Women's Football

Karen Carney explains how non-league football inspired her playing & punditry career

Ali Rampling
Carney earned 144 caps for England - but non-league football first helped her fall in love with the game
Carney earned 144 caps for England - but non-league football first helped her fall in love with the game / Alex Grimm/GettyImages

Situated in south Birmingham, surrounded by a circle of houses and complete with a triangular-roofed main stand behind one goal was once the Moorlands, the former home of now defunct Conference North side Moor Green.

The stadium was tragically lost to an arson attack in 2005. Afterwards it was deemed financially unviable for Moor Green to develop a new ground and the club merged with Solihull Borough to form Solihull Moors.

It was at this traditional, old non-league ground that Karen Carney's love affair with football began, as she balanced supporting her beloved Birmingham City with trips to watch Moor Green.

"I remember being so impressed by how good the surface of the pitch was and the main stand was behind the goal; it was quite a unique little ground. It was in-between loads of houses which was literally a mile away from where I used to live," Carney told 90min.

"The best thing about it was at the back there was a massive area where I could play football with the lads and loved it. I used to play at the back of the pitches, watch Moore Green and I think that’s where my love for football started."

Carney moved away from her home town in 2006 to join Arsenal's revered setup, before venturing out to the States to sign for Chicago Red Stars. She returned to Birmingham in 2011 where she balanced playing in the WSL with studying for a Masters in Sports Psychology at Gloucestershire University.

Her dissertation was on team talks in football, and this saw her come full circle and work at Solihull Moors in a voluntary capacity. She witnessed the team blossom from relegation strugglers into promotion winners to the National League, and speaks proudly of watching Omar Bogle - now with Hartlepool - make the journey into the Football League.

While supporting Moor Green as a child helped to inspire Carney as a player, working behind the scenes at Solihull ignited her interest in tactics, helping her forge a punditry career post-retirement.

"I did my psychology with them, I did scouting with them, and that’s part of the reason I’m in punditry now because they taught me how to scout games," Carney explained.

"I was going home and away, I was in the dressing room so listening to all the tactics and all the team talks, and that’s why I’ve got such a passion for tactics and punditry now because I was heavily involved in all of their pre-game and post-game and half-time team talks."

Non-league clubs were hit hard financially during the pandemic due to their reliance on gate money, with the National Lottery providing £12.5m worth of support to help protect teams at that level of the football pyramid.

Carney's genuine enthusiasm for non-league football really shines through. Having experienced first hand how fragile of an existence it can be for clubs at that level, she is an advocate of the National Lottery Football Weekends campaign - an initiative aimed at getting fans down to their local non-league clubs.

"Nothing beats for me when I’d go into Solihull Moors, I’d speak to the guys on the burger vans, the stand behind the goal was called the Tuck Shop where you’d go and get your coffee and your sweets and when you drive in you know all the people there," Carney recalls.

"You can chat to the players in the bar afterwards and talk to them about the game. For me that’s one of the best things; I love being part of the community and that’s what non-league football gives you.

"The non-league team is the heart of your community. I know what it does to my local community - I already lost Moor Green as a youngster, and I know the impact that had on our community. If we were to lose Solihull Moors I know how much of an impact that would be."

The National Lottery Football Weekends campaign will make over 100,000 tickets available on a ‘Buy One Get One Free’ basis for National Lottery players for selected matches as a ‘thank you’ for over £12.5 million of funding they helped provide to community football clubs during the Covid pandemic. To find out more visit: www.thenationallotteryfootballweekends.co.uk