Gladiator Diamond Returns To Sporting Roots At Soccer Aid For UNICEF (2024)

Diamond, a star of hit TV gameshow Gladiators, plays for the World XI in Soccer Aid for UNICEF on Sunday hoping to show young girls there is more than one way to stay in sport.

The 30-year-old Livi Sheldon, also known as Diamond, was a midfielder for Worcester City before turning her focus to body-building and eventually being recruited for the latest version of the Saturday-night prime-time series Gladiators which was relaunched by the BBC earlier this year.

Now, selected to play in Soccer Aid, the annual charity match between two teams of former players and celebrities to raise funds for UNICEF, Sheldon is returning to the soccer field to play alongside the likes of Usain Bolt, Alessandro del Piero and Roberto Carlos. Created by Robbie Williams and Jonathan Wilkes in 2006, Soccer Aid has raised over $115 million for UNICEF UK through ticket sales and public donations.

For Sheldon, it will be an opportunity to return to the game she loves after previously playing for various teams in Worcester. "I played from the age of six, up until around the time I was at college - around 18, 19" she tells me. "Then I actually had another little stint for a couple of years when I was 23 or 24. And then I didn't kick a ball until I got asked to play Soccer Aid!"

"It's been a while but I've been practising lots and Worcester City have been really helpful with letting me train with them again. The lady who actually runs it, Nicole, she is absolutely amazing and what she's brought Worcester City Women to be as a team, is incredible."

Since Sheldon stopped playing women's soccer, it's profile has exploded on the back of England winning the UEFA Women's Euro in 2022. She admits had she come through now, the opportunities to forge a career playing in the sport would have been greater.

"I would absolutely have loved to be a professional footballer. The opportunities the girls have now. . . At Worcester City, they have a development squad there now which bring young girls and boys up from the age of six, and bring them through the different age groups. The pathways they have there for different teams is just incredible so I think if I was young Liv playing now, I think she may have well been a professional footballer."

If Sheldon had made it to the Women's Super League, she would be one of the few females in the competition standing at her height. Currently only one outfield player in the women's top flight is six foot tall. "That actually really surprises me, there's only one six foot tall player. That's insane, that's crazy! We definitely used it to our advantage, I know I did when I used to play football, always winning all the headers! I would never say its been used against me by any coaches, if anything it's been encouraged."

"Definitely, I feel like being the tall girl is quite a unique thing, there's not many girls who are six foot tall so to be able to be relatable and show young girls out there who are on the taller side that you can do whatever you want to do and just be yourself."

"Don't hide away. I used to crouch over and try and hide myself a little bit more. Now when I walk into a room, I stand tall, everywhere I try to make myself even taller actually! I'm not afraid to wear heels. Us girls can do it all!"

While her height may now be an advantage as a Gladiator, it made Sheldon stand out at school at a time when fitting in is everything to most children. "I was bullied from a young age," she reveals. "Football was a huge part of helping me get through that. It gave me a community, helped build my confidence. It definitely did help as an escape, in a sense, from not feeling very good about myself and just being able to do something that I absolutely loved, that I was good at. That's why I loved it so much and love it so much now as well."

Ultimately, Sheldon purused a life outside the game, becoming a body-builder and a finalist in the British "Toned Figure" competition. She explains, "when I stopped playing football, I actually had a little bit of a break from all sport. I wanted to get into something, but I wasn't sure what I wanted to do so I started going to the gym and training. This is how I found my love for body-building. I could control how I could change my physique."

"Maybe from being bullied about the way I looked, definitely, that could have had an impact on going into weight training. It can be quite a solitary sport as well, so you very much motivate yourself. You do have coaches and people around you but you learn to look after yourself, build confidence in yourself."

"What I loved about it was being strong, being able to go to the gym with confidence and lift weights and constantly getting stronger and seeing your body and your physique change. That's what I loved. You can specifically train body parts to grow and basically just mould your physique to what you want it to be."

Now invited to play in the 13th match for Soccer Aid, Sheldon has come full circle and of all the many stars on show, it is the chance to meet a former England women's international that she is most looking forward to. "I'm very excited to meet and play with Karen Carney," she admits. "I actually have a pair of boots signed by her from when I was younger, when I played in a tournament, she visited. That's pretty cool. It will be amazing playing against her."

Money raised from this year’s game could help UNICEF protect children from disease, malnutrition, provide vaccines for childhood diseases like measles, and respond in times of crisis in places like Gaza, Sudan, and Ukraine, to help get them back to learning. This year, thanks to the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, every donation will be doubled – up to £4 million ($5 million).

For the first time, as a thank you for their support, people making donations during the live show are in with the chance of getting a special call back from a surprise celebrity guest, live from the stadium as part of the Soccer Aid for UNICEF’s "Appreciation Station".

As someone who needed sport as a refuge growing up, Sheldon understands perfectly why the money is needed. "I just want to make sure everyone tunes in on Sunday to watch because the cause is so huge for children around the opportunity to play."

"I'm the person who I am today because of sport so I think it's so important to see all children have a safe place to play sport. This is what we're doing, this is what Soccer Aid is all about and why we're playing this match to raise money for UNICEF. It's so important that we those donations now."

Donations to Soccer Aid for UNICEF can be made here

Gladiator Diamond Returns To Sporting Roots At Soccer Aid For UNICEF (2024)


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