‘Does it matter that I’ve never played football before?’ I asked. ‘No you’ll be fine’ assured Hannah, the organiser of the Conti Media Cup that I’d cheekily managed to get myself signed up. For the chance to see and say I got to play at St George’s, the new England football training centre, I wasn’t going to let a little thing like never actually having played football stand in my way. So it was at 7:30am on Friday 9th August that I jumped on the coach and headed up to Burton-upon-Trent to take part in the tournament.
The Conti Media Cup is a 5-aside tournament for female football journos, those who work in influential media and the occasional blogger to come and flex their football skills whilst seeing the best of what St Georges and Continental have to offer. Whilst some teams were made up of whole organisation (BBC for example, who fielded the winning team) others were a hash together of a few different organisations, for example, the now legendary Girls on the Ball made up of yours truly, Rachel and Sophie/Bec from Girls on the Ball and Debs and Mel from Talk Sport. Each team was then managed by a player from the WSL with the likes of Casey Stoney, Karen Carney and Siobhan Chamberlain sharing their skills and knowledge. Last minute step in Angharad James had the duty of keeping us in check and trying to explain the basics of playing football to me in 5 mins.
It quickly transpired that at least on all the teams playing in our group of the tournament everyone had played football before, ranging from a little to a lot. None however ranged in the ‘no experience’ box (before Friday the closest I’d come to playing football was kicking the occasional way ward ball back to a kid in the park, usually being so off target the exasperated kid would still have to run just as far in another direction to go retrieve my helpful pass.) Luckily however for Girls on the Ball everyone else on the team were good players, carrying me and my lack of foot kicking coordination through to the final where we only lost on penalties to the mighty BBC. Still I think my refusal to ever head the ball and instead catching a high ball mid game contributed a lot to the team. What can I say, netball reactions.
My favourite thing about the day however was seeing how many women turned out. Eight teams with at least 5 players each, all representing women in the sports media industry at some level, plus the coaches and managers, was pretty inspirational. In fact the only men around were the physio (who had a surprising amount to do for what was meant to be a friendly tournament-blame the 3G pitches) and the paparazzi style photographer.
A massive thank you needs to go out to my team who, with the patience of saints tried their best to give me a crash course in football – well played ladies! I think for now though I’ll stick to throwy, runny games, not kicking ones.