Freestyler Liv Cooke is the face of UEFA’s new campaign to encourage more women to take up football, which has taken her to a range of locations from remote islands to the top of a fishing trawler. Nancy Frostick catches up with Cooke about her role in the initiative.
Balanced on top of a fishing boat in Norway, Liv Cooke is a long way from where her footballing career kicked off at the Blackburn Centre of Excellence. At just 18, Cooke can already claim to be the UK’s first female professional freestyler and a world champion. Now the face of UEFA’s latest campaign, ‘Play Anywhere’, the Lancashire native has travelled across Europe to inspire girls to take up football.
The new initiative, which is part of UEFA’s WePlayStrong campaign, aims to show young footballers that they can play the sport in all its forms and anywhere they want – even on top of a trawler.
The video follows Cooke and a squad of seven other professionals including England’s Jordan Nobbs, Fran Kirby and Alex Greenwood and Barcelona’s Dutch superstar Lieke Martens as they play football in a range of unusual locations across Europe.
Speaking of the 13 locations that feature in the ‘Play Anywhere’ film, Cooke manages to pick a favourite.
“I really liked Norway, that was beautiful but I think Croatia was my particular favourite because it was really an urban street style of play and it just reminded me why I started play.”
Aside from the trip to Dubrovnik, the ‘Play Anywhere’ team also travelled to the highest pitch in Europe in Gspon in the Swiss Alps, the island of Eriskay in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, an urban pitch in Shepherd’s Bush and the remote fishing village of Henningsvær in the Lofoten archipelago in Norway.
It was in Henningsvær while shooting with Norwegian sisters Ada and Andrine Hegerberg that the idea for the fishing boat stunt came about.
“I’m always looking for unique places to play but honestly I think that is the craziest – we didn’t even set out to film there.
“We were just on a boat getting some cool shots and then we saw this fishing boat and it looked really unique. It was so difficult at first, it was moving all over but a few minutes in I got a bit more confident and cocky and was just trying tricks. I really enjoyed it actually, I’d like to have a go at it again.”
Although she travels across Europe to showcase her skills now, Cooke started her freestyle journey when recovering from an injury she picked up playing for Blackburn’s Centre of Excellence. It was only after discovering freestyle videos online that she decided to focus on learning tricks full time. After recovering from her injury, the time came for the world champion to decide between playing football in its traditional format or paving the way as a freestyler.
“For a while I was trying to do both, but I am one of those people who likes to do things all in. I want to be the best footballer and the best freestyler in the world, so when you are trying to practice so much at both of those things, it’s not possible and there’s not enough time.
“It was definitely a risk but I was never afraid of that because I think when you are playing football or freestyle, it is a hobby. It comes down to passion at the end of the day, you’re not thinking about a career in the long run and you’re not thinking about that and you’re just enjoying it. I just wanted to freestyle.”
A love of football and a desire to play is a key message behind ‘Play Anywhere’ campaign and whether girls are playing freestyle or other types of football, the initiative shows that location need not be a barrier to participation, as Cooke stresses.
“I guess when it comes to doing something like football or freestyle you don’t even need to think about it – just get a ball, go out and have fun. If you’re in an area where there really aren’t any local clubs then just go out to your local park and really just enjoy the game.
As you get older you can reach out to other clubs or new ones should have formed hopefully. Just have fun with it, it’s about passion at the end of the day.”
Looking to the future, the freestyle phenomenon has her sights set on taking her tricks to the next level by continuing to play in adventurous locations.
“One of the places in Europe that I would love to go, it sounds strange, but I saw a film of the Coliseum in Rome when gladiators face off and I got a cool idea for a video I could do where I’m battling myself using freestyle.”
So with that on the footballing checklist, the freestyle gladiator will keep inspiring girls by proving that they really can play anywhere.
Follow Nancy on Twitter @nancyfrostick