Impetus’ Ben Gilby heard from Helen Ward and Tash Harding at Wales’ media conference ahead of their World Cup qualifier with France (6/4/22).
Above: Helen Ward speaking to the media yesterday ahead of Wales’ game with France. Photo: FA Wales.
Helen Ward could win her hundredth cap for Wales against France this week, but the Watford striker is only focussed on the team’s outcome from the match.
“Look, we missed out scoring against them by hitting the post and they then went up the other end and got a goal. So, for me, this game is about getting our game plan right and doing it on the pitch. If I do go and get my hundredth cap, that will be great, but it’s about the team.”
Ward recalls her international debut some 14 years ago. “It was against Luxembourg away in 2008 in horrible weather. We went 1-0 down which wasn’t expected but I got a leveller. Jayne Ludlow came up to me and said ‘We’ve got a goalscorer, I like you!’ I’ve been in the 90s (cap wise) for what feels like forever now – COVID didn’t help.
“My 50th cap was a big memory, our first game at the Cardiff City Stadium and I scored. I also remember another game against Russia at Newport’s Spytty Park where we came out in the second half and won 3-0 in a real good team performance.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to play under four managers for Wales. Each manager has come in and taken things up a level. Gemma (Grainger) has built on the past and put things together. It’s a building process and Gemma is at the forefront of that.”
The Watford striker’s career has straddled the amateur and professional eras and she highlighted her experiences growing up in the sport.
“I didn’t have anyone to look up to as a female player growing up. It’s like polar opposites now. I often get asked if I wish I was born 10 or 15 years earlier to be a full part of the professional era, but what I had experienced helped me to grow and get the things I have. I suspect the rise of the game will slow down as it has been so massive in a short period of time, but it is wonderful.”
Wales are well on the way to breaking their all-time record attendance for Friday’s match and Ward sees this as yet another sign of the momentum building around women’s football in the country.
“For so long we didn’t really notice our crowds in terms of growth, but now we’re getting new record attendances almost every game. The interest we get from fans, wanting to be involved and supporting us, it is a nice thing to look back on and think ‘Yeah, we’ve done OK’ knowing we’ve been growing the game.”
Looking ahead specifically to the challenge posed by France on Friday, Ward is positive.“There’s nothing we need to do differently really. We also need to remember that we played most of the second half with only 10 players. If we had kept all 11 it might have been different. Gemma will have us playing in the usual way, so it’s about getting over the line.
“We don’t fear anyone and Gemma has been great in assisting with that, with the type of friendlies she arranged. We’ve played Canada and Denmark and put in positive performances. It made us think ‘You know what? We can do this!’ We know we can go out, beat them and be competitive. At the moment we are thriving on it.”
The Welsh star is highly motivated by the current status of the squad as role models for the next generation and is determined to give the girls of Wales some great memories over the coming months.
“We’re doing this for the young girls. We know that if you can see it, you can be it. We know there will be a big crowd on Friday. We know that this is raising the profile. It’s a massive motivator to go out and do it for the young girls and also for those who went before us.
“For me, I know this is probably my last chance to make it to a major competition Finals. It is a great chance for us to inspire the next generation to see that they can achieve things by playing for Wales. Everything around it would be amazing. Such a big thing for women and girls around the country.”
Ward also has to balance being an international football with motherhood, which she admits has both challenges and massive rewards.
“It has its moments, it’s tricky. I have to make sure the kids are looked after first and foremost. It’s not just about my time, but other people’s as I have to find someone to look after them when I am training or playing. It is nice having them at the games. There was a video of the game I played at the weekend when I scored of my son jumping up and down in the background, and I watched it back again and again to see his reaction rather than my goal!
“You have to juggle lots of different things, but I’m so grateful. I know that they can grow up knowing Mummy was a footballer and they can grow up and achieve things.”
Wales’ Reading star Tash Harding underlined the importance of Wales playing matches regularly in Llanelli.
“We’re looking to find a home within Wales that suits us and Parc y Scarlets is a good base for us. Llanelli is a small town in West Wales, but there’s a great fan base there for us. It is a great place and we want to make it our home and we’re managing to do that now with the games that we’ve played there.
“There are over 4,000 tickets sold for the game so far – the majority of them brought by youngsters involved in girls’ football teams – and that is fantastic. We are looking to break our record attendance. If we can do that in a small little town called Llanelli, that would be amazing!”
Harding recognizes the progress that Wales have made in recent years, none more so than their reaction at losing to France the last time the two sides met.
“For us to show disappointment and be angry not getting anything out of the game in France says a lot about where we are. Before we would have been delighted with that performance. It shows the mindset shift that we’ve had recently. There is a core of us here who are just a group of friends who play football together.”
The FAWSL player recognized that Wales are in a position to select from greater depth than ever before, something which has been reflected in recent performances.
“There are lots of youngsters coming through, but we’re not giving it up yet! Strength in depth has always been our Achilles heel, but the Pinatar Cup (in February) showed that we have good youngsters who are able to come in and do a job.
Harding pointed to all the different positions she has played this season for her club as one of the reasons for her great form this campaign. I’ve played full-back, winger, centre-half, four, nine, and 10 for Reading this season. I try to be as versatile as I can. If I can learn what defensive players do, then it’s a bonus for me as a forward. I’m living in that moment right now and think I’m playing some of the best football of my life.”