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Football: Rachel: I'm going the Wright way.

Byline: ANTHONY CLAVANE

THE ageing England goalkeeper is facing a big challenge from Everton's bright young thing for the coveted No.1 spot.

No, not David Seaman. It is Pauline Cope's place which is under threat from the rising star of women's football - Rachel Brown.

The Everton Ladies stopper is big in America, where she has just returned from a football scholarship, but there is some way to go before she achieves Richard Wright's fame.

"People are starting to recognise my name here and there," said the 22-year-old. "But in the States, the women's national team are all famous and this really inspired me. While they haven't heard of David Beckham, you see women football stars on TV chat shows and it's a massive game."

After a five-year exile, Brown returned home to find a sea change in women's football. "It's really taking off in England now," she said. "It's the fastest-growing sport in the country."

In 1993, there were 10,400 players and today there are 88,000. It has even overtaken netball as the favourite sport of girls.

Brown added: "The skill level in our game is amazing and it's getting better. We'll never compete with men physically, but in terms of skill I think we're up there with them." Brown, who has won 19 caps, added: "We are just like other women although we don't hold back when it comes to aggression. I got kicked in the head last week - I went down at someone's feet and they cleverly left their foot in and I got a nice Nike sign on my face.

"We have our Vinnie Joneses and we have our wimpy David Beckhams as well!"

Her favourite keeper is Peter Schmeichel and she remains a loyal fan of her home-town team, Burnley.

But she said: "Women's football, with films like Bend it Like Beckham, can become a top sport in its own right.

"As far as my own ambition is concerned, I'd like to become the England No.1, but not because Pauline retires - I'd like to be the regular national keeper on merit."

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AIMING HIGH: Rising England star Rachel Brown
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUE
Date:Mar 16, 2003
Words:358
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