Why this week’s A-Leagues All Access star chose Glory after ‘absolutely shattering’ OCD battle

Watch the latest episode of A-Leagues All Access, starring Perth Glory striker Millie Farrow

English striker Millie Farrow joined Perth Glory ahead of the 2023-24 Liberty A-League season – a decision she would never have made two years ago if not for a massive improvement in her mental health, writes Matt Comito.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in October 2023, but has been updated for the premiere of the latest episode of A-Leagues All Access, starring Glory striker Farrow. Watch the episode in the player above.

Millie Farrow quite literally wrote the book on coping with anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) in football.

Not to mention major injuries; Farrow has experienced five of them throughout her career – the first of which being an ACL tear suffered at 15 years of age on the day she won the Youth FA Cup with Chelsea, shortly after joining the club’s youth academy and receiving an OCD diagnosis.

Everything that has happened since – from torn ligaments, dislocated shoulders and stress fractures, to England international youth camps which triggered her anxiety, and the constant mental and physical battles she’s endured to make football her livelihood – Farrow has poured into the pages of Brave Enough Not to Quit, her book published in February this year, written alongside Katie Field.

The messages of thanks she receives from perfect strangers on a regular basis for sharing her story still catch her off guard. They come from kids and adults, both female and male. They’re sent from people who resonate with Farrow’s journey.

It makes the Perth Glory recruit realise how important a book like her own would have been to read herself as a 14-year-old with an OCD diagnosis, a ruptured ACL, a dream to make it in a high-pressure sporting environment that exacerbated her anxiety – and without the faintest idea of how to cope with it all at once.

“I’ve suffered from anxiety pretty badly over the years, especially at a younger age,” Farrow tells aleagues.com.au. 

“I was diagnosed with OCD when I was 14. It was really hard for me to learn how to deal with that at that age as well because I was trying to do my best in football and reach my potential.

“I was in school. I was just a kid. There were a lot of things that made that situation a lot harder. 

“At that age, I had never really heard about OCD, or what it was, and when I was going through it I just didn’t understand what was going on. I didn’t understand myself, and that was really hard to deal with. Especially with football because that was my love, that was what I wanted to do, what I wanted to be. I’ve put absolutely everything into my career since I started playing.

“The response I had when the book was released was amazing. There were a lot of people reaching out to me and telling me their stories with OCD. That in itself made the whole thing worthwhile.

“I wrote the book to give people hope that no matter what happens to you, or what adversity you are faced with, you can – and you will – continue to strive for that dream of yours.

“I’m living proof of that right now. It’s definitely something I’m glad I put out there.”

Buy tickets to the Liberty A-League HERE!

Farrow sits on the balcony of Perth Glory’s training base in Fremantle as she begins to recount her “rollercoaster” journey. That’s when her phone – which she leaves exposed on the table in the unforgiving Western Australian sun for just a few minutes – sets off an overheating warning. 

The relentless summer heat in Perth is one of those small details about forging a new life on the other side of the world which Farrow will soon become accustomed to.

There have been a lot of new experiences for Farrow since 2022 when she made her first move abroad as a professional footballer to North Carolina Courage in the United States. Then came an opportunity at Perth Glory in the Liberty A-League, her second overseas club in succession.

Farrow admits she might not have ever left England to play football if not for the leaps and bounds she has taken to improve her mental health.

“I wouldn’t have been able to do it, mentally,” she says. 

“But it was perfect timing for me really, because I was in such a good place, a good headspace.

“It’s one of those weird moments where it feels a bit like fate, when something just comes along and seems like the right timing.

“I’m so glad that I went for it – if I didn’t, I think I would have spent the rest of my life regretting it.”

Farrow’s life up to the point of taking the plunge abroad had involved stints at Chelsea, Bristol City, Reading, Leicester and Crystal Palace; she’s shown periods of brilliance as a striker in and around a series of devastating injuries that span all the way back to the Chelsea’s 2012 FA Youth Cup Final triumph over Arsenal, in which Farrow tore her ACL for the first time.

Buy tickets to the Liberty A-League HERE!

Farrow celebrates scoring for Crystal Palace against Sunderland at Selhurst Park in the Championship in September 2021.

It was the first of two ACL tears in her career, to go with a pair of serious shoulder dislocations, and a stress fracture in her back that Farrow admits to playing and training through until the pain became unbearable, desperate not to let another injury keep her on the sidelines.

