Still Growing: Rinsola Babajide

Photography: Silvana Trevale / Interview & Words: Anita Abayomi / Styling: Carlotta Constant, Assisted by Emelia Gayner / HMUA: Stefan Jemeel / Set & Floral Styling: Ultramarine / Creative Direction: Charlotte Phipps

A new generation of footballers are emerging and Rinsola Babajide has become a pillar for change. South London born and raised, the Brighton Women’s footballer takes us through her journey to the south coast via Crystal Palace, Millwall and Liverpool. Whilst the route towards success has not always been smooth sailing, she’s overcome every obstacle thrown into her path. Today, she radiates a sense of confidence and fearlessness as she takes on the world of football in her own way and in her own style. 

In partnership with Liberty London, PUMA celebrates their defiant, game changing women. It is time to liberate and untether a new generation of trailblazers and today we praise Rinsola Babajide as she blossoms through the early stages of her career.

A bright, sunny day on Brighton Beach sets the scene as we sat down with Rinsola to unpack the story which led her here, to her new home on the south coast.

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For Rinsola, there is consistent room for personal growth. Being taken out of her comfort zone and betting on herself to succeed has become the theme of her career thus far. From a young age, Rinsola was eager to defy the status quo – you know, the societal expectation set against women. Becoming a football player looked to be an aspiration that was unattainable, however her perseverance and fearless nature ensured that her dreams were within her reach.

The journey started when Rinsola began secondary school. A fearful step forward in her education started off with her courage to challenge the boys around her to football matches.

“It was more so in year 7 when I started playing football with the guys. That’s when I actually played for my first football local club, Lambeth Girls.” Rinsola tells us, “I started off playing in goal, then as a winger and as a striker. I was really enjoying it and thought everyone was giving me support, talking about how good I was. At that point I realised that I could actually move forward with this and achieve something great. Especially because I was enjoying it so much.“

Expression is an important part of one’s identity. It separates you from the rest and allows you to continue to push the boundaries and achieve the unimaginable. The freedom of playing a sport that she loved and being able to truly enjoy her craft is reflected in Rinsola’s style of play today. Her personality shines through the art of football from the second she steps onto a pitch.

Babajide highlights the importance of remaining focused but also to remember to have fun; something she learned as she began to take her career path into football more seriously. Though she was determined to reach her goal of becoming a full time professional footballer, she was able to balance this aspiration with happiness.

Prior to making her debut with Millwall Ladies in 2015, Rinsola enjoyed playing college football. We reminisced on some of her most exciting moments as the tide of progress began to change as she took another step in her formal education. With the pressures of acquiring good grades to get into a top university, Rinsola was not one to shy away from a challenge on the pitch. She tells us the story behind her amazing 14 goals scored in a single college game.

“There was a boys’ team and a girls’ team. The girls would play first in tournaments so the guys said to me “if you score 15 goals, we will buy you Nando’s”. A challenge made with the expectation of never being met. However, they underestimated the determined striker.

“I had never scored 15 goals before but I was always up for a good challenge. So, I came on at half time and scored 14 goals, one shy of 15 but I still got my Nando’s,” Rinsola laughs. “It was all fun and games”.

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“Signing my first professional contract is definitely a highlight for me. My first contract and getting my first Senior England call up. I’ve always wanted to play for England as a professional.

Whilst this story is merely just a memory for Rinsola, the highlights of her career come as a segway towards her future endeavours. We ask her to give us an insight on what she is most proud of so far in her burgeoning career and most importantly, where she sees herself within the next 5 years.

“Signing my first professional contract is definitely a highlight for me. My first contract and getting my first Senior England call up. I’ve always wanted to play for England as a professional.

When I got my first call up it was an extremely honourable moment. I was really proud because I always knew that I could get there. At the minute I know I’m in and out but I want to get regular call ups and that’s what I’m striving for.

In the next few years, I am aiming to become a regular within the England squad. Of course I also want to win some silverware but ultimately being the best that I can be.”

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They are strong words from the newest addition to the Brighton team. Confidence is key to becoming the best that you can be and PUMA women have heaps. The confidence to believe in yourself, even against all the odds is what makes Rinsola an inspiration to generations. As she joins her new club, Brighton WFC on loan, she takes another leap forward into her success story. For Babajide the move to Brighton WFC needed to happen now.

