Fire in the Boots: Monki

Fire in the Boots: Monki

After giving up the game as a teenager because she was told women couldn't have a career in football, Monki is the superstar DJ who has made a return to the pitch after shutting down the world's biggest festivals.

Supported by Supported by
July 30th 2019

This is ‘Fire In the Boots’ – a new content series in partnership with adidas Football – where VERSUS takes the UK’s most talented artists out of the studio and onto the pitch, exploring their passion for football and how it inspired them to be the MCs, producers, or DJs they are today. Football and music own the streets, and this series will find out how and why the two fields share so much in common by talking to the creatives who represent this cultural crossover. In this edition, we kit out the multi-talented DJ, broadcaster and Dulwich Hamlet baller Monki in the new adidas Nemeziz.

We’re grateful to be living in a time when – fresh from a record-breaking FIFA Women’s World Cup this summer – more people are engaged and excited by women’s football than ever before. 12 fully professional teams make up the top tier of women’s football and a baller like Ellen White can become a household name after firing her country to a semi-final. It wasn’t always this way.

Lucy Monkman – a.k.a globetrotting dance music DJ Monki – grew up with football as her first passion. Growing up in South London, Monki was a talented baller and one of the only girls at her school who laced up some boots to take on the boys (and beat them) at their own game. She was on trial at clubs including Fulham and Chelsea before temporarily dropping out of the game and chasing a career in music, after being told that women “can’t play as a career”.

Thankfully for Monki, DJing was a pretty good back up plan. As talented on the decks as she is on the pitch, Monki has toured all over Europe shutting down the world’s best festivals and breaking new talent with shows on Radio 1 and 1Xtra. For the past few years, she’s also been back on the pitch and is ready to play her part for Dulwich Hamlet Women’s FC in their landmark first ever season. Monki’s story is one of talent, application, and never giving up.

We took Monki to West London for a casual kickabout in the new adidas Nemeziz ‘Hardwired’ boots, before a wide-ranging chat on the challenges of being the only girl in the playground who wanted to kick ball, the transformative power of team sports, and how to juggle a career in music and the beautiful game.

Monki is wearing the new adidas Nemeziz boot, part of adidas Football's new Hardwired pack, which is available now at adidas.com.

VERSUS: What are your first memories of football? What made you fall in love with the game?

Monki: The first time I remember playing football – I must have been about five or six – and it was with the boys at school. I didn’t really align with what the girls were usually playing in the playground and sport just really appealed to me as a kid. You probably remember playing football at school, and to decide teams you’d have two captains who’d take turns picking players from a line of you and all your mates? Well one lunchtime I just went and stood in the line waiting to be picked, uninvited, and that was that! That’s how I announced myself to football, I just got involved and never looked back.

Who do you play with right now?

I play for Dulwich Hamlet FC, before we were an independent women’s team called AFC Phoenix. We play in the fourth tier of the game, against teams like Fulham and QPR. We’ve played Wimbledon, Crawley and Crystal Palace in pre-season, so it’s a good level. It’s going to be an exciting season because it’s the first one as Dulwich Hamlet and they’re a big club for a non-league one – the fans there are sick, it’s a good community club, and I’m looking forward to getting going this year.

So what’s your relationship like with football right now, how often do you play?

I play twice a week for training and our match day is on Sundays, so it’s three times a week right now. Then we also have a five-a-side league that a few of us in, where we just pick up a ball and play fairly casually – so it’s a big part of my life. I’m also in the gym pretty much every week day, and then I usually tour on weekends DJing. I travel back Saturday nights or Sunday mornings for the game!

For how long has it been that way?

I only started playing again four years ago. I stopped for about six or seven years, from a teenager through to my early twenties, because I got so heavily into music. When I took football up again I’d built up this established career as a DJ and I had to work hard to balance it out. My first season I was playing for a pretty low-level club just to get back into 11-a-side and building up fitness, and then I went on trial for London Bees – who play in the second tier of women’s football – and they invited me to join them for pre-season, but I just couldn’t commit because the other girls in the squad were younger and really doing it as their career…I was in a different place in my life with my music career and just being a bit older.

“I knew if the eight-year-old me was at that World Cup, I would never have stopped playing as a kid.”

What is it about playing football that still holds such an appeal for you?

It’s escapism. I don’t think of anything else when I’m playing football – all I’m thinking about is my first touch when I get the ball at my feet, who I’m going to pass to, or what movements I can make to get free off the ball…and that’s a feeling I don’t get from anything else. I think a lot of creators might get that sort of focus from DJing or making music or whatever it is that they do, but I don’t. I’ll be in the middle of a performance and still be thinking about real world problems. Football is almost like meditation to me, it gives me something to put 100% into it and lets me forget about other things happening in my life.

And have you found attitudes towards you – being a woman who plays football loudly and proudly – have changed over time?

