF England team alongside Harry Redknapp and Vicky McClure.
As well as the strong female representation, this year will see Soccer Aid for UNICEF’s first-ever female England captain. Scott will lead her team out as they hope for their first win since 2018.
Aluko already knows there will be “guaranteed laughs” with the former midfielder and Queen of the Jungle on the team.
“Kaz was a brilliant little wizard in the midfield and Jill is probably the fittest player I’ve ever played with. She’s just an engine — she could do nothing for a year and then still outrun everyone.
“I’m looking forward to playing with them and hopefully I can use my speed up front or on the wing.”
First female Soccer Aid goalscorer pending
With there yet to be a woman on the Soccer Aid scoresheet, Aluko is hoping 2023 will be the year that changes.
England will have the trio of centurions in Aluko, Carney and Scott, but they will also have television presenter Scarlette Douglas to boost their chances.
Comedian Maisie Adam will also seek to achieve this feat for the World XI.
While Aluko would love to bag a goal for England, she laughed as she reflected on her last outing with Soccer Aid for UNICEF.
“Last year I came on in the last 15 minutes, which in hindsight was a disaster. Everyone was really tired and the game opened up, so it was literally like a basketball match and I was doing repeated sprints trying to track Cafu down the wing.
“Who, by the way, is 52 — that was a bit of a realisation for me.”Embed from Getty Images
Aluko stressed that while she continues to keep fit after retiring from the professional game, keeping to a football match standard of fitness is a whole different level.
“I’m going to tactically ask Emma Hayes if I can start the game rather than end it. I’m not sure if my fitness levels can cope with that again,” she joked.
Record money raised for Soccer Aid for UNICEF
Of course, as well as the entertainment being held at one of the world’s most famous grounds, the nation will be hoping to smash the previous amount of money raised for UNICEF.
Last year, a staggering £15 million was raised, and Aluko is hopeful that 2023 will go beyond that.
“I was really proud of that, it was a record-breaking amount of money,” she said. “£15 million is a lot of money and that obviously creates huge change around the world. I was really quite taken aback last year by how much money was raised.
“It’s not just about a football game having a laugh, it’s actually using a platform for meaningful change. I’m really passionate about young kids in Africa in particular who don’t have an education because they’ve got to travel miles a day to get clean water. Something that we just don’t even think about.
“So it really means a lot to me. I’m sure different people are playing with different sorts of motivation towards different countries and different kids. It’s really powerful. It’s why we do it, and we should never lose sight of that.
“The organisers do an amazing job of putting on an event that so many people watch and donate to. So hopefully we can surpass the £15 million mark.”
Who is playing at Soccer Aid 2023?
Alongside Lionesses trio Aluko, Carney and Scott, here are the celebrities selected to represent England.
Paddy McGuinness, Jermain Defoe, Gary Cahill, Jack Wilshere, Bugzy Malone, Tom Grennan, Sir Mo Farah, Alex Brooker, Gary Neville, Paul Scholes, Chunkz, Joel Corry, David James, Scarlette Douglas, Nicky Butt.
While there are still names to be announced for the World XI, here’s who has received the call-up so far.
Usain Bolt, Lee Mack, Steven Bartlett, Kem Cetinay, Mo Gilligan, Maisie Adam.
Tickets for Soccer Aid For UNICEF on Sunday 11th June 2023, are now on sale via www.socceraid.org.uk/tickets with a family of four able to attend for just £60 — two adults and two children.