Women's World Cup: Karen Bardsley learns from mistakes to try to change England's Cup luck


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The Independent Football

It is a goalkeeper’s lot to be remembered for their errors, not their successes. Gianluigi Buffon made a series of fine saves in the Champions League final, but the one which is being repeated on television is the parry that fell to Luis Suarez’s feet for Barcelona’s decisive second goal.

Karen Bardsley, who is likely to keep goal for England women as they open their World Cup campaign against France tomorrow, is sanguine about the custodian’s fate. “You can make loads of great saves, but if you concede it’s: ‘That’s what we will show the world’. As a keeper you have to understand that your job is black and white, you make a save or you don’t, you can be the hero, or the goat.”

Bardsley knows. In the last World Cup she was blamed for Mexico’s equaliser in the opening game. England still progressed to the quarter-finals where they faced tomorrow’s opponents. Bardsley made save after save as England took France to penalties, then saved the first French spot-kick. Headlines acclaiming her brilliance loomed. Then England missed two kicks and went home, Bardsley’s heroics lost amid a welter of recrimination over who did, and did not, volunteer to take the kicks.

Two years later, at the European Championship, Bardsley misjudged a cross in the 93rd minute of the opening game, the ball ricocheted into goal off her face, and England crashed to a shock defeat by Spain. With gloom descending on the camp they lost the next two group matches too and went home in ignominy.

“You have to draw a line in the sand,” said the Manchester City goalkeeper. “You have to choose to use mistakes as learning opportunities and leave them behind. Anyone that plays knows football is up and down. As much as you want to, you can’t control everything. You take what positives you can. In the World Cup the next game we ended up beating the future world champions [Japan] and topping the group.”

Bardsley speaks with a light Californian twang, as well she might. She was born in Santa Monica and played her club football in the United States until 2011, when she was 26. A year in Sweden followed before she joined Lincoln Ladies. When the franchise upped sticks to Nottingham she joined Manchester City.

However, she has been playing for England since she was 18, fulfilling a dream she had almost from the moment she pulled on a pair of gloves. “My parents are English and moved to the States about 35 years ago,” Bardsley, 30, said. “I was born and grew up in California but my entire family is from greater Manchester and as a kid I would get loads of football kit, England shirts and so on, from aunts and uncles and cousins. They knew I was obsessed with football – it wasn’t easy to get football on TV in the States then, but my dad and I would seek out matches on Spanish television and watch with the mute on.

“That was my earliest influence and I could not think of a greater honour than to represent my mum and dad and my family’s country, and I did my best to seek out the Football Association at a young age and say ‘I’m here’. I sent them VHS tapes and letters and emails. It wasn’t until I went to college and was selected for the US U21s that I got an email from the FA to say they wanted to see me on trial while they were at a training camp in Alabama. So I went there for two days and the rest is history.”

Bardsley was first-choice goalkeeper at 2011 World Cup, Euro 2013 and, for Great Britain, at the 2012 London Olympics. Although there is pressure on her this time from Siobhan Chamberlain, of Arsenal, and Notts County’s Carly Telford, a fourth tournament beckons.

“I think it will be fun,” said Bardsley of tomorrow’s game, “I hope to be busy and I’m looking forward to it. We’re confident in our own abilities and our game plan. I’m not making predictions but I think we can do well.”