Gemma Bonner – Living the Dream

(Courtesy of Liverpool Ladies FC)

(Courtesy of Liverpool Ladies FC)

Pre-season training is now under way and the fact I can start 2014 as a professional footballer is a dream come true.

It has been an interesting off-season seeing all the movement that has taken place with players coming over to play in the FA WSL from countries like America and Australia, while some of my international teammates have also been moving clubs.

I’d like to take this opportunity to welcome Gemma Davison, Martha Harris and Libby Stout, our new signings, and I can honestly say I am really excited by their arrivals as they add real quality to our squad.  Having experience of playing against Gemma, I know she will pose a big attacking threat for opposition teams whilst Martha and Libby will add extra quality to our backline.  I think it’s great overseas players want to come here as it means we have to keep improving to stay at the top. As players you want to be tested against the best and I think we’ll be doing that this year.

New signing Libby Stout (Picture courtesy of Liverpool FC)

New signing Libby Stout (Picture courtesy of Liverpool FC)

Early in January I was away with England in La Manga and it was great to get started with the new Manager Mark Sampson. There were a lot of new faces, and there was a real buzz about the squad and now everyone is looking ahead and vying for selection at the Cyprus Cup.

A lot of the girls have been involved in the setup in some capacity, but it was a fresh start for everyone. Mark and Marianne Spacey focused a lot on creating the right environment whilst working hard and playing with a smile on our faces!

It was great to kick a ball again after the winter break especially after the torture of fitness testing the week prior to La Manga which gave us time to overcome the severe DOMS we all had from it.

A massive highlight of the trip for me was been given the privilege to captain the side in a training game against Ireland while out in Spain. It was a big surprise but absolute privilege. It’s always been my dream to play for England, but to captain the team was something special that I’ll always remember.

Gemma leading the handshakes against Ireland (Picture courtesy of Gilly Flaherty)

Gemma leading the handshakes against Ireland (Picture courtesy of Gilly Flaherty)

The following match against Norway was a great test against a really good side, and for us as a new group we were happy with the performance although it’s always disappointing conceding a goal late on to finish with a 1-1 draw.

My focus is now on Liverpool and to be now training in a the full-time environment is great. We want to make the most of it and ensure we are ready for when the season starts.

Finally I would like to congratulate my team mate Tash Dowie on being the runner-up for the BT Sport Action Woman of the Year, it is a massive achievement for her and well deserved after having a great season with us!

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Megan Rapinoe: The last brownie…

I am not worthy of the brownie, I know, but…

I find myself just staring at the keys trying to wrap my head around what it is like to live abroad.  For anyone who has had the pleasure, and by pleasure I mean experience – which sometimes is not a pleasure, you know what I mean, right?

In so many ways I feel it to be equal parts exciting and boring, incredibly enriching and difficult, hilarious and not f**cking funny what so ever (I just want the server to know I don’t want cheese on my sandwich, that’s it!).

In many ways I feel as though I am on vacation, or I should be treating my time here as such.  Taking in all the sights, gaining five kilos because the croissants are just that good, and getting all cultured at the many art museums.  And yet in many ways I am living the exact same life you are living at home, just without the comforts of home.

Megan Rapinoe

And yes – poor, poor Pinoe. It must be so hard to be paid to do something that I love and live abroad and ugly ol’ France and learn the dull language of love. I get it. I am lucky. And I am having an experience many wouldn’t even dare to dream of.

But I am also just a boy, standing in front of a girl…wait…what?! In many ways my experience reminds me of that scene in Notting Hill where everyone around the table has to tell their sob story in hopes that it will be pathetic and sad enough to be worthy of the ultimate prize – the last brownie. Julia Roberts (god I love her) starts on about her nose and her chin and how hard it must be to be an actress earning millions and being all world famous. And for a minute you fall for it.  You can sympathize with her, for a fleeting moment, in the loneliness of an empty room at the Four Seasons and the pressures of having a perfect face.

But then sister to the left is in a wheelchair forever and then reality hits.

Megan Rapinoe

That’s kind of how I feel sometimes. Ridiculous I know, because my complaints are those of the first world, but I miss home.  And sometimes that is hard to say for fear of feeling ungrateful or complaining about this life that I live. But I do. And it can be lonely and boring – a lot.

Sometimes I just want to make dinner and cuddle on the coach and watch football on Sundays and eat Mexican food and go to IN and OUT Burger and bicker with my sister. Sometimes I just want that.

And in the end I know I am not worthy of the brownie in any way, shape or form.

But like dear Miss Julia, I sometimes want to be entertained with the idea that just for a second…I am.

Harding: New Year, new adventures

A fairy-tail ending wasn’t meant to be…Tash Harding reflects on an exciting conclusion to the 2013 WSL season, and what 2014 will bring for Bristol Academy.