The sky begins to lighten up behind us as we discuss what has been a challenging journey thus far and why she boldly instigated the move from her former club, Liverpool FC Womens.

“I’ve had quite a journey so far.” Rinsola giggles, “But knowing where I want to be, being a regular with England and also knowing Hope Powell’s history contributed to my decision. When I was younger, Hope always believed in me.

There’s not many teams in the women’s game that properly back their women so seeing the plan that Brighton as a club has for players, both the women’s and the men’s side, it was literally a no brainer.

They’re literally such a family. You can see it from the outside in. And even being in the club, you can really feel it as well. Brighton are going places and I feel like I could be a really good addition for them. They can help me so much and I can help them too. So that’s just the right place that I need to be at the moment. Hope supporting me and believing in me is what I need right now in my career.”

Behind a strong woman, there is often a loving support system. Being from an African household is not always easy when wanting to pursue your dreams. The norm is to excel in subjects such as Maths, Science or Accounting hence the shortage of black, African women in football. Defying the odds, Rinsola found a balance for education and football with the help of her supportive family, all of Nigerian descent. Despite the probability of her parents frowning upon her decision to take football on as a career, Rinsola was open and honest with her father who was more concerned about her little girl being hurt by other little boys in the game.

“My dad was kind of skeptical about me playing football because I was very tiny for my age when I was young. Especially in comparison to the boys that I was playing with. They were way bigger than me and I was the only girl in the football cage at the time.

It was like he didn’t want his little princess to get hurt rather than him not wanting me to play football at all. Eventually at school they’d tell my parents how good I was and my parents decided to actually come and watch me play and saw that there is a talent there.”

Rinsola continues by singing the praises of those she has encountered on her path.

“I’ve always had a headstrong support system around me. When I was younger, I would go to tournaments with the guys and just experience playing everywhere, whether it be a training session or actual games. A lot of coaches respected me being the only girl and not shying away from taking on the ball.

That support system, especially coming from Brixton, always kept me focused. I knew what I wanted to be and I had to stay focused on that. Nothing else mattered to me other than actually reaching that goal.”

The world is currently in a place where online racism and social media abuse is at an awful peak. Despite being a victim of online abuse, Babajide does not let this deter her from focusing on her main goal. She remains adamant in joining the fight to battle against the profanity. In spite of the negativity served by society, Rinsola blooms and uses this as a catalyst for her growth and success. What better way to show the abusers that you are not fazed than Rinsola being “the best she can be”.

Rinsola’s defiance towards the status quo and the abuse is admirable. Acknowledging the struggles and lack of representation of black women in the game, she has developed a tunnel vision outlook on the future; blocking out the fact that there were scarcely any black women footballers to call her role model, she banked on herself to become that shining light for the younger generation.

“When I was younger, I was always amongst boys and I always thought, if the guys can do it then so can I. It doesn’t matter what gender or colour you are. You see Eni Aluko playing for Chelsea and England. I know what I want to do so I’m going to get there. I knew it would be 10x harder because looking at the spectrum, there’s predominantly more white people in football than black people. I was always told that, even for the men’s game too.

My whole family including my siblings all used to play football. We were basically like a 5 aside team. It was good growing up. The belief was always there.”

After a long day of shooting for the new PUMA X Liberty campaign, our conversation came to its conclusion.  We asked her for any piece of advice that she would give any young woman looking to be in her position in the future as a defiant, confident figure in football. She says, “Always work hard because you’ll never know who’s watching you. It doesn’t matter if you have any doubters because the only person you actually need is yourself. To believe in yourself. Follow your heart and keep striving.”

Rinsola Babajide, a young woman from Brixton, is spearheading a new generation of trailblazers. Where there is success, there were once doubters standing in the way. Rinsola stayed focused on the goal, betting on her talent, knowing that it would be enough to outline the journey that she is currently undertaking. Her confidence, fearlessness and dedication embodies all that the new PUMA X Liberty collection represents.

Society expects women to downplay their professional achievements. Society dictates that men are the pioneers for strength and resilience. The woman is imagined to be as fragile and soft as a flower. We take that narrative and we choose the flower that we want to be. The wildflower that doesn’t take no for an answer. The wildflower grows wherever she pleases. The wildflower blossoms when you least expect it. From playing in the cages of Brixton, to playing pitch side for Brighton WFC, Rinsola is the wildflower that football needs. And she is still growing…

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