Monday’s FA Girls’ Football Week launch probably brought back a lot of memories for Karen Bardsley, more so than it would for most other players in the FA Women’s Super League.
The event – hosted at Platt Lane Sports Complex in Manchester – was the original training ground for Manchester City Women when Bardsley arrived at the relaunched club in 2014, and became their home until the team moved to the new Etihad Campus and the City Football Academy.
Having returned from an injury picked up back at the end of July in the European Championships less than 24 hours earlier in the Continental Cup, Bardsley’s bubbly Californian persona is heightened when we sit down to go over the past few months and the Girls’ Football Week.
“It was awesome to be back,” she says with a big smile on her face. “I was trying to keep my excitement in as I didn’t want to go around doing cartwheels on the pitch. It can be frustrating when you feel so close but you’re still so far away, so just being able to focus and not having any pain was great in itself.”
Bardsley adds, “Just being back behind my defence, seeing the sights and smelling the smells, the sounds of being on a football pitch again. That competition and emotion that comes with it, it felt quite natural once I was back out there.”
At 33, Bardsley is still England’s number one and could return to the squad for this month’s qualifiers against Kazakhstan and Bosnia-Herzegovina, but first and foremost the goalkeeper was returning to Platt Lane to educate the next generation of young girls hoping to follow in her footsteps.
Having just taken part in a Q&A with both primary school and university students, along with Liverpool defender Amy Turner, Bardsley said:
“It was really sweet. One girl asked a few really fantastic questions and I realised people are starting to change how they think about women’s football.
“It was refreshing to see, in appearances in the past I’ve felt maybe I was forcing my message on them but they weren’t really interested. Their body language looked like they didn’t want to be there, but these girls were interested, they engaged themselves and they were smiling so that’s great to see.”
For the university students from Manchester Metropolitan University, the challenges of combining a passion for football and education will be all too clear by now. Bardsley knows exactly what it’s like, having taken on the challenge of a master’s degree.
“It’s a very tough thing to do,” she says. “I almost found that my undergrad was harder to juggle because I had more going on. With my masters, it’s part-time so I don’t have to be there every day. When I was doing my undergrad, we’d go to classes in a morning and then I’d have training straight after – you’d be knackered!
“But at that point in your life, you have so much energy that you don’t really think about it until you’re done. You have to manage your time properly and just enjoy yourself. I was a massive procrastinator, and still am, so I know now to give myself a little bit of time to enjoy myself.”
Bardsley has been able to do all that and come out the other side as number one goalkeeper for Manchester City and England and has all the medals to make it worthwhile. A Euro 2009 silver and World Cup 2015 bronze wasn’t added to in the summer, but the American-born keeper has already picked up all three domestic medals in her four years with Nick Cushing’s side.
There have been bumps in the road though, especially with England. Bardsley had to come off in the Euro 2017 quarter-final with France after it turned out she’d played on with a broken leg, an injury that would keep her out until Sunday’s match against Everton.
It was a feat she’d repeated two years earlier in the World Cup against Canada, when an allergic reaction and a swollen eye meant she was replaced with 40 minutes remaining.
“I hope I can leave some sort of legacy,” she laughs. “It was quite weird, people can say what they want and I’m sure some will say I was bottling it, but when it came out that I was actually in a lot of pain then I think that explained it. I didn’t plan to have an allergic reaction and I certainly didn’t plan to break my leg!
“The important thing is both times we got through as a group and everyone stepped up to the plate. It was difficult for me, but it showed a lot of depth and character and about how we are as an England team.”
Many players often say it’s more difficult to watch on from the side lines, and it’s an opinion Bardsley certainly echoes. With Mark Sampson’s number one choice missing and Manchester City team mate Jill Scott suspended, England fell to a 3-0 defeat to eventual winners Netherlands, a defeat that ended their hopes at the semi-final stages again.
“It was tough to watch on, definitely. I obviously can’t speculate on what would have happened if I’d been fit, there are many factors that went into that performance. Jill was suspended and she was an integral part of what we did.
“I was sitting in the stands with a few of the girls and some of the support staff, I just felt so helpless. It was awful, I couldn’t help the girls. We genuinely believed we would win that tournament and everything we’d done up until that moment indicated that we would.”
Bardsley may have spent most of Monday coaching university students, but it’s not a role she’s altogether too unfamiliar with playing for Manchester City.
Ellie Roebuck, who only turned 18 in September, has made regular appearances for City in Bardsley’s absence, and is also juggling education commitments with playing top-level football.
But despite her tender years and relative inexperience, Bardsley has nothing but praise for the teenager.
“Ellie’s been outstanding and it’s been a lot of fun to be part of her development” she says. “It was only a year or two ago she was brought in so she was only around 16. It’s been exciting to see her talent and the progression she’s made.
“She came out of the development squad and hasn’t quite grown yet, she’s getting taller and it’s been really fun to see how she’s changing, but also her confidence and demeanour around the girls. She’s really good with her feet so I’ve learned a lot from her too.”
Bardsley adds, “She’s definitely one to watch. She’s got a fantastic career ahead of her and I hope she achieves everything she can. When I hang up my boots I’ll be her biggest fan!”
Keep up with Karen on Twitter @klbardsley
Follow Rich on Twitter @RichJLaverty
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The FA Girls’ Football Week runs from Monday 6 to Sunday 12 November and gives students the opportunity to stay active in a fun and sociable way through football. Find a session near you at FAGirlsFootballWeek.com and share your experience using #JoinOurSquad to win exclusive prizes.