England captain Casey Stoney talks to Club Website’s Dan Pope about the new Women’s Super League season, an incredible 2012 and her excitement for 2013, plus her thoughts on the biggest thing to happen to women’s football in this country.
After the year that she’s just had you could forgive Casey Stoney for thinking of 2013 as a bit of an anticlimax, not that she will.
The Lincoln Ladies star says 2012 was, quite simply, “the best twelve months of my life”.
“I played in a home Olympics, won International Player of the Year, was made England captain and we qualified for the Euros, so 2012 was just absolutely incredible,” said the 30 year-old.
If representing Great Britain at London 2012 was “the experience of a lifetime” for Stoney, then beating Brazil in front of a crowd of over 70,000 at Wembley Stadium was the pinnacle.
“You don’t even dare to dream of it as a little girl. That feeling you get when you’re a kid and it’s Christmas Eve – times that by a million and that’s how I felt walking out of that tunnel that night. The hairs on the back of your neck just stood up,” said Stoney.
“All the setbacks in your career, every single session that you put in where you wanted to be sick, that night at Wembley when we beat Brazil and all those people came out to see us, it just makes everything worthwhile. It’s hard to put into words.”
But this incredible high was swiftly followed by a monumental low, as Team GB lost to Canada in their very next game, exiting the Olympics at the quarter final stage.
“It’s still quite raw for me now. In terms of my career it’s the lowest I’ve ever felt,” admits the defender, who has won over 100 international caps.
While the rest of the country was enjoying Super Saturday at the Olympic Stadium, Stoney headed for France and away from the TV in an attempt to clear her head.
“I had to get away from the country and couldn’t even watch the Olympics, I was that low,” she adds. “Emotionally I was a bit of wreck to be honest. I needed to get myself back in the right place for my team mates when I came back to play for Lincoln.”
This month’s victory for England over Canada in the Cyprus Cup Final may not have erased the disappointment of that Olympic defeat, but it has certainly whetted Stoney’s appetite for the season ahead and the European Championships in Sweden this summer.
The new Women’s Super League (WSL) season kicks off on 14 April and Stoney is “absolutely buzzing” about the next six months with Lincoln City.
We’ve got a new manager [Rick Passmoor]. We’ve signed, for me, the best goalkeeper in the world [Karen Bardsley], so it’s great.
“Women’s football at the moment is so exiting to be part of.
The women’s game has certainly been on the up for some time but things have never looked better than they do at present.
In July the FA will celebrate 20 years of running women’s football – over which time the number of women’s and girls’ teams has grown from 80 to over 6,500, including a 16% rise in just the last four years.
Participation at grassroots level is at an all-time high. 42% of the 3.8 million children to have passed through the Tesco Skills Programme since 2007 have been girls, while 253,600 women play football every month, making women’s football the biggest team sport for women in England and the fourth-largest team sport overall.
The FA aims to take the game from fourth to second place, behind only the men’s game, by 2018 – just one of the ambitious objectives of the new Game Changer strategy, which aims to make a strong women’s game a cornerstone of the next phase of the FA’s development.
FA Chairman David Bernstein said: “Women’s football is the area with the most potential for growth in the nation’s favourite game. We are determined to lead that development at every level.”
“Biggest thing to happen to women’s football”
There was further good news for the women’s game this month when the BBC announced plans to broadcast a series of programmes dedicated to women’s football, including a preview of this season’s FA Cup final and the European Championships in Sweden, which will also be broadcast by the BBC.
In addition, BBC Sport Online will feature a weekly WSL goals round-up throughout the season, something the BBC News Channel will also carry as part of its Sportsday programme every Friday.
According to Stoney, the importance of this increased coverage on terrestrial channels cannot be understated.
“It’s the biggest thing I think that has happened to women’s football in this country, because it means its now accessible to every person,” she said.
“Hopefully this will just be a start and it will snowball, but as players we need to make sure that we’re putting the effort in and making sure that the quality of what we do is good.
“The Brazil game was on BBC3 so not even on your normal terrestrial TV and 3.9 million people watched that game, which just shows that the interest is there if given the right platform.”
When asked about the tournament in Sweden itself, Stoney gives the classic footballer’s answer, stressing the importance of getting picked first, not getting injured and making sure she’s in the team. But with the Olympics still so fresh in the memory, you get the feeling that she can’t wait for it to come around.
“It’s exciting,” she says. “I think Sweden will host it very well, the ticket sales are going well so far and it’s going to be on BBC again so another great advert for women’s football.
“If we can do well, hopefully we’ll inspire many more young girls to start playing the game.”
Interview by Dan Pope.
We’ve got more from the England captain as she answers some quickfire questions about her life in football in Casey Stoney – Football Shorts.
Casey Stoney was speaking to promote the Danone Nations Cup, a global grassroots football competition to inspire children to get active and believe in their dreams. For more information visit www.danonenationscup.co.uk
Images courtesy of The FA via Getty Images.
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