Women's Football

Karen Bardsley on her hopes for the future of women's football

Ali Rampling
Karen Bardsley is calling time on her career
Karen Bardsley is calling time on her career / Manchester City
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There are two facets of football that Karen Bardsley would like to change.

The first is greater equality between the men's and women's game. The second is a greater emphasis on treating athletes as people.

The Manchester City goalkeeper is reflecting on her illustrious 20-year career after announcing she will be hanging up her boots at the end of the 2021/22 campaign, having never been able to fully recover from the hamstring tendon tear she suffered against Norway in the quarter finals of the 2019 World Cup.

Bardsley's second wish is close to her heart. The goalkeeper was a Manchester City teammate of Zoe Tynan, the England Under-19 midfielder who passed away in August 2016 aged 18. City honoured her memory by securing a league and cup double later that year, and a tournament continues to take place in her name annually through Liverpool Feds FC.

"That was something that impacted us massively and still does to this day," Bardsley recalls. "That season, we all had our own reflections but it made you realise what was really important. That's probably one of the reasons we all ended up doing so well that season, because we were all there for each other.

"It makes you realise there really needs to be some sort of responsibility from professional football and sport in general to make sure there are coping mechanisms and support mechanisms in place. I think what I'd like to see change is a bigger emphasis on supporting the person as a whole, not just the position or the number, but in professional sports the person is treated and valued as a human being and is supported in a way that respects that."

Bardsley got an initial taste for her first wish for the women's game when growing up playing football in the United States. Here she enjoyed the luxury of actual goalkeeping coaching from an early age - a far-fetched fantasy for many other female keepers from her generation.

"My favourite part was I got to train with the boys," Bardsley said of her first foray into goalkeeping. "I got to throw myself around, they treated us all the same, it was no difference. It was super competitive and I just wanted to be better than the boys, I just wanted to show them up all the time. I think that pushed my mentality and helped get me to where I am today."

But the 37-year-old only sampled real equality in her professional career once, during two blissful weeks at the London 2012 Olympics. In between fangirling over Serena Williams, LeBron James and Usain Bolt, Bardsley started all four of Team GBs fixtures at the tournament.

Swept up in Olympic fever, the UK women's game enjoyed the attention and attendances that it hadn't witnessed since the 50-year ban that was placed on the sport in 1921.

"It was my first experience and so far the only experience of true parity," Bardsley said. "The men's team and the women's team did everything exactly the same, and I thought that was incredible and that really opened my eyes as to how things should be.

"It wasn't even a matter of getting paid the same, it was a matter of these are the resources we're going to split equally. We stayed in the same hotel, we had the same meals, we had meal times together, shared the same training venues.

"For me that was kind of the stepping off point for women's football, and I just hope in terms of parity we get back to that moment again because it's really hard to explain how it felt, but it felt right."


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