Rachel Brown-Finnis is ready to seize the day ahead of her fourth women’s FA Cup Final on Sunday.
The Burnley-born Everton keeper will face Arsenal at Stadiummk in Milton Keynes (kick-off 4-30 p.m., live on BBC 2).
And, having been one of the youngest-ever finalists back in 1996, aged 15 years 302 days when she played in Liverpool’s penalty shootout defeat against Croydon at The Den, she is desperate to get her hands on the trophy for only the second time in her illustrious career.
Rachel was with Everton for their 1–0 defeat to Charlton Athletic in the 2005 final, and then produced a string of saves as the Toffees beat Sunday’s opponents Arsenal to win 3-2 in extra time in 2010.
Having played in the World Cup Finals, the European Championship Final in 2009, and been part of the Team GB squad at the Olympics, the FA Cup remains a major prize, and this is an opportunity Rachel doesn’t want to pass up: “I was saying the other day to some of the girls, I’ve played for 18 years and this is my fourth final, so you don’t know when the chance will come again.
“Leave everything on the pitch, you have to make it count.
“But I don’t really feel as much pressure going into this game as I did in 1996. I understand the magnitude and I’m better prepared than ever.
“I felt more pressure then - it was my first season in the top level and I’d never experienced it before.
“Experience helps you understand what nerves you’re going to experience, highs and lows, and it teaches you what you need to do building up to the game.
“At the mature age I am, and the finals I’ve experienced, it’s in my benefit and I can’t wait for it.”
She added: “This will be my fourth, I’ve won one in 2010. Winning the FA Cup was unreal, the buzz we had for days, if not weeks after was unbelievable.
“We have an opportunity to relive that. A lot of people wrote us off at the start of the season, but if we win the cup, we have superseded our expectations.
“To win it again would top off what’s been an amazing career so far for me.”
That career came to prominence while still a pupil at St Christopher’s in Accrington, and she looked back: “I think 18 years ago, there wasn’t as much hype, and people didn’t know it was going on.
“But I was sweating, it was nervous, I was sick before the game, although once I got on the pitch, it all goes away.
“It was an amazing experience and I was gutted afterwards to lose the game. I probably didn’t appreciate how big the FA Cup Final was.
“It went to penalties - as a goalkeeper you don’t want drama, but it couldn’t have been more dramatic. A couple of teammates missed penalties, and I managed to save one - I’m told it’s the last one I saved!
“I was still at school - I did my GCSEs a month later, so it was a bit mad. I was in school the day after the final.
“It was extraordinary, looking back, it wasn’t something a Year 11 student would generally have the opportunity to do.”
The women’s game has changed exponentially since: “You now have to be 16 to play in a women’s team. Things have changed for the better, but I feel privileged to have been a part of the game in that early stage of development, and to have been a part of the developments.
“I couldn’t have dreamed the game would have been like this 18 years ago, it’s fantastic.
“The BBC have been fantastic, BT Sport are putting WSL games out, but to have the final live on prime time TV...18 years ago it was on UK Living, and probably 35 people watched!
“It’s the number one spectacle for the men, and the same for us. We hope we will have a really good crowd - it’s a worthwhile event, it’s football at the end of the day.”