THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE
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England’s Transatlantic Lioness
Karen Bardsley tells us about growing up in the USA and becoming England Women’s #1
Thank you so much for finding the time to speak with us Karen. Our traditional first question - where in the States are you from?
I’m from Southern California. I was born in Santa Monica but later moved to Chino Hills, where I grew up.
How did you first become interested in football, and how did you find yourself in the GK position?
The first sport I took up was softball but I didn’t particularly enjoy it, so not long after I asked my parents to sign me up for football via AYSO (American Youth Soccer Organization). As an introduction to the sport, I tried outfield and goalkeeper. Because I wasn’t afraid of the ball or rolling around in the mud, I was better in goal than the other kids but all I wanted to do was run around and try to score goals. Over time and in the process, I found my love and appreciation for the position as well as discovering that the love of football runs in the family. My parents supported me and encouraged me throughout my career ever since.
Despite being born in the States, most will know you as England's Goalkeeper and I understand a lot of your family live in the UK? It sounds like you made the decision early in your career to represent England, playing for the England U19s - was it difficult to make the decision to represent England instead of the US?
My heritage plays a large role in my identity. Although my parents left their entire family behind when they traded Manchester, UK for Southern California, culturally, our household is quintessentially English: My parents still have incredibly charming accents, triangle sandwiches run rampant and cups of tea are served at any opportune moment. As a result of my upbringing, I was interested in reconnecting with my family and making them proud. Therefore, this emotional connection meant that representing England became a personal obsession.
You joined the FA Women's Super League in 2012 with Lincoln, so you've been there through much of the league's huge growth. How has it felt to have been part of that, especially with new title sponsor Barclays being announced for the 19/20 season?
It’s been interesting and exciting to be a part of the pioneering movement of women’s football in England. By all means, I have experienced the highs and lows associated with ‘amateur’ football. For instance, financial constraints required that many players work during the day and train at night as well as make their own travel, housing arrangements and so on. However, England’s recent international success was not simply coincidence. The FA’s contribution to player development through central contracts has allowed players to professionalize, which in combination with greater short and long term interest and investment from clubs has improved the physical, technical and tactical standard, therefore, stoking the league’s reputation and rapid growth. Staying with the growth of the FAWSL, through a commercialization lens, the addition of Barclays as a title sponsor indicates a shift change in attitudes, perceptions and forward thinking business practices with regards to women’s football.
In terms of the England team, congratulations on winning the SheBelieves Cup earlier this year - how did that experience feel?
The SheBelieves Cup is a big test for visiting teams. The competition closely mirrors a major tournament’s tight match turnarounds, travel demands and world class opposition. Moreover, the past few years have seen improvements yet, we fell just short of winning. For those reasons, winning the tournament was an exciting, belief building moment for us all. Of course that winning feeling is second to none, but we are cognizant that other teams will continue to develop. So, we must be disciplined and remain focused on our development.
With the Women's World Cup coming up in France, what are your goals and how are you and the team feeling about it all?
Obviously, we’re all really excited about the World Cup. As a team, I feel there is a healthy belief that we can win the tournament and ultimately, that is what we will be setting out to do. Like the team’s goals, my personal goals are similar. Clearly, I want to win the World Cup but I will choose to focus on the process of executing my role to the best of my ability, whether that’s playing well or supporting the ‘keeper that is playing.
One of our favorite questions, given you grew up in the States, when you first came to the UK, how did you find it adapting to British English as opposed to American English with your club and national team mates?
Obviously, with my parents being English I was exposed to British English at a very early age. In fact, in the States, I was met with a lot of puzzled looks by teachers and students alike when I asked for things like sellotape or a rubber in school. I was also told off quite a lot in class for pronouncing words differently when reading aloud, ‘centrifugal force’ was a fun one.
Regarding adapting to British English, I’m always learning new slang, especially from my younger teammates. For instance, regional dialects can be confusing, the grammar is all over the place. Next, the banter has probably been the hardest things to get used to. Sometimes it can be as simple as copying my accent or making fun of my word choice. ‘Shagging footballs’ always got a laugh. At other times, it is really difficult to understand because of the speed at which they speak or the slang they use. Occasionally, it comes across as harsh but it’s all in good fun in the end.
I've read that one of your role models is the great Peter Schmeichel. How does it feel to now be a role model to the next generation of young footballers?
I never really thought of myself as a role model. However, the more I think about it the more I realize it is a tremendous feeling to understand that something I love doing is providing opportunities for people to change their lives for the better. It’s truly an honour.
Finally, what's the best thing about being Karen Bardsley?
I’m pretty awesome so I’m not sure I can pick just one thing! Physically, I really like being tall but on a deeper level I feel grateful for all the amazing people that I have had the good fortune of meeting over the years. Particularly my friends and family. They are the people who love unconditionally and allow me to be me in the purest sense.
You can follow Karen and England's progress at the Women's World Cup in France between June 7 and July 7. The US will also be there, so keep an eye for a possible Transatlantic Tussle!