Yes 100%. When I started playing as a kid I went through a couple of academies, Chelsea and Fulham, and I stopped playing when I was 14 or 15 – the reason I stopped is because I was always told you can’t do it as a career, it’s not a job. I obviously loved to play but if the dream of doing it as a career wasn’t there for me when I was young, it obviously hit my motivation a bit…that was what I wanted to do! And when I was really young, although I never saw any girls on the pitch when I went to watch Arsenal play, I was naive enough to think “I’ll be the first one because I play with all the boys now and I’m better than most of them so what’s stopping me?”…

Fast forward 15 years and after the World Cup, watching women play on such a big stage in front of so many fans, was amazing. I was looking around and there were so many young girls and young boys there, and I knew if the eight-year-old me was at that tournament, I would never have stopped playing as a kid. That pathway to the professional women’s game is open now and it’s getting stronger.

You mention how boys and girls were watching the World Cup together and it shows what a unifying force football can still be. Is it the same at grassroots?

Yeah definitely, especially in our team I love it. We’ve got over ten nationalities in our team and I think that’s very representative of London, and we go round each other’s houses for dinner, we go on holiday together, it’s a real unit. When I needed somewhere to stay a couple of years ago, I stayed at a teammate’s, and it’s special to have that. Our squad is so close and it shows what football can do in terms of meeting people and building friendships. That’s why I play a team sport.

“Playing football in between shows and just exercising in general has been so important for me on tour.”

Yeah it’s interesting to know what benefits football brings you off the pitch like that too…

I think a squad is definitely like an extended family. You struggle together, you win together – you hate each other one minute, you love them the next. Playing 11-a-side football is a very shared experience and that’s partly why it’s so special – there’s such a big human element to it.

And what sort of player are you when you’re on the pitch?

I used to play right wing and I’ve played up front quite a lot, or in a 10 position. I’m technical and quite fast, I’m not a big or physical player – lots of coaches told me I was too small to play when I was younger, but I think attitudes towards size and that are changing now thanks to Messi!

Do you think football helps you create off the pitch too? Are you able to attack your work as a DJ with a clear mind after being on the pitch?

Yeah, especially when I’m touring – you’re sitting around so much on tour either on planes, trains or in the car. You can listen to podcasts or watch films or whatever but you really need a release of energy – your body needs to move! So playing football in between shows and just exercising in general has been so important for me on tour. It makes me work better afterwards, because I’m generally happier and more creative when I’ve played sport.

Football and music are both about performing on the big stage. How do they compare and how do you handle the pressure of having to perform?

They’re quite different. I don’t often get nervous at shows, but when I get nervous at games I go very quiet and it’s more of an internal butterflies type of nervousness…I don’t really get nervous before regular games, just in finals or make or break matches. But they’re good nerves. I think going on stage gives me lots of adrenaline and I just power through any nerves that might be there, where football for me feels a lot more mental and I need time with my thoughts a bit more.

“Dedication is so important – I’ve had to work hard for a long time to be good at both football and music.”

How do the atmospheres compare in the dressing room before a match, to being backstage before a show?

Everyone in the dressing room is pretty jokes, there’s generally a pretty good vibe there and it’s not too intense. Backstage, I literally don’t go on stage until two minutes before my set – I might have a small look at the crowd but I won’t spend any great time there, I just like to roll up and go for it.

Training and preparation are so important in sport, especially at high levels. How much did you ‘train’ to be a DJ and to master your craft as a young person? Do you see similarities there?

Yeah I think what stands out in both is that dedication is so important. As a DJ you always need to learn – the first thing I did when I was young was buy a pair of crap decks from a mate’s brother and I practised in my bedroom religiously. You’re always listening to music, you’re always tryna keep up with the newest sounds, so there’s a big element of preparation. The only difference between football and DJing is because DJing is so tech-based, there are so many ways people can hide from being a bad DJ – sync buttons, things like that – but there’s nowhere to hide on a football pitch! I’ve had to work hard for a long time to be good at both.

“Kits never used to fit us – but now women can look the part too and have our own style on the pitch.”

How important is it for you to look good while you’re on the pitch?

It’s always been harder as a woman. The majority of kits never used to fit us very well and it’s only this year that we’ve started to get kits that are made exclusively for the female body. I used to wear XL boys shirts and it was never a great fit – but now we can look the part too and have our own style on the pitch.

What do you think of the new Nemeziz boots now you’ve had a chance to wear them on pitch today?

They look really good and this colourway actually matches our kits for the new season! The Nemeziz feels good on foot though, for a laceless boot they feel snug and they’re light too which is good for a quick player like myself.

How important do you think it is to have swagger and confidence out on the pitch?

I grew up watching and idolising Thierry Henry and he’s someone that definitely had that showmanship and swagger, and that came from what he did off the pitch as well as on it. Because I’ve always watched and admired players like that, I love taking people on and trying nutmegs and being the boldest I can be out on the pitch. It makes the game fun, I love bringing playground vibes to the pitch.

Monki is wearing the new adidas Nemeziz boot, part of adidas Football’s new Hardwired pack, which is available now at adidas.com.

Photography by Elliot Simpson.