Brighton’s Veatriki Sarri on rising through lower leagues to become first Greek in WSL

Brighton’s Veatriki Sarri on rising through lower leagues to become first Greek in WSL

5 min

Brighton’s Veatriki Sarri on rising through lower leagues to become first Greek in WSL

Veatriki Sarri (left) playing against Arsenal
Veatriki Sarri has started four of Brighton’s five WSL games this season

It was not until Brighton forward Veatriki Sarri read England legend Kelly Smith’s autobiography that she realised she could become a professional footballer.

Growing up in Crete, Greece, in a working-class family, Sarri would spend hours playing football on the streets with her brother.

On her 12th birthday she was given Smith’s book and it was then that Sarri thought “this could lead somewhere”.

“Before that I used to just play with the kids,” Sarri, 24, told BBC Sport. “Children were always playing football on the streets, in the park or at school. Those were my childhood memories.

“I was quite good and I always loved playing. I was obsessed. [When I read the book] I realised you could have a career. I didn’t know you could do that. I had no examples of female footballers.

“Kelly Smith was playing professionally so maybe I could too. I worked out the puzzle that there was a league in England. From then on, I thought ‘this is what I want to do.'”

Sarri ended up moving to England to go to university in Leeds, where she also got her foot on the first rung of the football ladder.

Her journey would take her up the football pyramid from Leeds United in the fourth tier to current club Brighton in the Women’s Super League, including an unlikely stop at AFC Fylde along the way.

“Fylde was the second team I joined. I had a good season (at Leeds) and I thought I could play at a higher level. I didn’t really know anyone, though,” said Sarri.

“I spoke to a few clubs in the third division and Fylde were the ones who showed the most interest, believed in me at the time and helped me out. That’s why I went there.”

Sarri moved up into the Women’s Championship when she joined Sheffield United, playing under current Aston Villa manager Carla Ward.

She later joined Ward at Birmingham City – becoming the first Greek to play in the WSL – before their relegation in 2021-22 prompted Brighton to sign her this summer.

“The whole thing is a challenge in itself, climbing from the fourth tier, through to the third, the second and then now in the WSL,” said Sarri.

“I randomly came to England, had no contacts in football and, even though I have a bit of family here, none of them could help me in football. I was just trying to get towards my dream of playing professionally.

“It was very challenging and lonely at times not knowing anyone. I just had to keep pushing and keep going.”

‘It is a dream come true’

Sarri’s mentality to “keep going” has helped her along the way.

While at Fylde, she suffered an injury which kept her out for a whole season. At Birmingham City, players battled with the club to improve training facilities and wrote a letter to the board.

“Life isn’t easy. It’s not straightforward. But I know that even if I’m having a bad day or a bad spell I will get through it because I have done all my life really,” said Sarri.

“I’m very optimistic that everything will come good because I’ve been through adversity and come out of it. I believe in myself every single time.”

At Brighton, Sarri is competing at a club with excellent facilities. She said it is “night and day” in comparison to her early career in the fourth tier.

“It makes me really appreciate where I started. I have never really had that environment before. I just have to concentrate on being the best version of myself. Everything is in place for me,” she added.

“When I played in the fourth division, we used to train two nights a week and sometimes not even that. I had to train on my own and sometimes go to the park.

“I tried to train every day because I knew that wouldn’t be enough to get me to where I wanted to be. To have that environment at Brighton is a dream come true.”

‘I don’t want to regret anything’

Veatriki Sarri playing for Greece
Sarri made her Greece debut in 2015

Brighton finished seventh in the WSL last season but with one win in their opening five matches in 2022-23 they sit second bottom in the table.

Manager Hope Powell left the club on Monday following their 8-0 defeat by Tottenham, but Sarri – speaking before that heavy loss – believes there is more to come from Brighton.

“This season is such a unique one in the WSL in that I don’t think anyone is safe,” she said.

“Brighton have historically finished mid-table. I have never been in a team like that in the WSL before. There is more pressure and expectation.

“The results haven’t gone how we had hoped. We have a good group. It’s a new bunch of players that have been put together. I think it will take time.”

Sarri is enjoying a more attacking role at Brighton and hopes to add more goals and assists this season but she has already come a long way.

“Where I have come from to where I am now… I just don’t want to regret anything in my career. I want to be the best player I can be. Wherever that takes me, I’ll be happy.”

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