After already playing four games against top teams, playing Donny Belles didn’t seem all too difficult. We were all drained as players but the confidence and belief that we could win it was stronger than ever. We had just taken a a point away to Arsenal, and even then I had had a chance to win the game, if it wasn’t for that bloody left foot (which I now believe is only for standing on)! However, this kept the momentum going for the last game of five in 13 days.

Tash in action for Bristol Academy

Tash in action for Bristol Academy

That amazing come back…

On the way to the game, the bus was pretty quiet and I think everyone was just physically drained. It wasn’t a normal Bristol bus where every one is laughing and chatting etc, it was quite subdued to say the least.

The warm up was good and everyone seemed up for the game but there was still a sense of tiredness. The first half started in our favour with us having a few chances and their goalkeeper making a few great saves. But something wasn’t clicking for us, and as a team, we couldn’t seem to play the football that got us into the position we were in prior to the game.

Suddenly we found ourselves behind. We had just attacked and the keeper gathered the ball, put it on the floor to kick long. I just remember watching the ball go over my head and the midfield, get flicked on and Little was there to finish a basic route one tactic. But it was oh so effective because they scored another two within minutes. We all stopped and looked at the board and thought ‘are really 3-0 down in 35 minutes?!’ We were in shock.

In the dressing room at half time, it was silent. But there was no panic at all on anyone’s face. If anything, it was a few words from the manager and the silence. But a silence filled with determination. Walking out for the second half, we knew we needed an early goal, and we got it.

Then we had to wait a bit longer for the second, but that was the spark that fuelled the ruthlessness, the willingness to win and do whatever it takes for each other. When that fourth goal went in, we completely believed we can win this title. To come back from 3-0 down was an achievement many of us hadn’t done. And we did it the way we have all season – by playing cut throat attacking football.

Goal number four caps the comeback at Doncaster

Goal number four caps the comeback at Doncaster

After the game the changing room was quiet and no one could believe what just happened because it felt like that 45 minutes went in a flash. It was a great end to a gruelling schedule and everyone couldn’t wait to rest.

The decider…

With Arsenal deducted points, we knew it was between us and Liverpool for the title. Liverpool were the team to beat and we knew for us to win we had to play our best. We travelled up on the day, and everyone felt fresh even though there were internationals played a few days prior. We were quietly confident.

We knew if we went in 0-0 at half time it would work more in our favour, but we conceded a penalty. First blow to Liverpool. We were on the back foot for the majority of that half and credit to Liverpool they played like they were already proven champions.

Second half was much of the same but we created a few more chances. But we conceded another and by then we knew we were beaten. After the game there were tears and emotions were high, but looking back on it now not every Bristol Academy player gave their all in that game. If everyone worked at 100% I think it would have been a different story and a different blog. But it just wasn’t meant to be. Liverpool deserved to win the title.

New England boss Mark Sampson

New England boss Mark Sampson

The next step…

As everyone is aware, England has a new manager. I think this shows how hard everyone at Bristol worked and how well everyone did last season. I know a manager is an integral part of any team, but it was the girls that came back from 0-3 down to win 4-3, it was the girls that played amazing football and reached the FA Cup by beating Everton and Lincoln at Ashton Gate, it was the girls that dug in deep and went down fighting against Liverpool.

I am honoured to have worked with the manager, but even more proud of playing alongside those girls, going down to a title decider and earning CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FOOTBALL!

So am I happy with last season? On a scale of 1-10, I’d say 15!!

What next…? Watch this space ;)!

Tash

Katie Sherwood – The teachings of a footballing mum

When Kieran originally asked me would I be interested in writing a blog my initial reaction was why me? I am really not that interesting! But when he explained the show would be interested in me writing about my day-to-day life to share my story of my individual commitment and sacrifices I make in order to play the game, I was intrigued.

Katie scores from the penalty spot in FA Cup Final shoot-out in 2012

Katie scores from the penalty spot in FA Cup Final shoot-out

Being a female footballer, regardless of whether you are professional, semi-professional or amateur, can consume every aspect of your life – it can be around the clock commitment in order to be successful…….throw in a full time job and a young family to look after and it can be one big juggling act.

My life in a nutshell…I have 2 beautiful children, Alfie is six and Isabella is three months old and my family is my everything. On top of my mummy and housewife duties I work full time as a primary school teacher and I thoroughly love my job. My husband also works full time as a football development officer and is also manager of Cardiff City Ladies, so to say our lives are pretty full on is an understatement. (No time whatsoever for a social life)

The question I am often asked is why do I do it? And how do I do it? Unfortunately, football is not my job, it is just my passion, and like many other female footballers around the country, the endless sacrifices that I and many others make is just for the pure love of the game. whether that is getting up at 5am to hit the gym before work, or travelling a four hour round trip to make one training session or taking unpaid leave from work to be able to make a mid-week fixture (yep I’ve done them all).

