Ty Lloyd-Smith has never been able to do things the easy way.
The Peckham-based parent is mother to SportsAid-supported athlete Lexi, who currently represents both Chelsea Women Under-21s and England Women Under-17s having first been scouted by Arsenal Women at Under-11s level.
It’s been a tale of relentless sacrifice and dedication for the pair since Lexi’s emergence.
The early years of her footballing odyssey were challenging from a financial standpoint, and the SportsAid support they’ve received since 2018, particularly through the Backing The Best programme with Sport England, has helped to provide equipment, facilitate travel and instil confidence into her journey.
It was a case of cakes, face paint and chicken - not just blood, sweat and tears - as Ty recalled their innovative methods of fundraising when Lexi was first starting out in the footballing world.
“We used to have to fundraise by baking cakes, painting kids’ faces, and selling chicken we fried on the barbecue!” Ty, 45, said.
“I thought to myself: ‘just because of my financial shortcomings, I can’t let this opportunity go’, so we put advertising in the South London Press encouraging people to help Lexi ‘live her dream’.
“It was fun times doing that fundraising but soon we received SportsAid support. Things got a lot easier financially - their funding just eliminated that anxiety and worry.
"The SportsAid money enabled us to buy sports equipment, helped with education, funded extra food and now pay for driving lessons, which isn’t sports related but will enable Lexi to get to her football and manage without me.”
Finances weren’t the only obstacle that threatened halting Lexi’s progression. When she first started out playing for Southwark Cribbs FC, after being inspired to take up the sport following a stroll in Peckham Rye Park, she discovered a common reluctance among the boys in the team to pass to her.
That outdated perception led to hours of early heartbreak and despair, with Lexi, now 17, often getting emotional in the car on the way home after feeling out of place on the pitch as a young girl from South London.
It didn’t take long for the tables to turn, however, as the determined young starlet set out on a journey hell-bent at proving her doubters wrong.
"It’s been challenging raising Lexi and her three siblings as a single parent...but we couldn’t let this opportunity go"— SportsAid (@TeamSportsAid) June 5, 2020
Ty Lloyd-Smith talks about her daughter Lexi's inspirational journey...from Southwark Cribbs to Chelsea and England!
▶️ https://t.co/mearcxgrPA#ParentPower pic.twitter.com/TovEH7Ee9J
“When she first started the boys didn’t pass to her and she would cry in the car on the way home, but I’d always tell her to keep going and that she could do it,” Ty added.
“Lexi has always 100 per cent wanted it - she’s always motivated and ready, and I’ve not had to push her or anything like that.
“But she ended up captaining that Southwark Cribbs team, and then an Arsenal scout came down to watch her and she got trials at 11. Football has directed Lexi’s life.
"It has shown her she can have a better life, and she knows that she’s lucky to have this opportunity, as many children around here don’t.
“Knowing that she’s had this opportunity has made her not want to let it go, and although it’s been hard at times, she loves it, and her life just revolves around football.”
Ty’s task of supporting a burgeoning young athlete is intensified by her single parent status, coupled with the fact that she also juggles her time raising fellow children Chaise, 19, Jesse, 16 and Beau, 10.
But in the early days she was heavily assisted by her mother, Tery Stowe, who passed away three years ago but will be looking down on Lexi’s inexorable development with pride.
And that’s an emotion that unites both Tery and her daughter, with Ty - who works as a substance misuse practitioner and counsellor - knowing that all those hours of sacrifice and adversity were unequivocally worth it.
“My mum was a huge support at the beginning, and without her we just wouldn’t have been able to do it,” she said.
“It’s been really, really challenging raising Lexi and her three siblings as a single parent, but once I saw how talented Lexi was it was a hard thing to let go of.
“It was difficult, and my mum really had to play a role in it, and I do feel my other children are still a bit affected as me and Lexi spent so much time away from home.
"As a mum, it was hard dealing with that mentally and emotionally, but I just couldn’t let Lexi lose this opportunity.
“The current situation has made me realise just how much I’ve done over the years, but there have been so many benefits, and the good definitely outweighs the bad.”
Lexi was enjoying a globetrotting tour with her England age-group side prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, marauding the right wing on pitches all over the world as she attracted first-team interest from Arsenal, West Ham United and Brighton & Hove Albion.
But it’s the international set-up where she harbours her ultimate ambitions, targeting a fruitful career as a Lioness as the women’s game continues to exponentially expand.
Ty knows exactly how much fulfilling that aim would mean to the family, and says she will continue to support her daughter in every way she can to help her reach the top.
.@ChelseaFCW & @Lionesses player Lexi Lloyd-Smith used to attend our holiday camps. Now look at her! If you want to develop your ball control, join football ⚽️ skills & drills with coach Owen on Facebook at 11.01am ➡️ https://t.co/9Kh1MDF44P#StayInWorkOut#GreenwichGetActive pic.twitter.com/sdF7zNnUEW— Cray Wanderers Community Scheme (@CrayWandsCS) April 28, 2020
“Her ultimate aim is to play for the Lionesses and that is 100 per cent her dream,” she added.
“I would never have imagined what Lexi has achieved and I am so proud of her every day - I’m so proud of how determined, loyal and committed she is.
“She makes me a better person as well, and I think ‘if she can do it, then so can I’, and I think she does that to us all in the family.
"I’m so proud of how she’s maintained it - she absolutely amazes me and I am so, so proud of her and everything she’s achieved.”
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