Goodbye Salford, Hej Sverige!

I’ve been to Sweden once before, on my first ever tour with the Australian team in 1997 as a 15 year old.  We drew 1-1 with Sweden in Ostersund thanks to my footballing hero and great friend, Julie Murray.

I remember thinking just how beautiful the landscape was and knowing that I wanted to return one day for a better look.

Football has afforded me so many things and travel is one that I will never take for granted.

So off we go to Gothenburg to cover the Women’s Euro 2013 semi-final between the hosts, Sweden, and seven time winners (who have since made it eight), Germany.

Eesh at Sweden's semi-final with Germany

Eesh at Sweden’s semi-final with Germany

Cue delayed plane……..1 hour

Cue delayed plane………2 hours

Cue delayed plane………3 hours

What was it I was saying about not taking travel for granted? I hate airports. That is all.

My first impression of Gothenburg was exciting, I saw a moose just chillin’ on the side of the road on the way out of the airport. It’s no kangaroo bouncing through our training session or crazy ducks chasing us at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra but I get excited about seeing any wildlife (well except the wildlife that my very un-athletic dog has caught or I’ve accidentally run over in my car….I swear I’m an animal lover!).

The atmosphere at the Sweden v Germany semi-final was electric. It was a sea of yellow jerseys and was jam-packed full of parents with their kids. This is what I loved seeing the most at the Euros, the inclusive nature of the tournament and unwavering support of football by the country.

The question is how we get parents to take their children to WSL games in England.  Crowds (or lack thereof) are a constant topic of discussion and I believe they are the key to the overall development of the women’s game. Cue possible topic for next blog…..

Ready for the final

Ready for the final

Unfortunately the fairytale ending wasn’t to be for Sweden. In what was by far the most entertaining game of the tournament, Germany defeated the hosts 1-0.

Shout out time.

I’ve been living in London for 18 months now and people who know me understand how excited I get when I can hang out with familiar faces. So it was A-MAZ-ING to see Danielle Warby (social media genius from The Women’s Game), Lydia Williams (Aussie GK & all-round awesome chick) & Tommy Sermanni (crossword addict & Premier League Card President & reigning champion) and Priscilla Duncan (former NZ international & now working at FIFA ) in Sweden.

With Priscilla Duncan & Danielle Warby of @TheWomensGame

With Priscilla Duncan & Danielle Warby of @TheWomensGame

Dan was my official beer drinking partner, Lyds took two flights from Pitea to see us for one night, Tommy was just swanning around talking to a million people as usual (the man knows everyone, I’m convinced of that) & Priscilla had popped over from Zurich for a weekend in Stockholm (tough life for some).

Stockholm is a beautiful city made slightly less enjoyable by the astronomical prices of……everything. I guess that’s a sign of a healthy economy but meant I left Sweden with a very unhealthy bank balance.

So, on to the final. Germany (again) v Norway. Early predictions were for German domination but how wrong they were. Norway went against their usual game plan of sitting back, frustrating the opposition and looking to quickly counter attack to having a real go at the Germans.

Unfortunately for Norway they had two penalties saved and ended up losing 1-0.

Bothering guards...

Bothering guards…

I left Sweden thinking that women’s football is in a strong position for future growth and development. The overall standard is rapidly improving and the support of the Euros by the fans and media coverage was brilliant.

I was proud to be involved in the BBC coverage because all of our crew were enthusiastic, supportive and driven to make the production a success. Which I think we achieved.

Here’s a few highlights from the 3 weeks:

–  Trying to stop Leandra Little from stealing every bike she saw while we (Sue, Faye, Leandra & I) were walking around Stockholm. (Ok so Lea wasn’t technically trying to steal bikes, she just assumed every bike parked on the street was for hire).

–  Getting yelled at by the Guard at the Stockholm Royal Palace to get out of his FIFA Technical Area (see photo right).

Worshipping golden cows

Worshipping golden cows

–  Having a very productive “meeting” with Danielle Warby (The Women’s Game – Aus) & Jen O’Neill (She Kicks) over free beer in the media room in Norrkoping followed by a lovely stroll back to our hotels via an interesting sculpture that appeared to be worshipping a golden cow (see photo).

So all in all, a fun trip and I look forward to the next one.

Two weeks in Manchester…

I must admit I never included “Spend two weeks in Salford Quays” on my bucket list, but that’s exactly what I’ve been doing since the beginning of the 2013 UEFA Women’s European Championships (think I’ll add it on just so I can tick it off).

