Women's Team

Bardsley: Leaving the shirt in a better place

Legendary goalkeeper Karen Bardsley has decided to hang up her gloves.

The City and England shot-stopper will draw the curtain on her playing days at the end of the 2021/22 season, calling time on what has been a glittering career for Club and country.

Bardsley stands tall as the country’s second-highest capped ‘keeper after Peter Shilton with 82 appearances for the Lionesses and boasts a glistening trophy cabinet of domestic and international medals.

However, one of her proudest achievements of a career which has spanned two decades, goes beyond her on-pitch accolades: the remarkable growth of women’s football.

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“It's really amazing to feel like you're contributing to something bigger than yourself,” she reflects. “To enter the game in this country where it was and to leave it where it is feels really amazing.

“I certainly hope the shirt is in a better place now. I can honestly say I have no regrets and I’ve tried my absolute hardest to make sure that happens.

“You see the evolution of the game – this ridiculous acceleration of interest off the back of the World Cup in 2011, the Olympics in 2012, the World Cup bronze medal success we had in 2015… It just got bigger and bigger.

“You look at where we are now and there are Clubs like City, Chelsea, Arsenal, who are constantly striving to increase the level and raise the bar.

“Then you’ve got the likes of Sky and the BBC, who are all fighting for our rights to televise the game. Viewership numbers are outweighing rugby league numbers and you just think: ‘Man, what’s next?!’

“And to see the young girls that are coming to our games… The fans have been amazing and they’ve grown and grown. I remember when I first came over and there were just a couple of hundred people following us across the country… Now, we’ve topped out at 6,000-7,000 people and that’s pretty incredible.

“When I first started playing in the FA Women’s Super League, we really didn’t have a lot of international talent. Now, there are players from all over the world, who want to come and play here – the likes of Carli Lloyd, Sam Mewis, Rose Lavelle and Abby Dahlkemper want to come and be a part of this, and Canadian players who are winning Olympic medals.

“In terms of technical ability and a footballing culture, it’s really hard to beat. The infrastructure around the league has been really helpful in attracting that top talent because now it looks like it’s something sustainable.

“Plus, being able to play at Wembley, in front of all of those amazing fans, and then there was the Manchester Derby at the Etihad Stadium… If I think back now and someone would have asked me if I’d have expected it, I’d have said: ‘Are you joking?!’

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“That’s a really brief description of a lot of the changes I’ve seen but it’s really cool and really exciting to be a part of.

“I just hope that my journey and my career has inspired future players and future goalkeepers.”

There are no doubts Bardsley will continue to inspire the next generation. The big question always posed to those upon their retirement is: ‘What’s next…?’

Although the 37-year-old may no longer be producing crucial saves between the sticks, she will continue to be a commanding presence, utilising her influence, providing a helping hand and offering her expertise to further grow the sport.

“At this moment in time, I’m trying to focus on giving back to the football community,” she added.

“My plans are to develop a goalkeeping mentoring organisation to essentially help young goalkeepers who want to try and make it to the next level of professional or international-standard goalkeeping.

“I want to give them a sounding board – someone they can come to who’s been there – and provide a safe space for them to confide their worries and concerns or whatever it is they choose to discuss, and provide a source of inspiration. That’s what I’m looking forward to building.

“There are so many opportunities for how you can improve the women’s game. We have to keep pushing to make sure it is being treated with the respect it deserves, that the players are being treated with the respect they deserve.

“That’s probably where I’ll hang my hat over the coming years but at this moment in time, I’m getting as much experience in the world of governance and high performance as I can, and I’m looking to translate my knowledge into providing opportunities for other people.

“Ultimately, I'm really excited about the next steps and what's to come in the future. I'm just looking forward to giving back to the football community.”

Karen will be honoured at Wednesday night's FA Women's Super League game against Birmingham and in the coming weeks on mancity.com and our official app.

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