Harriet Meers: Falling Back In Love With The Game

In the first in a series of interviews with Impetus’ sponsored players for 2022/23, Harriet Meers, who we have supported for three seasons now, spoke to Ben Gilby about last campaign’s rollercoaster, and how she fell back in love with the game (6/10/22).

Above: Harriet Meers is back at East Bergholt United this season, and looking to push her side on. Photo: Paul Wilding via East Bergholt United.

Back in December 2020, Harriet Meers, then a teenage defender, signed her first senior women’s football contract with tier five side Wroxham and became Impetus‘ first sponsored player. Fast forward another two seasons and we’re still sponsoring Harriet, who experienced a really challenging 2021/22 campaign.

“Things changed very quickly last season, and it has been an emotional ride. The last time I spoke to Impetus, I was playing with Wroxham. Being at Wroxham was such an amazing opportunity, playing step five football is something I never believed I would have been capable of. The group of girls at Wroxham were brilliant and I absolutely loved my time there. Also, it is safe to say without the opportunity of playing for Wroxham Women I never would have been lucky enough to have Impetus as a sponsor.

“Unfortunately, a few things didn’t work out in the end with Wroxham, I knew I needed to try and regain some confidence and therefore I made the move to King’s Lynn Town, also in the ERWFL Premier Division, for the second half of the season. I spent the last couple of months of last season playing more locally for the Sunday league University of East Anglia (UEA) team.”

The move across Norfolk to King’s Lynn Town started well, but an unfortunate injury and changes behind the scenes saw things take another twist.

“Whilst I was at Lynn, the games were played at The Walks (men’s team’s 8,200 capacity ground) which is a pretty impressive stadium to play in at that level. My first start for King’s Lynn was Haringey Borough away. Haringey away is always a tough game, so to return home with a 3-2 win after a gritty team performance was brilliant.

“Unfortunately, I was carrying a slight knee injury from a BUCS game with UEA which I worsened during the game. I was out for a couple months and a combination of a change in management and a regression of confidence due to the injury made me question whether I should just stop playing.

Above: Since returning to her footballing home of East Bergholt United, Harriet’s confidence has grown again. Photo: Paul Wilding via East Bergholt United.

“I took the difficult decision to take a step back and the rest of the season I played solely for the university BUCS team. The girls at Lynn were great and really kept me going whilst I was out. Under the previous manager, Joe Simpson, King’s Lynn had just been promoted from step six to step five. The energy in the team to not only survive the season but to compete was so evident. It was a great experience, one that I am very grateful for.”

Harriet’s spell concentrating on representing the UEA team in the BUCS leagues ensured that she had a hugely successful end to the 2021/22 campaign, as the University of East Anglia enjoyed a historic campaign.

“The 2021/22 season in the BUCS league was a new and exciting one,” Harriet exclaimed. “With the addition of two new coaches for the first team, Harry Diggens and Rebecca Burton, the university introduced scholarships to those who were successful in trials for the first team. The strength of the setup was only getting stronger, especially with the additional knowledge and passion from the new management.

“After surprising myself and receiving one of the scholarships I played in the Midlands tier two BUCS league. We had a great conference cup run, landing ourselves a place in the final against Loughborough at their stadium. Despite an early first goal from us, we came away as runners-up, but the day itself was an amazing experience.

“In terms of the league, the BUCS first team got promoted the year prior to COVID. The goal was to push ourselves in the new league. Safe to say we succeeded and only went and got a back-to-back promotion! For the first time in the clubs’ history, the first team will be competing in Tier 1 for the 22/23 season! I would say the setup with scholarships for the team played a big part in our success. For me personally, when I was injured in December the scholarship meant access to a physio and the gym for rehab purposes.

“I return to UEA in January to start a Physician Associate MSc. From what I can gather, the course is going to be intense and significantly more contact hours than before with lots of placement time too. I am also planning on living in Ipswich so a fair amount of my time will be spent commuting. I guess once I know what the workload is like I will be able to decide whether or not I will be able to represent the UEA again. Regardless, I am sure I will return to the club in some form.”

Over the summer, Harriet made the move back to her original club, East Bergholt United in Suffolk, who are in the tier six Eastern Region League Division One. It very quickly turned into a happy homecoming.

“East Bergholt Ladies is the first club I played for after youth football when I was 17. Back then, we were competing in the Suffolk Women’s Football League. That same season we won the league and cup double, which was incredible, especially against a progressing Needham Market side.

