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Karen Carney, warrior

Karen Carney, warrior

Former player now TV pundit Karen Carney is a break-out star in women’s football’s breakthrough season. She’s had to fight all the way for success.


Transcript

Hi, I’m Chloe and this is the Playmaker

One story every day to make sense of the world of football.

Today, how Karen Carney’s struggles have paved the way for a new generation of female football fans.

***

This weekend, I re-watched the film “Molly’s Game.” It’s the true story of a woman who pushes herself beyond all limits to achieve excellence. She does this first as an Olympic skier, then as a host of high-stakes poker games. 

Molly Bloom pushed herself so hard to compete with the expectations of her father, her brother – also an Olympic skier – and in the very male world of poker. She ended up arrested by the FBI and losing all that she’d worked for.

It may be an extreme example, but the story of Molly Bloom shows just how hard it can be when all the odds are stacked against you.

It made me think of Karen Carney. 

She appeared on Sky in what was a landmark moment for women’s football this weekend. 

There she stood, in front of the touch screen that’s such a feature of Sky’s analysis of the men’s game, discussing the opening weekend of the Women’s Super League season. 

“The new backline… in essence, we think Boe Risa, the new player gonna sit, two attacking midfielders, two wide players in Galton and Hanson and actually we think that Ella Toone is going to be a false nine.”

Sky Sports

In fact, she was so professional, that it would be easy to miss just how hard she’d worked to get there.

Karen Carney joined Birmingham City at the age of 11. She made her first-team debut at the age of 14, and went on to join Arsenal at 18. Her mum explains what she had to give up as a player.

“She doesn’t go out…she only keeps in touch with her school friends via Facebook or email. They still go out… but… she has a game on a Sunday so unfortunately she can’t go out Saturday night… she’s sacrificed a lot so… I think she deserves everything she’s got.”

“It makes me sound like I’ve got no mates!”

“No, she hasn’t actually, she is Billy No Mates, but I wasn’t going to say that!”

BT Sport

Karen Carney says the women’s game in the UK was what she calls a “winter league” at the time and wasn’t taken very seriously. 

So, she made the move to the US, where women’s soccer had been played professionally since 1995. She spent a year at the Chicago Red Stars.

Her playing career has never been in question. She’s the third most capped player in England women’s history, pulling on the shirt 144 times. She’s worked with Coach Emma Hayes at Red Stars, Arsenal and Chelsea. Hayes describes her as “world class”.

Off the pitch, she has a degree in sports psychology from Loughborough, and she did a masters at Gloucester with a dissertation on “video analysis of team talks within football.”

And she’s studying for a third degree at the moment – a masters in business administration. She has an MBE from the Queen.

Since she stopped playing, she’s worked for Sky, BT and Amazon as a pundit on both men’s and women’s football. She writes columns for BBC Sport, the Guardian and appears on BBC Radio five live too. 

“I think like, especially in the media, you’ve got to do your homework, cos if like… I make a mistake, it’s publicised ten times more than if, you know, a male did it. That’s how it feels, so we have to do so much more work behind it… and also to get the credibility as well. I feel like I have to do so much research and like… I don’t ever wanna go into it and feel like I don’t know something. If I feel like that then I feel vulnerable which is….you’ve got to know your stuff.”

Karen Carney on Joe’s All To Play For

But as Molly Bloom found out, as a woman you not only have to work much harder to achieve the same result in a male-dominated industry, you have to endure incidents that actually threaten your life.

Karen Carney has been very open about her struggles with mental health. In 2018, she received death threats and threats of sexual violence after a match. 

More recently, she made a comment on Amazon Prime about the Covid break having benefited Leeds United’s promotion push. This sparked a barrage of abuse towards her online. 

She said she felt physically sick and had to delete her Twitter account to protect her mental health…she was having suicidal thoughts.

The worst part of it though, was that the abuse was started by a tweet from the official Leeds United Twitter account. They wrote “promoted because of Covid – won the league by ten points” with a thinking face emoji above a video of her comments. 

Later, a statement condemning the abuse was posted by Leeds themselves, but they never apologised, and the original tweet was never deleted. 

It’s still there today.

And people who take great pleasure in mocking the standards of women’s football never take a moment to think that if they don’t like it, they could just stay quiet. Would they go to the trouble of trolling a golfer online if they didn’t personally like golf?

Carney wrote about all the progress that’s been made in the women’s game in the Guardian last weekend. She says it’s “no longer a hard sell.” 

And it’s so true that women’s football and the excellent punditry offered by the likes of Karen Carney is inspiring to so many young girls who love the game. 

I spoke to football commentator Adam Summerton about the effect the increased visibility of women’s football is having on his own daughters.

“We have, in my opinion, the best women’s league in the world, some of the best players are here, it’s something to be truly proud of… and that is another factor in inspiring young women like my two daughters, you know, they have erm… good players to aspire to be like and they can see them on TV, they can hear them talked about on the radio… my daughter gets the Match of the Day magazine, now there’s articles in there regularly about women’s football. All these things are so important because it normalises it as well.

“I went to a tournament over the summer where there was a huge grass area with literally dozens and dozens of girls playing football and I took a moment and stepped back and thought: isn’t that brilliant, would that have happened ten years ago? Probably not. And that’s clearly an effect of all the things we’re seeing, it’s a cumulative effect and TV coverage, magazine coverage, radio coverage all plays a huge part in that. If you can see it, you can believe that you can be it.”

Adam Summerton

It’s incredibly important for girls to know they have a place in the game, whether that’s as a player, a journalist or a pundit. 

That’s surely what’s driven the likes of Karen Carney to improve standards and become ambassadors for women’s football. 

In all honesty, she’s a warrior. And she’s still only 34. But, like everyone else who ever brought about genuine change, she’s finding that there can be a price to pay.

Today’s episode was written by Chloe Beresford, and produced by Claudia Williams.