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Stephanie Roche on her love for Man Utd, going pro and the Puskas Award

Stephanie Roche was nominated for FIFA’s 2014 Puskas Award, for the most beautiful goal, alongside Robin Van Persie and James Rodríguez. She is a striker for the Republic of Ireland and ASPTT Albi in the French Division 1 Féminine. Here, she remembers travelling from Dublin to watch Man Utd as a schoolgirl, that goal and the start of her professional career.

MY FIRST MATCH - Manchester United 1 West Bromwich Albion 1, May 7 2005

“I’ve always been a big Man Utd fan and I still am. My two brothers were United fans and used to buy me the kit, so they steered me in the right direction. From about five or six years old I watched all their games with my brothers. I didn’t have a favourite player but I’d always look to the strikers to do something good.

“My brothers had tons of DVDs so I saw lots of great players – Eric Cantona, Mark Hughes, then Dwight Yorke and [Andy] Cole, who were a brilliant combination in the treble season [1998-99]. The first game I went to was West Brom at Old Trafford with my brothers and my Dad when I was 15.

“We were up at 6am to get the ferry from Dublin to Holyhead and then it’s a two or three hour drive to Manchester. It’s a long, long day but worth it. I’ve been six or seven times a year since I was 18 but that day was something unbelievable. I was so excited and I remember seeing the stadium, walking up the steps and looking down at the pitch for the first time.

“I can’t remember much of the game, other than it was Ryan Giggs who scored and it was 1-1. Giggs was fantastic, the way he turned players inside out. He was one of the best. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed we didn’t win but it was still a fantastic day.

“I still have the ticket at home and the scarf I bought. I’ve got a big box of scarves because any game where I don’t buy one we don’t win. The [2011] Champions League final against Barcelona at Wembley, I was there but I didn’t buy a scarf!” [Barcelona defeated United 3-1].

Stephanie Roche in training Stephanie Roche celebrating in an Ireland shirt. Credit: Ian Anderson/Sportsfile.

Peamount United 6 Wexford Youths 1, October 2013 – the Puskas Award nominated goal

“It was a league game against Wexford. We won 6-1 and I scored two. That goal happened really fast. The girl marking me had been really tight to me all game. I knew where she was and it was just instinct to go for it.

“I wasn’t too sure if it was being filmed. One of the girls said immediately after the game ‘it will be on video, so make sure you get a copy’. When I got back to the dressing room the Wexford manager called me over to the laptop and said ‘have a look at this, it’s unbelievable’.

“It’s only then I realised it was something really special. Anyone who sees me play now and then knows I shoot from distance and score a few volleys. But I never would have thought I’d be nominated for a Puskas Award. The award is for the most beautiful goal and not for who you were playing.

“I’ve been getting so many great comments from ex-professionals and lots of support from Ireland and around the world. I’d like to think I’ve got a chance [of winning]. I was watching the games with the other two nominated goals in the World Cup. Obviously I support Man Utd and I like Real Madrid as well.

“But I hope people won’t just look at reputations and vote purely because it’s Robin Van Persie or James Rodríguez. Any chance to put women’s football in the spotlight is great. England played Germany at Wembley and there were 55,000 people there, so there is interest but it needs people who want to put money into the game.”

Turning professional and first matches with ASPTT Albi

“A lot of people think I only got a professional contract because of that goal but that’s not the case. I think I had a proven record over a few years. At Peamount we played Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League in 2011 and I was asked then if I’d like to play professionally in France for Vendenheim.

“But I wasn’t offered the chance to go over and see everything first and didn’t feel comfortable with the contract. Peamount got into the Champions League again and I turned it down.

“When ASPTT Albi came along I got to meet the manager and I was shown around. I enjoyed it, I liked the manager and I’d wanted to play professionally for a long time. I’m 25 and it seemed like the right time.

“The language barrier with my team-mates was hard at first. My first start was against a top four team and we lost 3-0. It was one of those games where I had to work to try to keep hold of the ball. I did okay.

“There have been some tough games and there are a few stand out players in the league. But there are also lots of fantastic part-time players who have to work but could make it here in different circumstances.

“I haven’t found it hugely different because I’ve been playing for Ireland pretty much since I was 14. I went to the Irish Schools team trials and didn’t get picked. But a couple of months later I got a trial for Ireland under-17s and was picked for the next tournament.

“The bigger crowds for Ireland games always spur me on and in France we get about 750 to 1,000 for most games. I only make 800 euros a month and 100 euros of that goes on my apartment. It’s great that I’m being paid but it’s not life changing. I’m here because I love playing football.”