14 Oct 2020

Former student Zainab Alema nominated for grassroots Sports Woman of the Year

Zainab is known as ‘The Bulldozer’ from her time as a No.8 at Milwall, where she was required to carry the ball and bulldoze the No.10 from the opposite team. Zainab says she loves the nickname and also looks at it from a different perspective. Being black, being a Muslim woman, she is smashing through barriers!

Zainab is a role model, there is no doubt. She is a huge advocate for women's sport, particularly Muslim women.  

As well as playing for Barnes AFC, Zainab is a mum, a neonatal nurse and the founder of Studs in the Mud, a charity that arranges donations for rugby equipment to be sent to Ghana to support rugby at grassroots level.   

In terms of her charity work, Zainab has very clear goals:

“My aim is to send a message to women that they can play sports and live their normal lives. Sports is good for the body and mind and I want people to identify with me and have the belief they can play too.”

Time at school

Zainab was always sporty in school but didn’t necessarily play for school teams. Her love of rugby began in Year 10 when her PE teacher Ms McCauley did some sessions with her class. From this moment, it was clear that she was talented; however this didn’t translate to her joining a club and at the time there was no girls' rugby team at the school.

When she completed her GCSEs, she decided she wanted to study A-Level PE, despite not taking it as a subject before. Ms Middleton was overjoyed that she wanted to take her subject and immediately a plan was hatched to get Zainab into a rugby club.

Ms Middleton says, "Zainab and I researched a lot of clubs in the surrounding areas, of which there were few. We finally settled on Ealing. I contacted the club and let them know that I had a young lady that was keen to join a club but that she was new to the sport. They immediately invited us down to the club. I called Zainab’s mum and asked permission to take her to a training session. Zainab’s mum was completely on board and so one evening Zainab and I set off in my Nissan Micra to go and check it out. We watched the training session together and Zainab met the coach and the team. While dropping her home to West Kensington later that evening, her excitement was tangible. She was 100% committed. I went to see her play at a later date and was amazed at the progress she had made. She was fantastic." 

Zainab told ITV News in a recent interview that there is only one other female Muslim player that she is aware of: an old teammate at Milwall. She said, "what are the odds? I thought I was the only one in the world and there you go; I had someone who looked exactly like me on the same pitch, on the same team. It was amazing."

When she was asked if being the only Muslim woman ever put her off she replied, "it played on my mind a lot, it didn’t put me off because I loved the game so much. Anyone who speaks to me about rugby knows that I am so passionate about the game but it made the journey really difficult because I really felt like I didn’t fit in, I didn’t belong. But because I love the game I just pursued and stayed in it."

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