These are just a few of the endless personal sacrifices women footballers have to make on a daily basis (I just cram about 4 or 5 into one day!!!!) And how do I do it? The simple answer is that I have a great support team with my husband and family!! (Plus I sacrifice my sleep/ I consume large amounts of caffeine hourly)

Family time isn't just for off the pitch

Family time isn’t just for off the pitch

I’ve been out of the game now for nearly 18 months after recently having baby number two. Having previously played at Bristol Academy and Chelsea Ladies with the honour of playing in two consecutive FA Cup finals, I am ready to get my boots back on and I am starting a new chapter having recently signed for Yeovil Ladies in WSL2.

Being only able to spectate for the past 18 months has made me hungrier than ever to get playing again. My decision to sign for Yeovil was an easy one, the club have a great, ambitious and realistic vision for the next few years, with a very professional approach, and the clubs family feel was very refreshing. I think WSL 2 is going to be a very competitive league with all teams strengthening their squads with new signings; I cannot wait to get started! The hard part and the realistic side to the story is….will I be able to juggle it all.

On that note, with the FAWSL season vastly approaching, my blog every month will just give a little insight into my weekly routine and my balancing of all the goings on in my life whilst in season playing the game so many of us are in love with.

Hwyl Fawr. photo (2)

KT

Captain’s Blog by Gemma Bonner – An eye opening week in many ways

Gemma Bonner

It’s been a busy and eye opening few days since making my second appearance for England last week, with the North West Football Awards taking place and a visit with some of the Liverpool staff to the Linda McCartney Centre.

The game last week against Turkey was definitely a tougher test than the home game as it’s always more challenging going into an environment that is much different to what you’re used to.

We did try and acclimatise and learn about the culture by making a visit to a local mosque, which was certainly an interesting experience and a good opportunity for some time with the team off the pitch.

Obviously the result was the important thing and to come away from the qualifiers this year with a 100% record was vital following the Euros, and from a personal perspective, another clean sheet is also very pleasing.

The Turkey match will be my last game until pre-season begins in the New Year, but my responsibilities with Liverpool will continue throughout the off-season.

Earlier this week I was honoured to be nominated for Best Women’s Player in the North West Football Awards which were held at Old Trafford Cricket Ground, alongside my England team mate Toni Duggan, and her Everton team mate, Nikita Parris. I attended with Becky Easton and SheKicks editor Jen O’Neill.  It was also nice to invite my dad along to the event.

Toni ended up taking the award and I would like to congratulate her for that. She’s had a great year and having faced her a few times last season, I know first hand how good she is.

With North West Men's Player of the Year, Jamie Carragher.

With North West Men’s Player of the Year, Jamie Carragher.

I did get to meet some great people on the night, including former Liverpool defender, Jamie Carragher. He was a really nice guy and won Best Male Player at the awards. He joked on the night that the one year he wins the award is the year he spent most of the season on the bench. The irony!

The glitz and glamour of awards night is always nice, but as a representative of Liverpool football club, we also have responsibilities to our local community.

Earlier this week I visited the Linda McCartney Centre with the gaffer Matt Beard, Becky Easton and Sophia Riccio.

The centre is part of the Liverpool University Hospital and treats women diagnosed with breast cancer.

With one of the patients at the centre

With one of the patients at the centre

We were shown around the unit and chatted with patients, who were really great and knew about our league title victory. We had the trophy with us, so they were keen to hold it and have their photo taken.

The staff were really friendly and the facilities are excellent, so while it was really difficult to see people so ill, I know that they are in good hands.

The person who showed us around the unit, Sheena Privett, was diagnosed with cancer in January this year, but has a big interest in sport and is now trying to do some fundraising to support the unit.

With Sheena Privett, who has just completed her treatment at the centre.

With Sheena Privett, who has just completed her treatment at the centre.

We’ve given her some signed items and will certainly be supporting her when we can, but for now, I’d really appreciate it if you visited her website www.sportsupportslm.com and showed your support.

Thanks as always for reading.

Toni Ready For Welsh Test

On Saturday, England play Wales in a World Cup qualifying match that a lot of people have been looking forward to.

To be honest though, for me, it’s just another game – I don’t really focus on the opposition. I just concentrate on what we can do. If we can get that right then I truly believe we can beat anyone on our day.

Wales do have some stand out players. Jess Fishlock was named Player’s Player of the Year a couple of seasons in the WSL and has just been named her club’s MVP out in America. So we will pinpoint them but I don’t think it makes it harder or easier that we know them from playing against them for our clubs. If anything it adds that spice.

