The chances of becoming a professional female footballer are slim – so imagine turning down the opportunity to become one, writes Tom Dean.
That’s exactly what former Tottenham Hotspur player Maya Vio did when she left the same club she joined as a nine-year-old last year – the same year they earned their first-ever promotion to the professional top-flight.
The now 22-year-old had to make a decision between her medicine career or her future in football and after desperately trying to juggle the two, decided that her first-ever passion would become her ultimate sacrifice.
Commuting from St George’s Hospital in Tooting to Enfield four times a week, the pain was too much.
Vio found herself losing weight and struggling mentally. meaning something just had to give.
“Full-time medicine and training four times a week just doesn’t work sadly – I loved it so much, but I was burning the candle at both ends and I just couldn’t cope,” said Vio, who grew up in Southgate, north London.
“It took me two hours to get from Tooting to training and I remember it was such an ordeal to get there that when I arrived, I thought ‘oh my god how am I actually going to do the training now’.
“I’d get home past midnight and then have to get up before 7am to go back into work and it wasn’t healthy.
“I wasn’t taking care of my own body, I was running around so much that I was losing weight and I wasn’t even getting much playing time towards the end.”
Vio broke into a team playing third-tier football at a time when it was impossible to even dream that women would be playing for prize money in the Barclays FA Women’s Super League in 2020.
Last season she entered the fourth year of her degree while Spurs were vying for promotion from the Championship but because of her circumstances, appearances were limited.
With a Spurs-mad mother; Munna and a former semi-pro father; Massimo, football was running through her veins from birth and Vio was even scouted by the late Glenn Weaver – the man credited as the founder of Tottenham’s women’s team.
With such a strong bond to the club it’s hard to imagine why anyone would want to call time on it but restrictions placed on medical students mean that Vio could have only deferred her studies for one year before returning to complete them.
After a brief hiatus from playing, the picture became clearer – although if she knew how far the sport would progress things may well have been different.
“It was a big decision at the time for sure and that took a lot out of me,” she said.
“I had a two-week break and I felt much better, I gained weight and my mind was rested and the results were good, but it didn’t last and that’s when I knew I couldn’t do both.
“So I set up a meeting with the managers and told them that I needed a break and I couldn’t do two things I love at the same time because I ended up resenting both of them.
“When I was playing third-tier football, the thought of being a professional never even crossed my mind.
“I couldn’t just throw four years of medicine away but if I was at that age now and knew it would have been possible to go pro – then I would have played football and started a career in medicine afterwards.”
“I would love to get into football-medicine when I progress. Maybe I could work at a club in the future.”