Shoot from the heart
Footballer Lianne Sanderson is in a league of her own, discovers Roxy Bourdillon
Lianne Sanderson is a force of nature, both on and off the football pitch. The gifted striker, who signed for Arsenal at the age of nine, has built an illustrious career playing for both UK and international teams and earning 50 caps for England. Now that’s undoubtedly impressive – I can barely manage foot-to-ball contact without falling flat on my arse, but the thing that wows me the most about Lianne, apart from her trademark blonde mohawk, is her take-me-as-I-am, no-bullshit attitude. She’s not afraid to say it how it is, whether discussing her sexuality, her career or what she really thinks about the FA.
“People don’t expect me to be so nice,” she chuckles when we talk on the phone. “They get these preconceived ideas and then they’re like, ‘Actually, you’re alright.’” Having met Lianne twice, I can confirm that she’s more than alright. She’s bloody great and I for one am very glad to have her playing for our team.
Open-hearted, outspoken and fiercely loyal, she’s an ideal LGBT role model. It’s not surprising that the south Londoner was voted the DIVA 250 Sports Personality of the Year last spring. In fact, the sparkling awards ceremony at London’s Café de Paris was the first time our paths crossed. I have a vivid memory of her looking dapper and chuffed to bits in a polka dot blazer and a grin that stretched from ear to ear. “It was one of the proudest moments of my career because the award was for being myself. I fell into this role of LGBT ambassador because there’s not many of us out there. Sometimes parents write to me and say they didn’t quite understand their daughter or son, but seeing how I live my life makes them understand it more.” She’s grateful that her own coming out experience was relatively painless. “My family is unbelievable. I didn’t grow up feeling trapped. I had boyfriends. Not many, but I always felt happy when I was with a guy, and then it just so happened that when I got to about 20, I felt like trying something new and I preferred it!”
She’s currently completely loved up with American soccer pro and sports model, Ashley Nick. The pair live together in New York, after meeting three years ago playing for the same team in Cyprus during the off-season. “To be honest, Ash avoided me for the first month! I thought she hated me and Ash hasn’t got any hate for anybody. She’s the most loving and caring and happy person you’re ever gonna meet. It turned out that she had this crush and she couldn’t articulate those feelings because she’d never been with a girl before.” Did Lianne harbour her own secret crush too? “I thought she was beautiful, but I just thought she wasn’t into girls. People laugh when I say this, but my objective in life isn’t to turn every straight girl into being with me! I enjoyed her aura because she’s so positive and very spiritual.” They began spending more time together, making the most of the Mediterranean climate with sunrise trips to the beach. Before they knew it, they’d fallen head over heels. “We’ve been inseparable since.”
Read the rest of our exclusive interview in the January issue of DIVA, available to buy in print or digitally here.
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