Nigerian professional footballer turned London bus driver who was in World Cup
In South East London, running for the route 185 might seem like a professional sport, but next time you hop on the bus to Lewisham, you might reconsider your sporting prowess. Rachael Ayegba, 35, one of the route’s drivers, is a UEFA-qualified professional football coach. She played for Nigeria in the 2007 Women’s World Cup in China and was the first African female goalkeeper to achieve success abroad, with her team (PK-35 Vantaa) winning the Finnish equivalent to the Women’s Premier League.
Arriving in London, Rachael decided to refocus her career from the beautiful game to the iconic red London bus, a symbol of the city she is proud to now call home. Completing a formal professional qualification, she is believed to be the first female London bus driver who will hold both a top tier professional sporting licence and a professional bus driving licence. She’s also a qualified truck driver, speaks several languages and yes, she even has her own page on Wikipedia.
Rachael played in international tournaments for 11 years. She took part in the 2006 and 2008 African Women’s Championships. (Image: GAL / Rachael Ayegba)
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It’s a double decker, it’s red; it’s just like a black cab, you don’t see that everywhere in the world. It’s unique! “I love driving cars, so it made sense for me to go into.
I have a truck licence, I love driving! Go-Ahead (Camberwell bus garage) is not far from where I now live so I decided to pop in to ask a few questions and I decided to join them.” Rachael is one of 700 new bus drivers Go-Ahead London takes on each year.
They receive a Level 2 professional qualification as part of a 12-15 month-long apprenticeship scheme which also allows them to obtain a PCV licence (the type of driving licence required to drive large buses with passengers onboard). Her new career is different in so many ways to her former one but she maintains the same sense of pride and mindset in how she carries out her duties day-to-day. She continues: “I love driving the route.
When I get to Catford, there’s this big cat. I like that part. Then when I get to Forest Hill, it’s different, the roads are broader and there’s space for me to think and explore as I go.
“Then when I get to Goose Green, that’s where I really have to concentrate. One hundred per cent. There are people, there are shops.
“Then I get to Victoria, the destination… Goal… It does feel like home.
“Mentally this is tough, physically this is nothing compared to football. I used to be a goalkeeper – my job is to protect the goal. I make sure I do things properly because if I make a mistake there is a disaster.
I have to be there one hundred per cent to protect my passengers, my people.” Her achievements break through many of the stereotypes and cliches people may have regarding both sport and transport but Rachael takes it very much in her stride. Just 16 per cent of Go-Ahead London’s apprentice bus drivers are women, which the company is working to improve by hiring and highlighting talented women like Rachael.
It is making progress in making its workforce more diverse and inclusive, with 68 per cent of its apprentice bus drivers having non-white backgrounds.
Then and Now (Image: Rachael Ayegba / GAL / Fernando Garcia 49 / CC)
“It’s just like when I got my truck licence. I went for it to make a statement. I always saw men driving trucks, I’d hardly seen women do it.
When it comes to bus drivers in the UK, I do see more women driving buses but even when I was playing football and coaching it was male, male, male!” “Whatever guys can do, I think women can do it even better! That’s what I think.”
“I actually called my brother to say, ‘Guess what? I have a bus driving licence!’ He was like ‘Are you kidding me?!’ Same with the truck licence, I wanted to make that statement.” All of Rachael’s training is done in-house by the bus operator, at its academy in Camberwell.
It is the biggest apprenticeship training academy in the UK transport and logistics industry. She hopes that once her bus driver training is completed, she can celebrate her achievements in the same way as a bus driver she did as a footballer. “I’d love for people to talk more positively about bus drivers… we are all unique in our own way! “People should be respectful, sometimes I think to myself ‘if only you knew!’
“Look at my uniform, I look like a pilot. I telly my friends I’m a pilot on the ground! It’s something that I love.
Look at Michael Phelps, he used to be a swimmer. Now after swimming, he should be able to do whatever he wants. If he wants to be a teacher, or he wants to be an engineer, he should be able to do whatever he wants to do.
He is Michael Phelps a person, not Michael Phelps the swimmer… sometimes when people talk about ‘bus drivers’, it’s like a taboo. “I love my job.” Her rather unconventional journey continues on the rather conventional ten mile journey between Lewisham Station and Victoria Station, with every day a new goal in sight.
She laughs: “Just make sure when you’re coming [on the 185], don’t forget to carry your contactless! You can’t get past me!”
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