Footballers' Lives with Demi Vance: I wasn't afraid to go and play abroad. I'd tell kids to not always listen to coaches or parents. Do what is right for you.
Glentoran's Demi Vance believes she has a duty to provide strong foundations for the next generation
Q: How did you get involved in football?
A: I joined a boys and girls after school club while at Cairnshill Primary School and I was introduced to Sandy Shaw, who was running a kids football team. I progressed there and joined Bloomfield Boys. I was one of the first girls to play in the league but it's a lot more common now. I was with Bloomfield up to the age of 15. I could run but football was my biggest passion. I joined Glentoran when I was 15, around the same time I was called into the Northern Ireland squad. Alfie Wylie brought me into the squad and I made my debut against Spain, aged 16. I'm still with Glentoran now, though I went to Australia for four years.
Q: Did you play for a school team?
A: I went to Knockbreda High School and played for the boys' team for a year but the rules didn't allow me to continue doing that. I became faster and stronger by competing with the boys on Saturday mornings.
Q: How do you view the women's game now, compared to when you started?
A: The difference is massive. You used to be able to play in the senior league at the age of 14 but now it's 16. The league consists of Irish League teams and we do get backing from the Irish FA and men's teams.
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Q: Do you have a great affinity with Glentoran?
A: Yes, I love the team. They've been my home team since I was 16 and always will be. I never really thought about going to England because I had a spell in America when I was 17. I came home early from that and decided to go to Australia so the opportunity to go to England passed me by.
Q: What was the American trip about?
A: That was a football scholarship in Western Illinois, just outside Chicago. I stayed for one semester but I felt I was a year too young. There was no-one around to tell me to stick it out. I loved the football and school, I just struggled with being away from home. I did regret coming home but I went on to Australia and that wouldn't have happened if I stayed in America.
Q: The US women's team won the World Cup this year. Did you sense the game was strong over there?
A: They are all about education - if you aren't doing well in your studies, you won't play. They are strict about that but with boys, if you are good enough any team will take you. Boys can get a professional contract and money at 16. The girls don't play for the money. Back then, there wasn't any.
Q: You played for the Northern Redbacks in Perth, Australia. Why did you go there?
A: I just always wanted to travel. Football was my life, from training to matches to Northern Ireland commitments. I think I just got a little burned out and wanted to try something different. I took three months off but it drove me insane and I needed to play football. The Northern Redbacks were a top Premier League team in Perth. Nadene Caldwell, a Northern Ireland team-mate, also came out and we joined the team. We won the league two years in a row and Cup competitions.
Q: How does the standard in Australia compare to our game?
A: It was slightly higher in Australia as they have a lot of professionals playing for the teams. The W League is a summer league while the Premier is winter so a lot of players who turned out for Perth Glory played for us. I trained with Perth Glory a few times and it was a great experience.
Q: Do you regret coming home?
A: No, I enjoyed it but knew I wasn't going to stay there forever. I spent Christmas in Thailand and Easter in Bali so the travelling was great.
Q: Would you encourage young people to travel?
A: Definitely. If I was 18, I'd do it all again but when you are so far away from home you feel like everyone's lives are moving on quicker without you. When you come back, you find out not much has changed. I've a close-knit family too. There are no other footballers in the family.
Q: How did you find it coming home and rejoining Glentoran?
A: It was a rough time as the club had lost players and I was a new face all over again, with younger players coming through. We have improved now, however, under Gail Mackin and general manager, Bill Clarke. Diarmuid O'Carroll helped out for a while and he was brilliant.
Q: How did the Northern Ireland breakthrough come about?
A: I was in the County excellence squad and came through the youth ranks. I didn't expect to play against Spain. I thought it would be a great experience being part of the squad but I ended up starting the game. They are a top team, they beat us 4-0 but it was still an amazing experience and I kicked on from there.
Q: Kenny Shiels is now in charge of the international side. Is it an exciting time for the squad?
