At the end of September, a tweet put out by a proud Mum about her young daughter’s footballing experience went viral on Twitter. Impetus and SELK Grassroots joined up to provide seven-year-old Lexi Haffner with the same goalkeeping gloves that her hero wears. Ben Gilby spoke to Martin Haffner about the story behind the tweet.
Above: Lexi pictured with the goalkeeping gloves that Impetus and SELK Grassroots combined to buy her. Photo: Martin Haffner
It started off as just a normal day on 27th September when Julie Haffner put out a tweet on social media about her seven-year-old daughter Lexi who was two months into her goalkeeping career in a boys team loving every minute and proving with her ability that those boys who commented “Ahh! We’re playing against a girl!” would find out just what a girl can do in goal.
Almost 11,500 “likes”, over 420 re-tweets, and 289 comments later, the Twitter world was celebrating the joy that young Lexi gets from playing in goal every week. Dad Martin told us the story behind the tweet.
“At our match that day, we had one of the children’s parents requesting to take some action photos of the game. My wife decided to put a post-up with a picture of Lexi as she does get some stick playing for a boys’ team especially as she is a goalkeeper.
“I don’t think the boys mean anything by it, I just think they find it strange that they are playing against a girl. Therefore, Lexi’s mum just wanted to put a post on Twitter so men’s Championship side West Bromwich Albion’s goalkeeper Sam Johnstone could see it as well as the WBA fans as she has loads on Twitter. We did not expect it to go viral, to be honest, she was just hoping she got a ‘like’ from Sam!
“Lexi has been recognised a few times by coaches and referees in the games we have played and she has received positive feedback to say she has only played a few months.”
A big fan of West Bromwich Albion, Lexi certainly did get a response from Sam Johnson – but she also got a lot more than that!
“The response was incredible,” Martin said. “There were so many nice comments to read. Obviously, you always get some negative but I always find it’s people just trying to get a reaction out of you. My wife responded to each and every comment that was posted and I made sure I like each positive post.
“The main people that replied were parents whose children were goalkeepers, people who are goalkeepers, and we had organizations like Impetus and SELK Grassroots make posts and also some professional footballers and coaches of women’s teams.
Lexi’s story is even more wonderful when you consider what happened before she was even born.
“Lexi was part of a triplet birth,” Martin told us, “She was formed in a sack of her own and had identical twin brothers Lucas and Logan. Unfortunately, Logan passed away 24 weeks into the pregnancy and it was a difficult time. However, on 14th July 2014, Lexi was born nine weeks early at 3lb 3oz and has fought for everything since.”
Martin told us that, whilst Lexi’s goalkeeping career is still only a few months old, her love of playing football goes back a lot longer.
“Lexi has always liked football but her twin brother wouldn’t let her go to Little Kickers (football school for 5-7-year-olds). I got asked to coach an under-eights football team called PS Olympic who are based in Kingswinford, West Midlands. We were training for about six weeks and I needed a goalkeeper. Myself, Lucas (her twin), and Lexi played football in the garden regularly and she always wanted to go in goal, so one day I just asked her if she wanted to play for me. Her mother was hesitant as Lexi is a very good dancer and worried she would get hurt.
“She eventually gave in and I took Lexi to training. Lo and behold that week I ended up gaining two goalkeepers, so they take it in turns in matches. I could just see she had something very natural with her diving and tenacity that she shows, she doesn’t let anything faze her.
“The main thing is that she is really enjoying herself and she just wants to keep learning and have some more coaching. She did get offered to play for an under-nines team (a year above her current playing age) but I don’t want to burn her out as kids can get tired of football when they start playing from such a young age.”
The generosity of the women’s football family has rallied around for Lexi after seeing the tweet, and Martin has been blown away by what has subsequently happened.
“Since the post, Gary Kitching, the father of Fran Kitching, the goalkeeper for Sheffield United Woman’s Team, saw the post and said that it reminded him of when Fran was a kid starting out,” Martin revealed. “My wife got into a conversation with him and he stated that he wanted to send Lexi something. I thought he was going to send her a signed picture which is fantastic. He didn’t just do that, he sent her some of Fran’s gloves she used to wear all signed by her with a fantastic message on it ‘dream big’ and ‘enjoy your football’. We keep in touch with Fran and Gary and we follow all of Sheffield United’s games and we are hoping to go and see her in a match soon.
“Furthermore, we also had a post from the West Bromwich Albion Woman’s Coach Jenny Sugerman. She offered Lexi an opportunity to be their mascot at one of the home games which she is absolutely thrilled about. This is happening on 5th December 2021 where she will be walking out with the goalkeeper and England’s U18 goalkeeper Poppy Bastock.” As West Bromwich Albion are Lexi’s team, this will be a hugely exciting day for her.
On the same day that the tweet went out, SELK Grassroots contacted Impetus and we discussed what we could do together for Lexi. The outcome was a conversation with Martin where we discovered that Lexi had her eyes on a particular pair of goalkeeping gloves that Fran Kitching wears – so it made perfect sense for us to combine and buy Lexi those gloves.
After coming together with Impetus, Andrew of SELK Grassroots said: “When I saw Lexi’s mum’s tweet about her daughter enjoying being a goalkeeper, it really touched me. This tiny young footballer enjoying the game with a smile on her face honestly made me think of my own daughter Evie, and that maybe her being enthusiastic and energetic about the things she loves to do might inspire someone else too.
“The gesture of buying some Lexi some gloves came together after a quick exchange of messages with Ben from Impetus. As a podcast network, SELK Grassroots will continue to offer content creators a place to spread the good news of the women’s game. We hope to hear about Lexi’s progression through youth football to senior women’s football and beyond.”
For Impetus, it was a very easy decision to come together with SELK Grassroots to provide Lexi with the gloves. Something that Laura Montgomery of Glasgow City once said always sticks in our mind when it comes to inspiring young girls to play football, “You can’t be who you can’t see.” Lexi is not only inspired in her football by keepers such as Fran Kitching and Poppy Bastock, but her own story is inspirational enough in itself to inspire girls younger and older than her to persist with enjoying their football. We can’t wait to follow Lexi’s story in the coming years.