As you’ll be aware, Brent Hills is continuing as manager for the time being. Under him we have had two good results already so for us its business as usual. I have worked with Brent for a while but you still never quite know what he is thinking so I went into the England camp full of confidence and wanting to prove a point. I am glad he gave me the opportunity to do that.

The structure has been similar to what we have had in recent years but to be honest that’s England. It never really changes off the pitch. I think Brent has tried to implement certain things that he wanted to get out of the games, and I think that worked and it showed in the results. However I wouldn’t say there were any massive differences in terms of how we set about preparing for games.

I think we played really well against Belarus and Turkey. In the Belarus game I really wanted to get on the score-sheet but it wasn’t to be. I was a bit disappointed – that’s the striker in me! – but I set up a couple so I was happy with that. I managed to make up for that in the Turkey game with a hat-trick.

Celebrating with Eni Aluko

Celebrating with Eni Aluko

Even when it got to 6-0 against Turkey we still continued to press forward and perform well. In games like that it is easy for your standards to drop and people can be selfish and want to get on the score-sheet but I don’t think that happened.

The goals were spread out around the team and even the substitutes that came on were professional. It can be quite tough coming on at 6-0 but I think everyone who played kept the standard high and that made it a good performance.

Admittedly, the past two games haven’t been against what you would call world beaters but the way we played has given us a lot of confidence. They were probably the type of games that we needed after the Euros to help us get our belief back.

That being said, we won’t be underestimating Wales – we know what they can offer. It will be a tough game but hopefully we can keep our standards and get a positive result.

Laura Harvey – NWSL: Post season and preparing for next season

Hi, I’m Seattle Reign Head Coach Laura Harvey and welcome to my blog!

So after the inaugural NWSL season has finished my attentions quickly turned to planning for next season. It is quite foreign to me to have so much time in the off season to prepare, back in England we might get a month off before our next pre season starts. In the states we finished in August and don’t have pre season until March of the following year. This is a good thing for our league I think as especially last year we had to move very quickly on aspects of the club once I had been appointed and many things were done as a reaction and we as a club know we need to be more prepared for next season. We have without doubt one of the most hard working and hands on Owners in the league so although I’ve spent a few weeks back in England we are in constant contact looking at ways to make our club better.

IMG_1781

We even managed to go and see PSG v Lyon at the end of September, this was a great opportunity to see what level we are trying to push our league towards. Lyon are undoubtedly one of the best, if not the best team in Europe and their structure on and off the field is something I think every club can learn from. So to see the game and appreciate the fan base and how the club works is great for us and gives some ideas of things we can do to make Reign FC a sustainable and competitive club. It was also nice to see Megan Rapinoe in action again, she has had a few weeks off so she only came on in the second half but she put her own stamp on the game straight away, which was great to see.

A big part of my off season task is to prepare ourselves for the NWSL college draft, for those of you that don’t know the American system I will try my best to explain! The draft is made up of players who are in their final year at college in America, the players have to draft themselves and then they sit back and watch which team drafts them. There are only 32 places though and normally there is over 100 players in the draft so competition is tough. Each NWSL club will get four picks in the college draft, throughout 2013 teams used those picks as part of trades for other players so some teams may have given up a pick or moved in the order. So for example, we have traded our first round pick in the draft for the deal we made with Chicago for Keelin Winters, which means we still get four picks but one of those picks will be further down the order than it would have been.  A few players who came out of the college draft last year and did well were Erica Tymrak, Adrianna Franch, Kat Williamson and our own Christine Nairn. So you can see if you get your picks right it can differently be a positive thing for your club. The draft happens in early 2014 so we will see what clubs go for in the draft.

As I said earlier I have spent the last few weeks back in England and its been interesting seeing how the FA WSL has ended with Liverpool winning the league for the first time. I know the players and staff at Arsenal will not be happy about letting their trophy go and Im sure this will give them added incentive for next season. Its been interesting to see how everyone has responded about Liverpool winning the league with limited amount of English players. My own opinion is that Arsenal have won the league for the last 10 plus years because they had the best players in Great Britain and Ireland so for a team to compete with them, I think that they had to get the better players from around England and mix that with foreign players. I’m sure if we were to ask the players competing in the FA WSL they would say that foreign players help raise the standard which is what everyone wants.

The NWSL is such an exciting league as although we have limited amount of Internationals we can bring in. The standard and talent pool on offer in the States is so huge that everywhere you look you see talented players. If you look at the player pool on offer to the US national team I think the A and B teams would compete with most teams across the world. I’m excited for next season to see what new talent emerges through and which teams come out fighting to win the championship.

As for Seattle Reign FC we will be working tirelessly to improve our club on and off the field throughout the off season, so we can push on from some of our good performances of last season.  2014 is going to be an exciting year!

#letitreign

Thanks

Laura