A: Kenny's been brilliant, we are really enjoying it and the first game is against Norway at Seaview tonight, followed by Wales on Tuesday. Kenny is trying to move the squad forward and everyone is behind him. He is settling into his new role. I am enjoying my football at the moment and feeling good about my career.
Q: What is your favoured position?
A: I started on the left wing and then moved to left back. But people ask me where I play and I'm quite versatile, I can play across the midfield and up front. The downside is a coach can put you anywhere and you don't have an established position but I enjoy playing in centre midfield.
Q: Are you optimistic about the future of the women's game in Northern Ireland?
A: Definitely. This is probably the hardest league with teams such as Linfield, Sion Swifts and ourselves going for the title. It's the most competitive league we have had and clubs have signed good players. The Irish FA is investing more in the game.
Q: People talk about crazy sums of money in the men's game. Are you ever envious about that?
A: You can't think that way. This is the way it has always been so there's no point in being jealous now. It's always been about the love of the game for us. Men love the game too but girls have proved it as they have played for nothing. The kids coming through now will benefit more financially than we did. That's progress.
Q: Have you encountered any negativity in your career?
A You get boys saying why do you play football? I've always had that. Not all men are going to like women's football. Some will never appreciate girls playing football because of their background or belief. I think there's greater acceptance of it now but there'll always be a few boys who say girls should not play football or be paid for it.
Q: Do those people still exist?
A: They do but it's never bothered me. I've heard a few jokes but a stranger has never come up to me and said I shouldn't be playing. When I played for Bloomfield Boys, a few women on the sidelines thought I shouldn't be playing, maybe because their sons weren't involved.
Q: Has your family been supportive?
A: My mum May and dad Sonny have been brilliant and my dad hasn't missed a match. When I went over to America, they came with me and helped me get settled. My dad is my biggest critic, if I want the truth I'll go to him. You need that, you can't have someone telling you that you are the best player in the world or you'll start to believe it then! Kids need to have the right support network around them or they won't develop properly. It's important they get the right advice and encouragement. If they are told the wrong thing, they won't go anywhere. My parents must have spent a fortune on football boots but they never made it out to Australia. I've a sister Natalie and brother Darren. I'm the youngest. I'm a personal trainer at ADS and I do CrossFit as part of my training. I'm self-employed and the football keeps me busy. I haven't hit my peak yet as a player. Sandy was my first coach and she really helped me, travelling with me to Arsenal and was always there when I needed support and Alfie gave me the chance to play for Northern Ireland. My close friends are Nadene, who is also at the Glens, and Danielle McDowell at Crusaders. They are very supportive too.
Q: Would you like to play across the water?
A: I would love to. I feel that is something that I missed out on. I was delighted to see Megan Bell move to Durham Women and she'll do brilliantly with them. If I hadn't moved to Australia, I may have went to England. When I was 17, I had trials at Arsenal but then the American option came up. I couldn't turn down the scholarship. But when I left for Australia, I missed the boat to England a bit.
Q: Have you had any difficult days in your life?
A: I try to forget about the bad days. Australia came at the right time for me as I wasn't enjoying football. I was probably going to take a step back from the game. I was in a bad run of form and I didn't know what I wanted to do career-wise. I was fed up and just needed to go away and think. It was uplifting to walk into a fresh environment and in my first season with the Redbacks I scored 25 goals. The move reignited my passion for football.
Q: What advice would you give to a young player?
A: I'd love a kid to come to me for advice. I'd say don't let parents or coaches tell you what you should be doing in your life. If you feel something is right for you, do it. If I hadn't listened to some people when I was younger, I could have went on a different journey.
Q: How impressed were you with the Women's World Cup in France this year?
A: It was unbelievable, I went to the final and joined the crowd of around 60,000. A year earlier, we had played Holland and then got to watch them in the final. It was surreal thinking we played them just a year ago. Our goal is to qualify for a major tournament and hopefully we can hit the ground running in this campaign.
Date of birth: May 2, 1991
Place of birth: Belfast
Current club: Glentoran Women
Northern ireland appearances: 58