Renée Hector tells of her joy at 'coming home' to Watford after suffering mental health problems following racist abuse
The 24 year-old, who left the Golden Girls to join Tottenham in 2016, has had a torrid time since she's been away.
She suffered the first recorded case of racist abuse in women's professional football and then suffered mental health problems as a result of subsequent online abuse.
Speaking to the club's website, Hector said: “There’s just such a great atmosphere around the club with a real family feel.
“I think it’s just a lovely club to be at. Everyone just gets on and it just feels right.
“It’s felt natural, I feel like I’ve fitted straight back in,” she said. “I’m lucky and privileged that a lot of the girls here I’ve played with before at other clubs and Watford. It’s been quite an easy transition for me and I’ve felt part of the team straight away. They included me and I’ve just felt at home right away."
The centre back was subjected to racial abuse from Sheffield United's Sophie Jones in January of last year when the Sheffield player reportedly made monkey noises at her.
An independent Football Association regulatory commission found Hector was racially abused and Jones was banned for five games and fined £200.
She denied allegations she made monkey noises towards Hector and told the BBC: "I'm not a racist." Her contract at the Sheffield club was terminated by mutual consent in March.
Following the incident Hector revealed that online trolls sent her pictures of baby gorillas and made jibes at her because of her weight.
She says she was accused of 'playing the race card' and abuse increased when unflattering pictures of her appeared online.
"The online abuse affected me really deeply," she said. "I started sinking into depression because there were lots of insecurities that I had already and it was highlighted for the world to see."
She subsequently moved to Charlton Athletic FC but only remained for three months citing personal issues as the reason for leaving.
Now, Hector is clearly happy to be back at Watford, saying the club's 'inclusivity' and 'positive nature' were among her reasons for returning.
"You see it in training too, everyone’s pushing together to try and achieve the best they can achieve but doing it in the right way as well," she said.
Having been injured since the start of the 2019/20 season, Hector is keen to commit to the team and immerse herself in the positive atmosphere.
"When you’ve played at Watford and then go away somewhere else, I think naturally the majority of people will still have that soft spot for Watford and it pulls you back.”
Hector has already played alongside a number of the Watford team including Emma Beckett and Adekite Fatuga-Dada from her last spell at the Golden Girls, as well as Ryah Vyse, Anne Meiwald and Katie O'Leary while at Tottenham.
As well as the welcoming environment, she has been impressed by the footballing prowess of her new team-mates calling them 'a joy to watch'.
She said: “They play great football, some of these pitches aren’t the best but they still manage to pop the ball around and score plenty of goals.
"I haven’t been to a game where I haven’t felt excited by what I’ve seen, so that was a big indication that this was the right place.
“I’ve been pretty much watching the girls every week, I’ve been like a fan girl,” she added.
“They’re doing fantastic obviously. They had a bit of a blip against Sunderland but to play at the level they have for such a long time, week after week, it’s fantastic.”
Hector also feels she can pass on knowledge to the young side while also improving her own game further.
“That’s something I can bring to the team as a bit of a calming influence, and a bit of experience and motivation to some of the girls who maybe haven’t had that experience of aiming for promotion,” she said.
"But I can learn a lot here too. I’ve played with Emma Beckett when I was 16 or 17 so obviously she has a wealth of experience, and I can learn things from her," she finished.