One of Burnley’s greatest contemporary sportspeople, Rachel Brown-Finnis has decided to hang up her gloves after a hugely-distinguished career between the sticks.
Aged 34, after almost 20 years in the national game, and 17 years - earning 82 caps - with England, the Burnley-born goalkeeper has decided to call it a day.
Her career comes to an end after a season in which Everton, losing FA Cup Finalists, were relegated from the Women’s Super League, but she just feels the time is right to retire, and she explained: “I’m finishing after we were relegated, but that wasn’t anything to do with my decision, it’s just where we are when I decided my body couldn’t take any more.
“Speaking about it makes it feel very final.
“The only other people I’ve told are my mum and dad, best friend and husband.
“It will make it even more real when you start to hear other people’s comments and reflections on what my career meant to them.
“I have some very loyal fans, people who have said a lot of nice things over the years, and that will tug on the heartstrings.”
From humble beginnings, playing for a boys’ team in her home town, she played in the FA Cup Final aged just 15 for Liverpool, before breaking records with Alabama Crimson Tide and Pittsburgh Panthers while at university in America.
She returned to England with Everton, while with England, she played at World Cups and European Championships, and was selected for the FIFA All-Star team, before the pinnacle of her career - selection for the first-ever Great Britain women’s football squad at the London Olympics.
She looked back on how a remarkable career began: “I first started playing at St Stephen’s Primary, and my first experience of football was going to Wembley to watch Burnley in the Sherpa Van Trophy Final in 1988.
“That was what made me think ‘wow, I really like this’ but I didn’t know whether I would play or just be a fan.
“I started out with a boys’ team, Bank Hall United, when I was 10, before joining Accrington Girls when I was 12.
“And to see how the women’s game has developed since then has been incredible - it’s given me opportunities and experiences around the world.
“I feel so grateful more than anything, to be part of how things have moved on.
“It was a bit of a minority sport when I started, but it gets a lot more coverage now, with fully professional teams, and it makes me feel very proud.”
Several influential people have helped her along the way: “Different people either opened doors for me or have given me experiences and valuable advice - Philip Lombardi at St Stephen’s, who was my PE teacher - the first teacher to give me a chance at football.
“Then there was Ann Smith at St Christopher’s, who sorted a girls’ team out and pointed me in the right direction when I was floundering without a team.
“And my first goalkeeping coach was influential, Mick Payne from London, who gave me the chance to go to the USA.
“Hope Powell, obviously, provided me with a lot of opportunities - she might not have been everyone’s favourite manager, but played a big role in the transformation of women’s football, and Mo Marley who brought me to Everton, and helped sort me out on a PGCE teaching course at Liverpool John Moores University.
“But more than anyone, my mum and dad, who travelled around the world and picked me up when I had injuries - they’ve been huge.”
While accumulating 82 caps with England, Rachel enjoyed many of her career highs - including appearing in the 2009 European Championship Final against Germany in Finland: “17 years have flown by - I can’t understand how quickly it has gone.
“It is genuinely half my lifetime that I have played for England.
“When I was at Liverpool, I didn’t even know there was an England team until half the squad didn’t turn up until two weeks into pre-season, and I was told they’d just come back from the 1995 World Cup!
“People ask whether I dreamed of playing for England, but I didn’t know the chance existed!
“All those things have come and I’ve surprised myself - it just goes to show what you can achieve with hard work and passion, doing what I loved to do.”
She added: “Football has dominated my life, there are so many things I have learned, on and off the pitch - it has formed me as a person, given me characteristics and skills, allowed me to travel and live abroad, and I’m very grateful.
“Many people would look at reaching the European Championship Final as the most satisfying experience, but a lot would say the Olympics was - being part of the first-ever GB women’s team at a home games, getting into the squad of 18 was unbelievable.
“Before we even got there it was unbelievable, but once in the village as part of Team GB, that was unsurpassed.
“I hope other girls get the opportunity to achieve what we did - that was the highlight, it was unreal.”
Back in 2003, she got to turn out at her beloved Burnley against Australia in a friendly, and she added: “Turf Moor, before the Olympics, was one of my real highlights - from starting out with a season ticket at Burnley, my first ever game at Wembley, and living 100 yards from the ground all my life, to play at the Turf, in front of my home support, my nan and all the family, was incredible. It seems so long ago now, but it was a proud moment. “it brought focus on the town, and to combine everything, all the things that shaped my life, was unbelievable.”
On the club front, Rachel collected three medals, adding to her list of honours: “I never won the league, but won two League Cups and an FA Cup, which not everyone gets to do.
“I played in the Champions League, European Championships, World Cup, Olympics - I had a full house, which I could never have dreamed of.
“I might not have been the most decorated in terms of medals, but I was very proud to be loyal to Everton, and experience what we did together, than to win endless silverware.
“That FA Cup win meant more than anything because of how hard we had to work to win it.
“Everton has been a big part of my life, I’ve been there over 11 years now. and worked there for six or seven in the community department.
“It feels like home to me. I’ve been through good and bad times there.”
So what lies in store for Rachel? She has plenty of plans after a well-earned break: “I hope I can stay in football in some capacity. In the way the game has evolved, there are opportunities to build a full time career on the coaching side now, and I would like to get involved in the media side of it as well.
“I’d like to have a go at TV or radio.
“But I enjoy being part of a team, and I’d like to stay part of a group.
“I have my level 2 coaching badge and I want to work towards my B licence, and maybe look at going into the international set up as a goalkeeping coach, after I’ve had a bit of a physical break.
“If they can keep the door open, that would be amazing. I feel it’s a specialised role, and I have a lot of experience to pass on.
“I would fancy myself as a manager as well, but I’m in no rush - I feel I have a lot to learn, I’m reading books on management, but there are not many ex-goalkeepers in management in the men’s game, which is strange as you are almost a manager on the pitch as a goalkeeper, communicating as efficiently and expertly as you can.
“I’d like to explore that, at least give it a try at some point.”