England Lioness star Toni Duggan will become the first player in the Women’s Super League to officially take maternity leave – and it’s a groundbreaking moment for women’s football.
Unbelievably, it was only last January that women footballers in England were awarded full maternity rights. Previously, maternity pay was at a club’s discretion, with former players speaking out about a shortfall.
Legislation was introduced at the start of the 2022-23 season and the 31-year-old Everton forward will become the first player to officially make use of it. The legislation requires players to receive 14 weeks of full maternity pay before dropping to statutory pay.
Duggan, who is now more than four months into her pregnancy, told BBC Sport one of the biggest challenges was “hiding it from the team”.
“It’s not so common in our environment for this to happen so that was quite tough initially,” she said.
“I was probably more shocked and it was more difficult to deal with. I had to tell the coach before I told my mum. That was different and new.
“It was something I wouldn’t have wanted to do, but as a professional footballer, I had to.”
Toni Duggan, who has 76 caps for England.
Katie Chapman, who played for the Lionesses in the 2007 and 2015 World Cups and had semi-professional contracts with Fulham, then Arsenal and Chelsea, has been among those calling for reform.
She had her three sons in 2003, 2008 and 2013, before there was any support, and continued training until two weeks before her due dates, returning to football six weeks after giving birth.
“There was no maternity cover,’ she told Grazia. ’Women and pregnancy weren’t really taken care of. We did it for the love of the game.”
Until now, how much support players get throughout pregnancy and beyond has been at the discretion of clubs.
In 2019, Manchester United goalkeeper Siobhan Chamberlain stayed with the squad but on a reduced training programme after announcing her pregnancy.
“I’m going to use the next few months to work on certain aspects of my game, both on and off the pitch,” she said. “I still feel I’ve got a number of years left in me at the very top level, so I intend to come back better than before.”