“I don’t think anyone from Rochdale thought I’d win the Euros or the Champions League!”
VERSUS: Who were the individuals who helped to expose you to, and encourage your love of, football?
Fara Williams coached me when I was younger through the FA, just before I joined Blackburn Rovers. So to have someone like her, who’d experienced playing and winning at some of the best clubs in the country, as well as representing England on the biggest stages around the world, it was really inspirational. She was able to give me and my mum – the person who took me to my City trial and then later my matches for both the club and England – a lot of advice that was really important to my development and journey in women’s football.
Fara was a great role model to me growing up, and it’s the same with young girls today. They need to see women playing football, working in football, just being in the footballing space so they know that they can get to this point one day, too. I don’t think anyone from Rochdale thought I’d win the Euros or the Champions League! So for local girls especially to see that, it’s really important.
VERSUS: Is it true your old PE teacher, Janet, used to say you’d play for England one day? Do you still keep in touch with her?
Janet lives about five mins up the road from my mum! So whenever she walks to the dog she often bumps into Janet.
Although, Janet’s a big City fan so she hasn’t let me live down the fact I’ve joined Barcelona. I was really sporty when I was younger and she used to encourage me to keep playing, no matter what. She made a lot of us young girls in school feel really comfortable playing sports, and that made a big difference at a young age.
“Winning the Champions League, that’s what the move to Barcelona was all about.”
VERSUS: Did you feel like you were taking a risk by moving to Barcelona?
By the time I’d left Manchester City I’d been playing football at the club for eight years. I knew the way we played and I’ve always lived in Manchester, so it just felt like the right time to move and try something new. I always knew it was going to take time for me to settle in at Barcelona, and during the second-half of the season it really felt like I’d improved both as a player and as a person. But winning the Champions League, that’s what the move was all about.
That moment, I still don’t think it’s sunk in yet. And the way we scored three goals in the second-half! That’s why I moved to Barcelona, to play those games. I honestly never thought I’d win that trophy in my first season there so when that third goal went in, it’s safe to say…I had no idea what to do. I think I ran to Aitana (Bonmatí) first and she didn’t even have anything to do with the goal! I was so just so excited I needed to share that feeling with someone.
VERSUS: Seeing activities like the McDonalds Fun Football sessions today, how much has girls’ football changed since you last played?
Quite a lot! We didn’t have activities like these in our local community growing up because there just weren’t the coaches or resources to put them on. People’s opinion on the women’s game has changed a lot too over the years. The game isn’t frowned upon like it was 15, 20, 30 years ago. A lot more people accept it now, even small things like: you see more girls wearing footy kids nowadays. I think those small details are really important ones, it’s not always about playing the sport but feeling connected to it somehow.
VERSUS: How important do you think the McDonalds Fun Football sessions are?
Like I said, I never had anything like this growing up so it’s great to see. These sessions are free and that helps to make football accessible to everyone. Arguably, football – especially girls and women’s football – is deemed a middle class sport now because the equipment is really expensive and so is travelling to games, trials and academy centres. Those are really big reasons for why young girls and their carers, in Rochdale for example, just can’t afford to play the game. I was lucky that my parents could afford to take me to places like Blackburn for example, but I know some girls I used to play with couldn’t afford the trips and that’s why they stopped playing. These sessions are local and free of charge. Accessibility has been prioritised above anything else and that’s why they’re making such a difference.
“I never had anything like this growing up! These sessions are free and that helps to make football accessible to everyone.”
VERSUS: How can we get more people to sign-up their daughters, sisters, cousins, neighbours, children of family friends etc. to sessions?
I think, just come down and have some fun. It doesn’t have to be serious, you don’t have to want to be a professional footballer to play. It’s about making sure you enjoy the game more than anything else, so just come down and give it a go.
VERSUS: What’s been the biggest culture shock or thing you’ve had to adapt to since moving to Barcelona?
The sun. With my skin type and hair colour, it wasn’t easy to adapt. When I first went over there, I used to get burnt quite a lot and my manager came up to me one day and said I really needed to start wearing sun cream everyday. I’m also not great at speaking Spanish so I’m getting to grips with that.
VERSUS: At VERSUS we speak a lot about the future of football, what does that look like to you?
I think I’m lucky at Barça where the women’s game is being treated similar to the men’s. At the UWCL final we had fans outside the hotel, outside the coach, flares, smoke everywhere, and so the atmosphere is very similar to the men’s. And for the women’s game I think it’s just seeing women playing in bigger stadiums Old Trafford ET, selling out and that becoming normal not just once a season and become regular.
VERSUS: What do you think the rest of the world can learn from football?
For me, football’s so important because it helps to shine a light on wider social issues that desperately need to be addressed. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done in the game, for example Vinícius Júnior’s been subjected to racist abuse for pretty much the entire season, and it’s everyone’s responsibility to make sure that stops – both on and off the pitch.
“These sessions prioritise accessibility above anything else and that’s why they’re making such a difference.”
VERSUS: What is the most important lesson football has taught you?
How to be resilient and why that’s so important to your development as a player and a person.
I’ve had to be resilient at various times throughout my career. When you’re getting selected for some games and not others, or you go through long periods of time not being selected at all! When you’re a footballer, or any type of athlete that plays a team sport, it’s a tough feeling not being picked to play because all you want to do is show what you’re capable of. That feeling doesn’t necessarily get any easier when you get older but being resilient helps you to stay focused and see the bigger picture. The same with injuries. They’re the worst things in the world when they happen, but with perseverance and resilience, you get through them in the end.
Something else football has taught me, and it’s possibly the biggest lesson it’s ever given me, is the importance of being comfortable with yourself. There are a lot of opinions when it comes to football, and most of them are directed at players. When I was younger I struggled with so many people having so many different things to say about me and my football. opinions about me and my football. But eventually – after a lot of work off the pitch especially – I became comfortable with what I brought to the game.
VERSUS: After all of your success, what would you tell a young Keira Walsh?
Keep doing what she’s doing and keep enjoying the game! When I enjoy what I’m doing, that’s when I play my best football – it’s always been like that.
I would also tell her that she needs to just enjoy the journey a little bit more. There were times where it was difficult, and during those times – and I’m sure everyone experiences something like this at some point – I wasn’t enjoying my football. I did manage to push through those moments, of course, and I’m glad I did because I got to the point where I am today.