Women's Football

Karen Carney witnesses school football opportunities for girls dramatically changing

Ali Rampling
Karen Carney met Surbiton's football team ahead of their trip to Wembley
Karen Carney met Surbiton's football team ahead of their trip to Wembley / EFL

Karen Carney has paid a visit to AFC Wimbledon's training ground to meet the year seven and eight girls' football team from Surbiton High School, as they prepare to play at Wembley on Sunday in the Utilita Girls Cup final.

The Utilita Cup is a national knockout competition, with each school representing one of the 72 EFL clubs. Surbiton High are flying the flag for Wimbledon - and the League One outfit couldn't have wished for a better representative.

Surbiton have recently introduced girls' football scholarships, with the year seven and eight team the first beneficiaries. The result is an entire team that are quite frankly ridiculously talented - a far cry from Carney's non-existent experience of secondary school football.

"It’s so good, this is what they’re going to have, their future," Carney tells 90min as she watches the pupils conducting pre-match interviews. "They don’t even see any difference, which is incredible because I never had that opportunity."

Carney's experience is a familiar one for every generation of female footballers. Football at school was either not an option for girls, or a team would be cobbled together consisting of a couple of competent players and bulked out by girls who had never had an opportunity to kick a football before.

Surbiton's scholarship programme enables the school to attract girls from WSL academies, with every member of their team boasting an immaculate first touch, supreme confidence on the ball and astute footballing intelligence.

"I was like: ‘are you nervous?’ And they were like: ‘no'," Carney added. "And I was like: ‘well that’s my story over with'."

The final takes place at Wembley as the warm-up act for the Papa John’s Trophy final between Rotherham and Sutton United.

Carney had to wait until the day before her 26th birthday for her debut at the national stadium. The former Chelsea midfielder starred in Team GB's iconic 1-0 victory over Brazil at the 2012 Olympics - and watching the Surbiton girls prepare for a trip to Wembley brings back memories of that famous evening.

"When we walked out I turned to Kelly Smith and I said: ‘Kelly, this is what dreams are made of.’ I was so excited. We wore our Team GB kit literally day and night for two weeks, we didn’t take it off. I didn’t take my accreditation off because I was so proud to represent Team GB.

"The amount of people that would come up to us and show us love; especially women’s football, we’d never really had that before. So to have that positivity, that buzz, that atmosphere, it was just amazing.

"When I was growing up it felt like it was every boy’s dream to play at Wembley, but I think it’s showing now it can be anyone’s dream to play at Wembley." 

Karen Carney was appearing at the EFL’s Utilita Girls Cup Finalists Training Session. As part of Utilita's work to help kids keep active through playing football, over 22,000 schoolchildren will take part in the Utilita Kids and Girls Cup six-a-side tournaments for the chance to represent their local EFL club and compete for a once in a lifetime appearance at Wembley. To find out more, visit: www.efl.com/clubs-and-competitions/utilita-kids-girls-cup/