By Tony James
If it hadn’t been a cold day and if her mum hadn’t insisted her 12-year-old daughter wear a thick woolly jumper for a training session with a Newcastle girl’s football team, who knows if we would ever have had one of the best goalkeepers in women’s football?
“It was an old fashioned goalkeeper’s jersey,” Carly Telford remembered, as if it were yesterday. “It was freezing and I just stood there. Then some guy said: ‘I thought you played outfield, but if you want to play in goal, that’s all right.’
“I just wanted to play, so I didn’t say no. Next thing I was in goal and never came back out. That season I was under-13 player of the league, manager’s player of the year and player’s player of the league. It just escalated from there and mum takes all the credit.”
Top of her game
16 years on, Telford is surely entitled to some of the credit too. An England international and a star player for Women’s Super League club Notts County Ladies, she is at the top of her game and one of the bravest and best keepers in women’s football.
Ironically for a County Durham girl and lifelong Newcastle supporter, Telford was scouted by bitter rivals Sunderland, from where she was selected for England youth teams and finally for the senior side.
Telford says: “I’ve been in the England squad for over 10 years now and not many people can say that.”
After Sunderland came Leeds, two spells at Chelsea, the last as captain, time in Australian soccer, and now her third season with Notts County, for whom she has signed a new two-year contract.
“It would be nice to bring the Champions League to Nottingham - it’s a real footballing city and has been deprived of anything like that for a long time,” Telford says. “The best seasons of my career have been here with the coach Rick Passmoor, who I was with at Leeds. I’m more than happy at the club.”
As she has put it: “We haven’t got deep pockets like some big teams, but there’s a lot of love at the club, so we really welcomed the new players who have arrived here after the winter. Who are the teams to beat this season? All of them, but particularly Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal.”
County finished seventh in the super league last season and Telford played in the Women’s FA Cup final against Chelsea and against Arsenal in the Continental Cup final: “Teams like us might not have the stars on paper, but when it comes to getting on the pitch everyone hates playing us because they know we’re a good side.”
Female goalkeeping glove
This season Telford will have a new secret weapon - the first goalkeeping glove specifically for women players, which she has helped design and has just been launched by Precision Goalkeeping.
“It has already been a massive benefit to me - I’m finding it helps improve my game significantly,” Telford says, who took the new Fusion X glove on England’s SheBelieves Cup campaign in America in March, where they secured third place.
Telford’s input resulted in a range of Precision gloves with a narrower fit, reduced finger length and tighter backhand designed specifically to suit female hands. As she told us: “Since I was young, I always used boy’s or men’s gloves because that was all that was available.
“It’s always a struggle to find a glove that fits my hand because a lot of the time gloves say they are designed to be unisex, but they don’t always fit the female hand in a way that aids goalkeeping.”
Telford is the second women’s goalkeeper to join the Precision team after Erin Nayler and the first to wear the new glove.
“It’s great that Precision have taken the time to look at the women’s game and provide a glove that complements women goalkeepers perfectly,” Telford says. “They offered to create a glove specifically for me and for other women keepers that would feature reduced finger length and a tighter fit.
“It’s tighter, it’s neater. There is no excess baggage around the wrist and around the hand. Those small adjustments make such a difference.”
David Sanderson, brand director at Precision Goalkeeping, which also provides gloves for Leicester City goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel, said the company was happy to get involved in making a specialist glove for women.
He adds: “Carly had previously been using a set of men’s gloves that weren’t a great fit for her hands. We found a problem the women’s game had and wanted to be able to solve it to help all those female keepers out there struggling with equipment that isn’t quite right for them in terms of size or fit.
“The main benefit is that the new glove actually fits the female hand. Men’s gloves are often too big across the palm, which leaves excess material and means the keeper is disadvantaged in the game.
“The new glove allows the goalkeeper to get a better feel and control of the football and we are delighted we could help the women’s game continue to grow.”
Planning for the future
Now studying for a university degree in media studies, Telford said that it’s only sensible to plan for the future: “A football career doesn’t last forever and I would like to be involved in the sport after I retire. I hope that won’t be for a good while yet - women goalies are usually at their best in their thirties.
“It’s tricky fitting in university with football now I’m a full-time professional. We do a lot more training - more work with the ball, as opposed to just getting to full fitness.
“Now women’s football is becoming big business, there are agents involved and big money and incentives such as Champions League football. It’s a livelihood now and there’s a lot to think about when signing a new contract, but we still have the best job in the world.
“When I was 17 or 18 lots of girls my age dropped out of football, good players, because there was no lifestyle there, no money or future in it, but now a lot of us are enjoying the game as a job,” says the girl who was one of the first 17 female players to get Football Association professional contracts.
How does women’s football differ from the men’s game? “Because we’re not as tall, women goalkeepers have to work on our angles more,” Telford explains.
“You see the guys out of their box patrolling outside their area and standing outside the six-yard box to save shots from 18 yards, but because we’re only little our range in stretching is far smaller. I don’t think we were taught enough at a young age about that and that’s why you see a lot of goals going over people’s heads.”
Telford still remembers the 2008 Women’s FA Cup final when she was in goal for Leeds against Arsenal. The Gunners won 4-1, but Telford was player of the match. So how did that happen? Apparently there were 35 shots on target and she saved 31 of them.
But as she has said: “Everyone was talking about how well I played, but I’d lost. I’d rather do nothing all game and be stood on the podium with a winner’s medal, but that’s how it goes.”
Hardest opponents: Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea.
Best years of career: playing under manager Rick Passmoor at Leeds and Notts County.
Big moment: walking on the Wembley turf when England played Germany. I was on the bench, but it’s something I’ll always remember.
Favourite music: anything from R&B to movie soundtracks.
Bitter-sweet moment: being player of the match in the 2008 Women’s FA Cup final - and losing 4-1.
Favourite food: Sweet potato mash with really good sausages.
Current ambition: bringing Champions League football to Nottingham and a top two finish this season.