Above: Harriet (5) celebrating with her East Bergholt United team-mates. Photo: Paul Wilding via East Bergholt United.

“Due to player commitments and the change in travel it was decided we would remain in the same league the following season with the aim of gaining promotion to the ERWFL Division One the following season. This was the year I went to university; however, I returned home every Sunday to continue playing for them. Once again, we won the league and cup double so it was definitely time for promotion! Unfortunately, this is when I could no longer commit as I would be living in Norwich.

“As mentioned, I had considered giving up football this season. However, one of the girls at East Bergholt messaged me and asked if I fancied joining again. I thought I had nothing to lose and would head down for a session. The management had just had a change from when I was last there, so it was relatively new other than some old faces. I can already tell just a few games in that this is where I need to be. It’s so good to be playing with the girls again, and I am definitely a different player from when I was last there.

“From a personal perspective, I’ve fallen back in love with the game. I came back unsure of whether I’d be playing and with low confidence. I hate that I am such a confidence player, but I guess it’s who I am! I now feel like I’m playing with passion, I feel like I have something to offer to the side with some experience playing in step five. When I was previously at the club, I played right-back. Since being at Wroxham, I have played centre-back and I definitely prefer it there, so I am delighted to be able to play in that position for East Bergholt this season. A player of the match award in our first FA Cup game this season definitely showed the progression I am making.

“We are currently sat fourth out of the league’s nine teams with so much to play for this season. Every team are played three times and recently we drew 2-2 after conceding a late goal to the league leaders. There was a fairly big recruitment for the team this season, so things are going well seeing as we are just getting started.”

As well as returning to her first club, Harriet has also returned to coaching girls’ football. It is something she clearly has a passion for.

“Since moving back, I have returned to the team I used to coach, Kesgrave Kestrels. The girls are playing U16s and they have so much to offer and pre-season went very well. The squad has so much talent with several of the girls playing in the Ipswich Town Junior Premier League setup. So, alongside my own training sessions twice a week for East Bergholt, I coach on Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings. This might prove a bit tricky on some of my own away games in London, but I’ll be there as much as I physically can be.”

Whilst the impact of the Euros has had a knock-on impact on the women’s game at the top levels, in the grassroots of tier six, Harriet is yet to see much of a trickle-down impact of legacy.

“Here at East Bergholt, we don’t have a fancy stadium, it’s a proper Sunday league team playing on a field with a clubhouse, but I love it. I wouldn’t say we have had a significant change in the number of people attending but it’s great to have the occasional photographer and reporter of women’s football over to the game to get a match report out there. At the end of the day, every bit of coverage is only going to help the women’s game grow.

Above: A player of the match award in her team’s first FA Cup tie this season highlighted Harriet’s strong form this season so far. Photo: Paul Wilding via East Bergholt United.

“However, to be honest, I am a little shocked that the legacy of the Euros hasn’t had a bigger impact on grassroots football. We can see that the attendance of WSL games has increased massively which is great to see, so, I ask the question: why are so many grassroots women’s teams having to pull out of the leagues?

“Several teams in step seven have had to pull out, even a couple of teams in tiers four and five are noticeably struggling with numbers to field a first team. It is a shame and I hope no one else folds.”

As we moved towards the conclusion of our first chat of the season, Harriet outlined her personal aims and those of her club for this season.

“My personal aims this season are to get stronger and stronger. I want to continue to develop my confidence on the ball, which has already improved in the small time I’ve spent back at the club. As a defender, clean sheets are always going to be the aim, so, plenty of those wouldn’t go amiss. There are already so many things that have changed this season. From taking free kicks in the back line to pushing on the counter, I am determined to finish this season so much stronger than I started.

“For the club, there is so much to play for this season with each team playing each other three times. Results are already coming in as a surprise. With the talent in this squad, I believe we should be pushing for the league win and a good run in the county cup. East Bergholt has always been the small club from the Ipswich/Colchester area and it’s time to get the name out and show others what we are about.

“We also have more of a joke goal for this season between the manager and the players. 25 goals and five clean sheets mean we get to cut off the current manager, Jordan’s top knot off at the end-of-season celebration. Currently, we are eight goals and a clean sheet down with over 20 games to go so I have no doubt we will succeed on this one.”

Artwork: East Bergholt United.

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