Robin van Persie and Rachel Yankey play as strikers for Arsenal in English soccer’s elite leagues. The similarity ends there.
While Van Persie is a millionaire who’s told the club he wants to leave and may get a contract worth as much as 150,000 pounds ($233,000) a week by joining a new team, Yankey juggles a part-time job with her career. The 32-year-old says a strong performance by Britain at the women’s Olympic soccer tournament may improve pay and conditions for those who follow her.
“Hopefully, kids can be inspired and the Olympics leave a legacy that we can pass it on to the next generation,” Yankey said at the Athletes Village on Aug. 1, a day after Britain qualified for today’s quarterfinal against Canada by winning 1-0 against Brazil.
The Premier League’s 20 teams spent a total of 1.6 billion pounds on player wages in the 2011 season, according to accountant Deloitte. Yankey declined to say how much she earned from soccer, saying it was “not enough to live off.”
Yankey, who is a part-time physical education teacher at an elementary school, has become one of the U.K.’s most recognizable women’s soccer players since she started playing for Arsenal 16 years ago. Known for her speedy attacking runs, she’s played 119 games for England since 1997.
The crowd of 70,000 at Wembley Stadium for the July 31 match against Brazil, the silver medalist at the last two Olympics, was a record for a women’s soccer match in the U.K. The British team will play Canada today in front of a sellout crowd of 32,000 at the City of Coventry stadium.
“A young boy dreams about playing Wembley, a young girl would love to but it never happens,” Britain striker Rachel Williams, 24, said in an interview. “Hopefully as the Olympics is about legacy maybe we’ll do it for young girls coming up. I don’t think we’ll see the major benefits of it, but hopefully the next generations of young girls coming up will.”
Britons are taking note of the team’s performances as it advanced to the last eight by winning all three of its group games and not allowing a goal.
The victory against Brazil had a peak television audience of 3.03 million on the same night U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps was winning his record 19th career Olympic medal.
“It’s hard to explain,” Williams added. “The more we’ve gone on the more it means to us, because we’ve seen the following and support we’re getting. For me this is the best thing I’ve been part of.”
With defending Olympic champion the U.S. and 2011 World Cup winner Japan still in the 16-team competition, Britain’s players say they aren’t letting national fervor distract them.
Yankey said she’s also managing to stay focused even though she has to deal with mundane daily tasks such as doing the laundry and grocery shopping. Van Persie and some of his fellow Premier League players have those chores handled by staff, she said.
“You wouldn’t get major stars doing that,” Yankey said. “We’re just normal people, so there’s nothing different about us.”