That was the reaction of Carol Bates after she heard she was being honoured in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List.
The 54-year-old has been awarded the British Empire Medal for services to football and inclusion. Carol is the founder and chair of Crawley Old Girls (COGs), a recreational team for women over the age of 25 in the town.
COGs was set up in 2015 with the help of the Crawley Town Community Foundation and started as a group of 10 friends over the age of 40 but has now grown to a group of more than 100 members who come together to train and compete five times a week.
This has inspired other clubs across the country to do the same and in 2018 Carol organised 200 women to play an old girls’ World Cup in France. Many of the players cite the transformational impact the club has had on their lives and wellbeing.
COGs have previously been in the FA Women’s Football Awards and won the FA #WeCanPlay Participation Award for their ‘innovative and amazing concept’.
In 2018, they received the Inspiring Local Initiative Award at the Women’s Sport Trust Be A Game Changer Awards and in 2019 Carol was a finalist of Sunday Times sportswoman of the year awards. But even after all this, the self-employed painter and decorator is still surprised to be honoured by the Queen.
“I am more shocked. It’s unbelievable and I am very proud indeed,” she said.
“It’s the stuff dreams are made of. It’s been incredible, the whole ride because we love football. My whole life has been a love of football and the chance to play for a bit of fun was brilliant in itself.”
And Carol, who found out she was getting a BEM by email when decorating a kitchen, is proud of COGs as a whole and sees this as an award for all everyone involved. She said: “There are so many amazing things we [COGs] have been involved with but the thing I am most proud of is that the women come along and have been coming along for years are still coming today and still loving it and sharing how much they enjoy it.
“It’s just the pride of creating something that is so full of joy for women our age and we still have people joining and - including two women over 50 last week.
“You just see the joy when they are playing because they haven’t been active for so many years and this gives them something they can do at their own pace which is so much fun. “The whole ethos of it is that it’s fun and enjoyable and it’s for any woman regardless of your fitness or ability.
"You just make so many friends and meet so many wonderful women that you just keep coming back. Football is only part of it. It’s really made a difference to women’s lives.”
Carol’s family found out tonight (Friday) just before the full list was revealed and speaking before the news was broken, she said: “They will be proud. They always have been proud as much as I have been of them.”
Carol named Amy Fazackerly, who helped set up the first COGs session, Nicol Meredith, the EFL Trust’s former Female Football Development Officer and Rachel Pavlou, the FA’s Women’s Football Development National Manager, as people who have been instrumental in COGs journey.
Carol added: “I am trying to get my head around it because there are lots more people who have done a ot more than I have, especially in the FA who have been working for years and years trying to get women and girls playing football.”
For more information on COGs, visit crawley-cogs.co.uk