I’m currently sitting in the back of my boss’s car heading down the M6 towards Heathrow. Our flight for Gothenburg leaves at 4pm today (Tues 23rd July) and I can’t wait to arrive in Sweden.

My next blog will be about the Swedish adventure but first to reflect on the past two weeks at the BBC studios, which are situated in MediaCity, Salford Quays, Manchester.

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The first thing that made my jaw drop was the sunshine. Two weeks of sun in Manchester is unheard of so I’ve decided to personally take responsibility for bringing the fine weather with my sunny disposition alone (disclaimer: early mornings not included in sunny disposition).

In a nutshell, it’s been great! I think I’ve loved it because it reminds me of being on tour with my teammates.  Although touring with the Matildas never included 12-hour working days, no exercise, after work drinks or watching Gok Wan makeover women in under 45minutes…or did it? You know what they say, “what happens on tour, stays on tour!”

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The BBC has been extremely welcoming and cooperative since we arrived and I think that has shown in the quality of programmes that have aired across BBC2 and BBC3.  The viewing figures have been pleasing to all involved and even though it wasn’t the fairytale ending for the England team, the interest has continued through to the knockout stages of the tournament.

This coverage is a big deal for women’s football in England.  We are constantly fighting an uphill battle for recognition because this country is saturated with men’s football steeped in history and tradition.

Women’s football still has a long way to go and I am a firm believer that we shouldn’t just be given recognition or coverage because we’re females, we need to earn that right, like everyone else does.

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New Beginnings

G’day, I’m Alicia ‘Eesh’ Ferguson and welcome to my blog!

Eesh with England star Karen Carney

Eesh with England star Karen Carney

It’s been just over two months since I began a new career as a Senior Researcher with the TV production company, Sunset + Vine, and I can honestly say I’ve never had as much job satisfaction (apart from being a footballer).  Sunset + Vine won the contract to produce the 2013 Women’s UEFA Euros in Sweden for the BBC which was great for me because it meant they needed some ‘inside’ knowledge on women’s football.

My first few jobs were to contact some of the Lioness players (England that is, not my beloved Millwall Lionesses) to build background stories for the BBC coverage. I’m sure you’ve heard the theory that people throughout the world are only twice removed from each other? Well, I can’t necessarily prove that theory, but I have to agree with it when it comes to the world of women’s football. It’s always easier talking to players and coaches you’ve never met when you have a shared contact or interest.

Talking to the England players and hearing their stories about playing football despite being faced with all kinds of adversity brought back memories of my own childhood.  Every player has a unique and inspiring story which I hope, and believe, will endear them to the British public during the Euros.

The dressing room is captured by the BBC cameras

Our crew headed up to England’s new National Football Centre, St. George’s Park, to the first of two Euro preparation camps for the Lionesses. We spent two days filming interviews, promos, opening titles and training for the BBC coverage.

The first thing that struck me driving down the long entrance is how lush, green and rural the location is, highlighted by the amount of cows cruising around outside the rabbit proof fence. Yep, that’s right St. George’s Park is surrounded by 3.5 miles of rabbit fencing to keep those pesky bunnies off the 12 perfectly manicured pitches!

The facilities at SGP have been praised far and wide

The facilities at SGP have been praised far and wide

Not surprising they’ve gone to all that trouble seeing as the England Women weren’t even allowed on a pitch to get their squad photo taken. Apparently the chairs kill the grass. Huh?!?

In all serious though, the facilities are exceptional and there’s nothing like the smell of freshly cut grass to make me want to lace up the boots and have a kick. Closest I got was some keepy uppy on the indoor 3G pitch, but I was having a shocker attempting that in skinny jeans and converse. I nearly split my pants at one point! Not cool Eesh, not cool.

Facilities like St. George’s Park are by no means a new thing in other parts of the world; in fact numerous training, education and research facilities were visited and consulted to ensure the feasibility of a National Football Centre. But it is definitely the first of its kind in Britain and will go a long way to improving the development of the nation’s coaches and athletes.

I was having a chat to Kaz Carney and Kelly Smith about their rehabilitation at St. George’s Park. They were spending 4-5 days a week there seeing the physio and doing their rehab program. I’ve been in their situation having had two knee reconstructions, and I know it’s not just the facilities and expertise that aid players’ development and/or recovery; it’s the psychological implications of knowing you’re in a world class facility that may just be the extra 1% you need to be successful.

Let’s hope that comes to fruition for the England Women at the Euros!

Here are some fast facts about St. George’s Park:

http://www.thefa.com/st-georges-park/discover/about-us/did-you-know