Toni Duggan is proud to be “living two incredible jobs” after making her return for Everton with baby daughter Luella in tow.
The 32-year-old came on as a late substitute in Everton’s 2-1 defeat by Brighton at Walton Hall Park on Sunday, her first appearance for more than a year.
“It was so good,” she said. “I’ve been itching to get out there. Just to be back with the girls, I’m just so happy.
“I know it’s a big achievement in itself coming back after giving birth, but when you’re coming on you’re not really thinking about that, you just want to help the team.
“It’s only after when the girls are so happy for you that you realise you’ve come back and that’s it now. Happy to have ticked that off and just help the team for the rest of the season.”
Duggan gave birth in March after undertaking a training programme through her pregnancy and thanked her team-mates for helping her get back to fitness.
“I feel good,” she said. “The early stages were hard but the girls got me through it. Connor was great, he’s our physio, I came in early in the pre-season and did some sessions with him.
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“Honestly, my team-mates, I can’t thank them enough because they’ve been so supportive. On the days when it’s hard, they’ve dug me out. I owe it to the girls.”
Duggan’s mother has taken on childcare duties while the forward trains and she is managing to successfully juggle her two roles.
She said: “I have to credit my family and friends because they’ve been so amazing. They say it takes a big circle to bring up a child and it definitely does. I wouldn’t be back playing if it wasn’t for them.
“Some days when I get home from training tired, I used to have a sleep, now it’s different, Luella just gets passed to me, but you get a second wind, it’s just different. But I wouldn’t change it for the world. I’m living two incredible jobs and I’m proud to be in this position.”
Combining motherhood with a career in the Women’s Super League remains rare.
Duggan, who has previously played for Manchester City, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid and been capped 76 times by England, is happy to be a figurehead but remains ambitious on the pitch.
She said: “Whether it took me six months, 12 months or 12 weeks to get back, it’s still a big achievement, for the girls out there that have done it before me and the girls that will do it in future. It’s powerful and I’m proud to be one of those women now.
“But this is only the start. I still feel good in myself. I’m 32 now, you see a lot of players playing until they’re 35, 36. It shouldn’t be held against you that I’ve had a baby or my age.
“I feel good and I just want to kick on from here and just be treated as just another player. It’s great I’ve got Luella, but I’m a footballer and I want to be judged by how I do on the pitch. I’m ready for that challenge. I love football, it’s been my life and I hope that it can continue.”