A dazzling winger with pace and skill to boot, Rachel Yankey was the first professional female player registered in England – and was arguably one of the most successful.
As as a promising teenager, Yankey showed quality belying her age whilst at Arsenal Women, leading to her first England cap – and goal – at the age of just seventeen. She blossomed under the guidance of Vic Akers, helping the Gunners lift the Women’s Premier League, as well as two cup Doubles in 1998 and 1999.
She signed a professional contract with the ambitious Fulham Ladies in 2000, becoming the first female player in England to do so. Yankey shone within the star-studded side, playing an integral role in the Cottagers’ remarkable Treble-winning year of 2002, before achieving another cup Double the following year.
After brief spells at Birmingham City and abroad with the New Jersey Wildcats – winning another title in the process - Yankey returned home to her first club in 2005. Arsenal were the team to beat, and her arrival helped the Gunners maintain that near-total dominance.
The livewire forward spent a further eleven years in North London, scoring at a rate of approximately one goal every three games, often from wide areas.
In that time, Yankey collected a further five Premier League medals, played an integral role in seven FA Women’s Cup and two Premier League Cup triumphs, and featured extensively throughout the club’s only success in the UEFA Women’s Cup in 2007.
On the international stage, Yankey was a key player for the Lionesses, surpassing Gillian Coultard’s record of 119 caps. Rachel went on to break Peter Shilton’s all-time England appearance record, finishing up with 129 caps and 19 goals to her name. Only four players have since represented England more times than Yankey.
Her off the ball movement, quick feet and potent finishing made her an asset to her team and a constant threat to the opposition. She has established herself as a modern legend - not just at parent club Arsenal, but within the women’s game as a whole.
Principal English clubs: Arsenal, Fulham, Birmingham City, Notts County
Honours: 5 Women’s Premier League Championships, 2 Women’s Super League Championships, 11 FA Women’s Cups, 7 Women’s Premier League Cups, 1 UEFA Women’s Cup
Caps: 129 (19 goals)