Impetus are proud to announce the sponsorship of Helston Athletic’s Smara Sparkes-Bond, a defender who is a key member of their squad. To launch the sponsorship, Ben Gilby spoke to Smara about her career. Graphic supplied by Helston Athletic.
Smara has been part of the women’s footballing scene in Cornwall for a while.
“Where do I start with my footballing journey? I feel like I have played the game for years now, although I guess looking back it has been 20 years which instantly makes me feel old and questions whether it’s time to hang up my boots?!
“Whilst I didn’t start playing for a team until I was 10 years old, My twin Sasha and I would be at the local park every day kicking a ball around with our Dad desperate to play.
“My Dad would really push me from a young age to be the best I could by encouraging me to use both feet, practice skills and be confident to shoot. The local park was where I actually spotted by Falmouth Town Girls U12’s manager who invited Sasha and I to play for them. This was exciting and the first opportunity to play for a team and whilst we enjoyed the opportunity, it was short lived as we were desperate to play with our friends who played for Falmouth United U12’s. Falmouth United was a fantastic junior team managed by Steve Oliver who pushed us to win the league four times consecutively- it felt great being so young but being involved such a successful junior team, we begun to be named ‘unstoppable’.
“Unfortunately, after such success, there was a little lull without much team football due to the lack of opportunities to transition in girls’ football. I am so fortunate that today young girls are supported and given the opportunity to naturally transition from youth to ladies’ football – especially at Helston.
“Whilst playing for a team stopped, meeting my friends in the local field and playing competitive World Cup or heads and volleys didn’t stop – the love grew.
“Hitting the age of sixteen was amazing regarding my footballing career and I was given the opportunity to step into ladies football and play for Penryn Ladies. I loved the challenge that ladies football brought – tougher opposition, more physical, longer matches and more fixtures.
“After Penryn folded, I went and joined Falmouth Town Ladies managed by Neil Phillips.
“Neil was a natural in the world of management and pushed me to be the best player I could be. I can hand on heart say Neil made me fall in love with the game more and is a huge part of the player I am today in my blue Helston shirt. Whilst I miss Neil, I do not miss the blood, sweat and tears caused at his training sessions which consisted of endless fitness and drills – but hey it made us be one of the best women’s teams in Cornwall.
“After a few seasons, we decided to merge with Truro City to form Truro City Ladies which was an unbelievable team full of great players. We came runners up in our first season in the Premier Vivision. Unfortunately, this league brought on lots of travelling and became difficult to retain committed players which eventually caused us to fold.
“Still wanting to play football, Sash and I decided to join Torquay United for a season to keep up the high standard of football and continue challenging ourselves. This saw us having to travel to Torquay twice a week for training and fixtures and therefore could only be done for one season.
“After Torquay, I decided I still wanted to play football with my friends but locally to home and less travelling- this is when I decided to form Helston Ladies with Charlotte Sparkes-Bond. It took a lot of commitment to form Helston but eventually we got accepted into the Cornwall Women’s league and had an extremely successful starting season.
“At Helston, we celebrated being league cup winners and also league runners up, but again, similar to other teams we lost commitment and the team ended up folding after a few years.
“From Helston I went to play briefly for Illogan, before getting the message I had been waiting for that Helston was reforming and Paul Parfitt would become manager.
“I met with Paul back in January 2019 and his plans for Helston made me excited and I knew I wanted to be back in a blue shirt so without hesitation signed – which brings me to the present day.”
Smara’s development and standing in the Cornish game is down to the amazing support she has received from an early age.
“There have been many people involved in my footballing career who have encourage and inspired me to keep playing and to play at the best level.
“The first and most important person involved is my Dad. My Dad was the most supportive parent I could have asked for throughout my footballing career and was always my number one fan. My Dad took Sash and I to every game and every training session regardless of distance and always encouraged us to do better.
“It was my Dad who got me into football before I started, taking Sasha and I to watch Liverpool and buying us our first kits. My Dad still comes and watches my games now.
“The second inspiration is my twin Sash. Playing alongside her throughout my whole footballing career has been amazing. Sash has always played the opposite position to me and therefore it’s been funny in training when we have had to play against each other.
“Sash does a lot for the ladies at Helston and is the perfect captain encouraging the whole team and doing as much off the pitch as she does on the pitch. Sash has always been a unbelievable goal scorer and I can’t remember any seasons where she hasn’t won top goal scorer.”
I asked Smara to describe herself as a player for those who have not seen her play.
“My playing position has changed over the years and I have been described by others as a versatile player who can comfortable play in any position within the defence or midfield.
“I have historically been known as a sweeper throughout my footballing career and have taken up this position again at Helston. I play with a confidence, believing in my ability to take on any challenge from any player. Through my experience in the sweeper position, I am vocal with supporting my team mates around me and often command from the back as the last man. I like to play out from the back. I have never been afraid of putting in a tackle and enjoy the successful sliding tackles.”
Helston Athletic are a side on the rise in Cornwall. Last season ended with them them winning promotion to the tier six South-West League Division One West and play Southampton in the FA Cup. Smara outlines what life is like at the club.
“I cannot fault life at Helston and life as a blue. It’s the first club I have played at in 20 years where the treatment of men’s and women’s football has been the same.
“The support from the club is amazing and we regularly see Paul Hendy the chairman attending our matches along with members of the men’s first team.
“We have lots of support from the men’s first team manager Steve Massey, who rarely misses our matches and even has adopted the role of our linesman.
“As a women’s team we are extremely lucky to not have to pay any match fees or signing on fees and instead are provided amazing facilities and match day opportunities. My team mates are all extremely talented girls who are committed and motivated to make Helston the best we can be.
“Paul our manager is super dedicated to the team and is always making sure we have state of the art equipment and travelling options to our away fixtures. Off the pitch, we are regularly provided with team bonding days all expenses paid and this shows in our closeness on the pitch.”