Eniola Aluko was born in Lagos, Nigeria, in 1987. Her family moved to England when she was a baby, settling in Birmingham. She grew up in a sporting household, where she played football with her brother Sone and his friends. Sone Aluko also became a professional footballer and played for Nigeria. In 2001, aged 14, Eni Aluko made her debut for Birmingham City. Her coach said she was “the Wayne Rooney of women’s football”.
A fast, elusive forward, Aluko achieved success with Birmingham, Charlton Athletic and Chelsea. She first played for England, aged 17, in 2004, and was a star of the team until 2016, winning 102 caps. In 2009 she went to the United States to play for St Louis Athletica. In 2012 she returned home and had six years at Chelsea before moving to Italy to play for Juventus in 2018.
Fighting for Equality
Aluko’s brilliant career was hit by controversy in 2016. The coach of the England national team, Mark Sampson, achieved good results on the field of play but was criticised for his forceful style of coaching. Eniola spoke up about his sexist and racist behaviour, but felt that the authorities failed to back her up. Mark Sampson eventually resigned and Eni Aluko never played for England again. She retired as a player in 2018, and worked as a TV commentator on both the men’s and women’s game. In 2020 she qualified as UEFA Master for International Players and took the post of Director of Women’s Football at Aston Villa. She is also an active advocate for the social impact of football with Common Goal.
Eniola Aluko was an example of post-colonial migration, coming to Britain as a baby when her family migrated from Nigeria. She had a star career in football, playing in England, America and Italy. She won 102 caps for England. During her career there were great advances for women in sport. Aluko paved a path to show how migration can lead to integration and equality.
But in 2016 Eni Aluko challenged England’s team manager, Mark Sampson, accusing him of bullying, sexism and racism. Sampson resigned and she was portrayed as a “whisteblower”. Aluko never played for England again but only two years later, Eni began a new career in football, which included TV appearances as well as top-level management.
How does this story help us understand changes in the last decades in the game of football? What does it say about equal opportunities and diversity?
Find out more
Explore Aluko’s views on the developments in 2016 and more broadly on her experiences with racism in an interview she gave to The Guardian. She also elaborated on similar issues related to systemic discrimination on The Guardian Football, the Huffington Post, as well as on BBC Sport and the Russel Howard Show. She joined a public debate in 2020 with David Goldblatt, Simon Kuper and Laura Youngson in the 2020 Forum on European Culture, which can be watched on DeBalieTV.
Eniola Aluko in 2009 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons).
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