Khadija ‘Bunny’ Shaw:
Blazing a trail for Jamaica’s next generation

Khadija ‘Bunny’ Shaw could never have predicted she would become Jamaica’s greatest ever goalscorer.

As a child, the Manchester City striker had a very clear view of how her life would transpire and it certainly didn’t involve sticking the ball in the back of the net with outstanding regularity.

“I was supposed to stay in Jamaica and get a regular 9-5 job because the opportunity wasn’t there,” she tells

The non-existent opportunity the 24-year-old is referring to is the chance to pursue a career in professional football.

Playing the game wasn’t something little girls from Spanish Town did, let alone aspired to do as a job, which is why Shaw has been a trailblazer from the moment she first kicked a ball on the music filled streets of the place she calls home.

It was the sense of community that drew her to the beautiful game and, though she was desperate to be involved, her parents had other ideas.

Football was nothing but a waste of time in the eyes of George and Monica Shaw, who wanted their youngest daughter to focus on her education without distraction and banned her from playing.

It did little to curb Bunny’s enthusiasm.

There may have been no evidence to suggest football could lead anywhere, but she dared to dream things might be different for her and so she resolved to strike what may be the most important deal of her career.

It was a deal which gave her the one thing she didn’t have: opportunity.

“If you had asked me five years ago if I could see myself playing professionally for Manchester City, I would have told you no because of how I grew up,” Shaw explains.

“I wasn’t allowed to play when I was very young because of the lack of opportunity that was presented.

“Normally parents would be strict on a female wanting to play football. I struck a deal with my mum that if I passed all my classes I would be allowed to play.

“I remember one day I got so mad and I said: 'Mum, you never know: I could be the one to change football in Jamaica. Just give me the chance, give me the opportunity.'

“That’s how we came up with the agreement of me passing my classes and she allowed me to play. I think I was the only girl amongst the boys running around.

“Looking back from that discussion and my journey leading up to this point, I am definitely grateful, and I will always keep encouraging and inspiring because it is not impossible.”

Given the freedom to play the game she loved, it quickly became apparent that football was something Shaw excelled at.

In many ways, she was a child prodigy.

By the age of 13 she had received a call-up to Jamaica’s Under-15s and, by the following year, she had represented the Under-17s and Under-20s.

It was her performances at international level that first alerted scouts from colleges in the United States to her potential and, though scholarship offers duly arrived, both Bunny and her mother had reservations.

“It was tough because all my life had been at home,” she says.

“My mum didn’t want to let me go. I am the only little girl she has, so she felt like she couldn't let me go to strangers.

“I was a bit nervous and a bit sceptical because in my mind I was going to an environment where I didn’t know anyone.

“What’s going to happen? What if I don’t like it? I had those thoughts in my mind, but then I had my dad who said it was an experience a lot of people my age would have wanted so go and enjoy it.

“He said: ‘You are maturing and getting older as the days go by and if you go and don’t like it, you can always come home.'

“It was just about taking that step and being brave.”

They say fortune favours the brave and Shaw undoubtedly reaped the rewards of her courageous step to leave home.

She entered the US system at junior college level, receiving an offer from Navarro College before eventually settling at Eastern Florida State, where she spent two seasons.

Then playing as a midfielder, Shaw endured an injury hit debut campaign, but flourished in her second year to become one of the most in demand players in the country as the larger, four-year institutions who ply their trade in the prestigious NCAA Division One – the top tier of American college sports – battled it out for her signature.

The University of Tennessee won that race, and it was there that she transitioned into the goalscoring striker she is today, winning the South Eastern Conference Offensive Player of the Year in 2018.

But for all her achievements on the pitch, she remains immensely proud of her degree in communications, which made her the first in her family to graduate from college.

“The idea was never to play professional. It was just to help my family in whichever way possible,” says the Jamaica international.

“If I had the opportunity to get a scholarship, which I did, I was just going to make the best of that and use that degree so that when I got back to Jamaica, I could get a proper job and help my family out.

“It is definitely something I am proud of. That was one thing my parents wanted. Even before I turned pro they wanted me to get a proper education.

“That’s a cultural thing for them and I really wanted to achieve that to make them proud and show that I could do it.

“When I left, a lot of my people in my community will have asked my parents: 'Is it a smart idea to let your only daughter leave and go so far away?'

“It was a big achievement and now I have definitely proved those people wrong.”

Shaw’s college career coincided with senior international recognition.

