The Stories Behind Ultimate Goal's Georgia Stevens & Ruth Fox

Ali Rampling
Nov 5, 2020, 11:10 AM GMT
BT Sport's new football reality show Ultimate Goal
BT Sport's new football reality show Ultimate Goal | BT Sport

BT Sport's six-part women's football reality TV series Ultimate Goal premiered on Tuesday 3 November, with 31 female footballing hopefuls living and training at St George's Park for two weeks in a bid to earn a professional contract.

Former England internationals Eni Aluko and Rachel Brown-Finnis manage the academy, and they are joined by a host of former professionals each week who provide masterclasses for the participants - including Rio Ferdinand, Fara Williams and Robin van Persie.

The show also delves beyond the football to explore the remarkable journeys that the individuals have experienced up to this point in their young careers.

90min caught up with Ruth Fox and Georgia Stevens - two of the show's stars - to share their stories from pre, during and post Ultimate Goal.

Ruth Fox

Ultimate Goal's Ruth Fox
Ultimate Goal's Ruth Fox | BT Sport

In 2019, Ruth Fox was an inpatient in a mental health unit. Fast forward 12 months and she was flying the grassroots football flag on Ultimate Goal, with the beautiful game at the forefront of her recovery from a six-year struggle with her mental health.

The St Ives midfielder was first diagnosed with depression at the age of 14 after her sister moved away to university, resulting in her turning her back on football altogether.

"My world just crumbled, I couldn’t cope," she explained. "I'd never come across the word mental health before or mental illness or depression, I didn’t really know what it was and I didn’t think it would be something that would affect me because I had it all.

"That’s one of the key messages - this is something that can affect absolutely anyone and I was the last person you would think would be affected by this."

She contended with suicidal thoughts, self harm, various relapses and the disorganisation of UK mental health services - but it was football that saved her.

"Football’s been my outlet," said Fox. "I’m over a year into therapy and it’s been my life saver to be honest. I’m two weeks away from being a year self harm free which is a massive, massive thing for me.

"I like that I can just be myself - within those white lines I can be 100% me and not focus on anything else in my life. All the stresses and worries and anxieties just disappear. I’ve got a role and I’ve got a purpose. For a lot of my life for a long period I didn’t have a purpose. Having that role on a Sunday afternoon just gives me that hope that I need for the rest of the week."

In 2018, Fox wrote and published a book - Within the White Lines: How the Beautiful Game Saved My Life - charting her road to recovery through football.

"I’ve always wanted to write a book; I never finished my English A Level because of my mental health and I thought ‘this is a way of showing people I can hopefully write and get my points across’," she added.

"We all go through difficult periods in our lives but I know what it’s like to feel like you’ve got no-one and you’re alone and you can’t get through things but hopefully my story shows that you definitely can as long as you reach out and have faith in yourself."

For Fox, Ultimate Goal not only offered her the opportunity to share her story on a national stage, but it also demonstrated just how far she has come, what she has achieved and presented her with a new-found source of self belief.

"It gave me confidence - like being away from home. A year on from being an inpatient to be able to go and meet 30 new people and to go and be myself, enjoy the process, not get stressed - that was a massive confidence boost for me.

"It also gave me confidence in my own footballing ability. What other people saw in me are things that I never really saw in myself."

Georgia Stevens

Ultimate Goal's Georgia Stevens
Ultimate Goal's Georgia Stevens | BT Sport

Stevens was playing for Huddersfield Town in the National League North - the third tier of English football - when an advertisement for Ultimate Goal popped up on her social media.

Never one to shy away from an opportunity, the UCFB media student speculatively applied.

"Best case scenario, you get a pro contract and you go somewhere, worst case scenario I can get a few contacts from BT at least - maybe a work experience," Stevens laughed.

Within 48 hours of the show concluding, her bag not yet unpacked from her fortnight at St George's Park, the forward was on a plane to Iceland after being offered the opportunity to fulfil her lifelong ambition of playing football professionally.

"I told my manager at Huddersfield ‘oh it’s just two weeks, it will just be like training, it will be fine and then I’ll come back’," Stevens explained. "Yeah, that didn’t really happen."

Having impressed during the trial game, the forward received a contract offer from Icelandic top flight side Þór/KA. For Stevens, this was not a result of simply playing well across 14 days at St George's Park, this was the culmination of a decade worth of highs, lows and sheer determination to follow a dream.

Stevens was released by Liverpool at 10 and then by Everton at the age of 16. The day after she was released by the Toffees, she attended an England camp - with no club. Stevens represented the Lionesses seven times at youth level, experiencing both the pride at playing for her country and the disappointment when the call ups stopped.

"I went from not even thinking about England to suddenly being involved in this set up," said Stevens. "You then want to be on the next camp, you then want to be at the next tournament and those are things I’d never even experienced or thought of before, and suddenly it was all I could think about.

"It’s not like you get released by England, you suddenly don’t get an email. You suddenly see that the friends you’ve made on camps have all got an email. You get the gist - it’s not like you get one that says ‘sorry, you’ve not been called up’. You just realise ‘oh, a week’s past, I don’t think it’s got lost in the mail’. When that happens it is tough; it really hits you."

Determined to bounce back, Stevens joined Blackburn and made her first team debut at 16. She then moved to Sheffield United, earning her first professional contract under current Birmingham boss Carla Ward.

The forward was cusp of the first team fold, but as the Blades earned promotion to the Championship, Stevens was shipped out on loan to Fylde and then Huddersfield.

"Going out on loan, that’s a tough experience," she added. "You can never really settle into a club properly. That’s a difficult experience, I don’t think a lot of people went through it at the age that I did."

Having so frequently been on the verge of a break into the professional game but falling just short, did she ever question whether it might not happen?

“Oh yeah, God knows how many times," Stevens admitted. "There’s been plenty of times where I’ve felt: what’s the point? There were plenty of times where I probably would have turned away and I’m incredibly thankful to my family that I didn't."

But through Ultimate Goal, Stevens earned a move of a lifetime to Iceland - via Liverpool, Everton, Blackburn, Sheffield United, Fylde and Huddersfield. And when the opportunity presented itself, she jumped at it with the same relentless enthusiasm that she had approached the Ultimate Goal application process.

"It was crazy. It literally happened so fast," she recalled. "I don’t think it’s fully set in. It was surreal but because it happened so quickly it was just sort of: why not?"

Watch the first episode of Ultimate Goal on Tuesday November 3, at 10.30pm on BT Sport 3. Ultimate Goal builds on BT’s commitment, as part of its partnership with each of the four UK “Home Nations” Football Associations, to inspire a new generation of girls and women to participate in football.