Rosie Kmita wants to be seen as a role model to all young footballers not just Asian ones.
The 25-year-old became one of England’s first Asian professional footballers when she joined West Ham United Ladies in 2018, going on to make 14 appearances last season, including in the Women’s FA Cup Final loss to Manchester City at Wembley Stadium.
London-born Kmita had been at The Hammers since 2017, playing alongside her twin sister Mollie, but when the club gained entry to the Women’s Super League a year later she feared she may have to search for a new club.
“I was one of just two players to be kept on the books,” says Kmita, who last played for WSL Championship side London Bees before stepping away from the game.
“I was getting messages from team-mates and friends saying they had been cut, so I wasn’t expecting to be offered my first professional contract. When I read the email, I was in complete shock.
“At 24, I was quite old to turn professional and my route into the game was atypical. Almost everyone else in the squad had come through a big academy, like Chelsea or Arsenal. But I chose to focus on my education and inbetween had a couple of spells at Tottenham. I owe a lot to [Tottenham Ladies coach] Karen Hills there. She spotted my talent at 15 and championed my cause.”
Kmita cites David Beckham as her football idol growing up, while more recently she received mentorship from former England international Claire Rafferty at West Ham. But despite growing up with a supportive family, she admits she faced extra cultural challenges to break into professional football.
“I think people watch the film Bend It Like Beckham and think that’s what the British Asian community is like,” says Kmita.
“The reality is that film is a stereotype. Most Asian families in England just want the best for their kids and the main problem with football is it hasn’t always been viewed as a traditional or safe career for a young girl. But all that’s changing.
“To have the UEFA Women’s EURO in England in 2021, and to be able to watch all this season’s WSL games on The FA Player, is fantastic. The exposure has been unbelievable and is sure to inspire a whole new generation. Every year, football is becoming a more viable career for young girls of all backgrounds.”
Kmita’s own family have always been heavily involved in her football career. Tragically, her father died when she was 18 from pneumonia and she credits him as the main “driving force”.
Her sister Mollie – who is currently at FA Women’s National side Gillingham Ladies – has been a constant source of support, too, both on and off the field.
"Mollie is my comfort blanket,” admits Kmita, who is a left-handed, left-footed, left-sided central midfielder; while her twin is actually right-handed, right-footed and a right-sided central midfielder.
“We've both faced and overcame the same barriers together. We have heard the same comments in the playground. Having a twin meant I never felt isolated. She’s been a big factor in my career and these days is kind of my PA as well. She’s certainly more organised than I am!”
The FA remain committed to providing more opportunities to Asian players of both sexes at grassroots and elite level. In May 2019, we introduced the second phase of our ‘Bringing Opportunities To Communities’ programme. Its overall goal is for Asian players to be proportionately represented throughout the structure of English football.
We also recently partnered with the 2019 BritAsia TV Kuflink Music Awards to present the accolade for the best breakthrough act, with Kmita attending November’s awards at the SSE Wembley Arena.
“BritAsia is the largest ethnic TV channel in England and, like us, they want to promote inclusion,” explains FA head of diversity and inclusion, Dal Darroch.
“Myself, Rosie and [former Liverpool and Arsenal winger] Jimmy Carter were all present and we met around 3500 Asian youths. This is something we have never done before and helped us address a whole new audience.
“We know there is much more to be done to ensure the game better reflects wider society. Despite representing eight percent of the population, Asians are under-represented in professional and grassroots football and addressing this is something we are committed to as part of our wider equality, diversity and inclusion strategy.”
“It was eye-opening to speak at the awards,” adds Kmita. “I felt a bit like a rock star on stage. It was nice to come out my comfort zone and have new conversations.
“That said, I don’t only want to target Asian youths, but if they can see a pathway through me into the professional or grassroots game, as a player, coach, official or volunteer, then that’s amazing.
"But ultimately, I want to just keep enjoying playing and show anyone, from any background, it is possible to achieve your dreams and that football is inclusive.”