In August 2015, the same year she moved to Eastern Florida State, she made her debut for Jamaica at the age of 18 and there was a sign of things to come as City’s No.21 scored twice in a 6-0 win over the Dominican Republic.

I remember the first time I got called to the national team. I was super excited because I was young as well,” she recalls.

“I was like: 'Wow, they actually see something in me that I don’t see myself. That has to be a good thing.'

“I was buzzing. I was so excited. I was running around and all the older players were like: 'This kid can’t stop moving!' but that was how excited I was to be in that environment and to put that jersey on.

“It means so much to me because not only am I representing myself, but my family, my community and there are other kids who can say: 'She is young and she is making her debut in the national team, so can I.'

“It was much more than me just putting on that jersey. It was an unbelievable feeling.”

Shaw has had many of those in a Jamaica shirt.

2018 proved to be an unforgettable year for the Reggae Girlz and their influential striker was at the heart of it.

After a two-year absence from competitive action, the side led by Hue Menzies reached the CONCACAF Women’s Championship, with Bunny scoring 16 times in seven games to finish as the top scorer in qualifying.

That included a six-goal haul in a 13-0 demolition of Guadalupe as Jamaica progressed to the final tournament with an unbeaten record.

There, the fairy tale continued, with Shaw scoring three times en route to the third-place playoff, where they beat Panama on penalties to become the first Caribbean country to qualify for the Women’s World Cup.

It had been two decades since Jamaica was last involved in football’s biggest tournament, when the men’s team qualified in 1998 and something that had seemed impossible when the nation’s football federation cut the women's team's funding in 2010.

The scale of their achievement cannot be overstated and for Shaw, it was the first time she fully appreciated how football could positively impact the lives of others.

“We qualified in Texas. I was in college, so the next day I went back to school,” she says.

“My school had a game, so I went to the locker room to show my face and I just casually walked to my locker and there were so many gifts and congratulations.

“It didn’t really hit me at that point but after the game, I just sat there, and my phone was blowing up. My mum called me like a hundred times.

“I can’t even explain the feeling. I went home in December and had a celebration for the team, which was an incredible experience.”

Jamaica’s maiden Women’s World Cup – the 2019 edition held in France - ended with three defeats from three games, but that did nothing to dent the nation’s pride at the Reggae Girlz efforts.

After so long in the international wilderness, it was a moment to be enjoyed and Shaw looks back fondly on the tournament, despite the results.

In a country where athletics is king, the striker and her team-mates had brought women’s football into the public’s sporting consciousness and in doing so, she became something she never had as child growing up in Spanish Town: a female football role model.

“After my experience in France I went home that summer and there was a girls' academy team that I had no idea about,” explains City’s summer signing.

“Someone reached out to me and said: 'There are a bunch of girls who want to see you. Could you stop by training one day?'

“An academy in my time was never a thing. After training I sat down with them and they said: 'After the World Cup, you inspired us so much that we said: 'There is a boy’s academy, so why can’t we do our own thing and have our own academy?’”

“I called Cedella Marley [daughter of reggae legend, Bob, and a global ambassador for Jamaica's women's team], literally at that time, and said: 'You have to listen to this. Stop what you are doing and listen to this because this is crazy.'

“They just decided to do it, without the federation, without resources, just because of us qualifying for the World Cup.

“She spoke with them and it was just a good feeling to know that we are making a change, making a difference for young players.

“When I was younger, I didn’t have a female football role model. I was just playing and wherever you end up, you end up.

“The young girls now have female footballers, not just myself, but other players on my team that have had the opportunity to play professionally.

“It is something we are grateful for and we’ll definitely continue to inspire young players back home.”

Shaw is comfortable with her status as a role model.

As the record goalscorer in a history-making Jamaican side it is only natural that the striker, with her infectious personality, is someone people look up to, but her inspirational traits aren’t confined to the football pitch.

There have been several difficult moments in Shaw’s personal life during the course of her career and she understands that her journey to the top of the women’s game resonates with people because she has triumphed in the face of adversity.

It is what made her who she is today and she hopes it is something that inspires the next generation of footballers in Jamaica to believe anything is possible.

“I think a lot of people in the Caribbean can definitely relate to some aspects of my story. They are looking at it like: 'If Bunny can do that after going through so much, why can’t I?'

“I think having that mentality and going through those experiences, it definitely shapes me for who I am now, and I am going to keep inspiring as many people as I can.”