All the while, she grappled with the symptoms of OCD. On some days it would be the need to keep things clean in the particular way she saw fit. Other days it was the anxiety attached to sharing a space with others – particularly in England youth camps where having a roommate was a foregone conclusion.

Buy tickets to the Liberty A-League HERE!

Farrow represented England at Under-19 and Under-21 level. Looking back now, she associates national camps with the times her OCD was at its worst. 

“I used to get back from England camps and be absolutely shattered because I was so mentally drained more so than physically. It was a complete trigger for my anxiety and OCD in a high-pressure environment,” she says. 

“With OCD you have these compulsions and intrusive thoughts that come into your head. One of the biggest ones for me as I was growing up was cleanliness; things had to be the way I needed to be, or cleaned the way I would see fit. When I was sharing a room with different people in camps and coming into contact with different people while having an OCD outburst, it was really hard to deal with.

“The anxiety was brought about by me putting pressure on myself and really, really wanting to do well. I would put so much pressure on myself to the point of it making me completely dysfunctional. When all I should have been focussed on was training well and enjoying my time being there and being present, I completely wasn’t because my mind was completely taken over by OCD. 

“I used to look back and get so angry about it because it felt like I wasted opportunities and didn’t get to reach my full potential in that sense. But I’ve stopped thinking about that now, because I feel like if I didn’t go through those things then I wouldn’t be the person I am right now. 

“With the injuries and all of it, the whole story, the whole career, the whole point of the book I wrote is to show what I’ve learned and how I’m living my best life now.

“I’m happier than I’ve ever been, I’m in the best place mentally I’ve been since I was a child. It’s really nice to say that I’m in that place.”

Farrow got to that place with the help of therapists, and more recently a life coach and a mindset coach – who both contributed sections to her book. 

“I still have OCD,” Farrow says. “I still have the way it works in your mind. But I choose not to let it beat me every day.

“There was a time I started to deal with it better, in terms of it becoming my ‘normal’. It might not have meant that it was everyone else’s normal. 

“You can go and see a therapist and you can choose to talk to people, but unless you’re taking that information in and really putting it to work then it’s not going to make as much of a difference as you want it to. It’s kind of like going to the gym: you don’t walk into the gym, come out and you’re massive. You have to work hard to get there. It’s the same with the brain. 

“I really have put myself to the test which is something I wouldn’t have been able to do at a younger age. In my teenage years, I’d just give in to it every single time whereas I just had a complete change in mindset. It’s almost like my brain was rewired or something. 

“I also think I was able to accept a lot of things for what they were, whether that was my football career or relationships, and I wasn’t constantly fighting against something. It was a mindset thing.

“The expectations I used to have of myself, I don’t have them anymore. I don’t need to do anything. I just need to do my best.”

Farrow’s career is flourishing as a result of the shift in mindset.

Sixteen rounds into the Liberty A-League season, she’s asserted herself as one of the signings of the season – scoring six goals and registering four assists in 16 appearances for her new club.

But speaking before the season, Farrow said that as important as her role was going to be on the pitch, she was intent on taking on the extra responsibility of becoming a positive role model for her younger teammates off the pitch.

“I see a lot of myself in the younger players here,” she said. “You can see they have good football minds – but there is always a story as well, and I think as a young player you never want to admit there’s something you’re struggling with because you don’t want to be perceived as weak. But I used to be exactly the same, and now I’m just an open book. 

“Everyone deals with something, whether you’re an athlete or whatever. It’s just about being able to connect with people and learn from each other. It shouldn’t be a secret.

“Because I’m quite a loud character, I think a lot of people don’t necessarily realise I have that side to me. So when the book came out a lot of people were like: ‘Oh, wow!’ Because they didn’t realise.

“It’s not a defence mechanism, it’s my personality: I’m a very bubbly person, very loud – I’d like to say funny – person. But I definitely feel like I do have a serious side and that willingness to help other people – and that’s why I wrote the book.

“It gave me peace. I thought: ‘Okay, I’ve been through this, I’ve grown from it, I’ve learned so much from it, and now maybe I can be a teacher and be a leader, and help as many people as I possibly can’. That’s so important to me.”

Farrow and Glory are next in action in the Liberty A-League on Sunday, February 18 against Central Coast Mariners at Macedonia Park.

Buy tickets to the Liberty A-League HERE!