Eleanor 'El' Reid & Southampton Women's FC

Eleanor (El) was diagnosed with autism at 16-years-old. At the time of her diagnosis, she was a member of Southampton Women's FC youth football team. She took the decision to be open and honest with the club about the diagnosis, and the response from her Coaches/Managers and teammates was described as “amazing”. At 18-years-old, El has now been playing senior football with the club for two seasons, and their support and understanding has “never wavered”. When El was then diagnosed with epilepsy earlier this year, they have remained “behind her 100%”.

El’s mother, Emma, got in touch with us at Autism Hampshire to share her gratitude for the endless support they have had from Southampton Women’s FC since receiving El's autism diagnosis. We hope to work with the club in the future as they continue to support autism awareness and acceptance within the community.


Check out El’s story below, where you can also read from two of her team managers as they share their experience…

El's Story

I have been a player at Southampton Women’s FC for the last three seasons, in both the youth and senior sides.

I was officially diagnosed in January 2021 with ASD, at the age of 16, however I started the assessment process at the beginning of my first season with the club.

I felt comfortable enough to share openly from the beginning about it all to my teammates and the staff, as it explains my experience of the world and how I interact socially.

At no point did I feel that my autism was treated as a barrier to my ability to play football. The support at the club continued as I stepped into senior football, even without the official diagnosis at first.

This season has brought different challenges for me personally, including a recent epilepsy diagnosis and a change in management for the team. Having to start afresh mid-season with developing a relationship from scratch with a new coaching team was a concern and worry of mine. However, it didn’t take too long for Matt and I to be making jokes and laughing with each other. It’s an amazing thing for me as a young autistic player to have a manager that understands exactly how I think and feel, without us ever having to discuss it with one another. I think we now have a great player-coach dynamic and how he has transformed our team in the middle of a very difficult season has been testament to his character and passion for women’s football.

Autism is fundamentally who I am as a person, but no-one has used it as a reason to not treat me as an equal teammate or player.

This club, and the people in it, feels like home.

- Eleanor ‘El’ Reid, Southampton Women’s FC Reserves

Being El's Managers


Aaron 'Smithy' Smith, First Team Manager / Head Coach for SWFC (Photography by Dave Bodymore)In the summer of 2021, I had one of the hardest moments of not only my managerial career, but also my life. I had to deliver to the squad, after a big win, the news that El, one of our most loved players had collapsed at the Reserves game and was unresponsive in ICU.

Fast forward 12 months and that horrific moment has actually helped to shape so much within the culture at the club around autism and understanding how we communicate with players and staff who are autistic. We have gone out to seek expert advice on how we should be giving interventions to El if we can see that she is under pressure, we monitor her mood and mental health at the club and if these are scored low, we just allow El to come and play football with her friends without the need to coach or give her any learning points that session.

Our Psychologist is always on hand to talk to any players or staff that might be struggling but for me the best relationship to come out of this period is the one between El and our First Team Captain, Lauren. Lauren has taken El under her wing and used her previous training around dealing with autism within her day-to-day role as a teacher. El and Lauren have formed a bond that is unbreakable and also it has formed a line of communication to myself, and the other coaches, so if El was struggling one day and didn’t want to say anything, she would ask Lauren to tell us.

I have been ignorant over the course of my life about how to speak to people that are autistic, but El has changed this for me by me now understanding when to high five or hug her when she’s down, or not to touch her, or when to make jokes, or protect her from stressful situations. It’s unthinkable to imagine that out of such a horrific incident there can be so many positives, but I know that it has definitely made me a better manager and I can assure anyone that the club is now in a much better place to support autistic staff and players.

Over the next few months, we will be delivering club workshops around autism and communication. We will also be looking to add a scoring system into the pre-training wellbeing questionnaire for any players or staff that are living with autism themselves, or any family members. We might even open this up nationally and deliver a package via a webinar for other clubs, managers, coaches, players and parents to join in and learn together.

- Aaron ‘Smithy’ Smith, First Team Manager / Head Coach for Southampton Women’s FC

(Photography by Dave Bodymore)

“

This season, being El’s Manager has been nothing short of incredible. She is a very keen footballer, also asking questions and wanting to improve, and really testing my knowledge of the game. This has also helped me get a better understanding of my own autism. We’ve built a very good manager/player relationship and seeing her improve throughout the season has been amazing. She is a player with a bright future in the game, and someone I have loved working with.

- Matt Graves, Reserve Team Manager for Southampton Women’s FC

(Photography by John Bilcliff)

Check out Matt’s story below to read about his experience of being diagnosed with autism as an adult, and the support he has received from the club.


Matt’s Story

In the Summer of 2021 I was diagnosed with autism. At first this was very hard for me to take as I had gone through most of my education struggling with no idea why/how I was different and why I couldn’t process information the same way.

The players and coaches at the club have been amazing, I’ve been able to have conversations with our psychologist, and players who work with children who have autism.This has really helped me to understand myself for as a manager and as a person, they’ve helped me to find some coping mechanisms which has helped me within, football, university and a high level of cricket.

I know in the future they want to run CPDs for everyone at the club about autism, so that everyone has a better understanding about it and how they can help people in their team who have autism.

At times I felt very scared to open up, and to tell people about my diagnosis, especially with it coming later in life. However, speaking to the people at the club has helped me to be more open about it and feel good/happy talking about my autism.

Since joining the club they have helped me a great deal away from the pitch, I will also be grateful for the support they have given me.


- Matt Graves, Reserve Team Manager for Southampton Women’s FC

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