At the age of just 27, Blues Ladies striker Karen Carney has already achieved more in her career than most footballers can ever hope to emulate. Internationally, the England Ladies star appeared in three European Championships, two World Cups and she also represented Great Britain in the 2012 London Olympics in London. Last November she became the youngest English person of either sex to reach a century of senior caps for her country.
Domestically, Carney has spent the majority of her ten-year professional career playing for her hometown club Birmingham City Ladies, having made her first team debut at just 14, along with spells at Arsenal Ladies and MLS side Chicago Red Stars. She remains an integral part of the Blues Ladies squad, who begin their new Women’s Super League (WSL) later this month.
On Saturday, Karen joined a collection of Birmingham City luminaries such as Trevor Francis, Christophe Dugarry, Bob Latchford and Joe Bradford as an inductee in the club’s Hall of Fame.
In what was a first for the club, Karen also became the first female footballer to appear on the front cover of the Blues matchday programme. Here is the interview that she did for programme.
BLUES NEWS (BN): You’re creating history this afternoon by becoming the first woman to be inducted into Birmingham City’s Hall of Fame. As a lifelong Blues fan that must be a real honour for you?
KAREN CARNEY (KC): To be fair it was a complete shock to me. I went to Trevor Francis Day recently and I was a guest in the directors’ area and I witnessed him go on and have his day and it was amazing. For me to qualify for something similar is amazing because obviously I’m a mad Blues fan, so it’s just crazy.
BN: There is a picture of you as a Blues mascot with Steve Claridge back when you were you seven. Were your family all Blues fans?
KC: Yes, pretty much everyone in my family are Blues fans. My birthday is 1 August so every birthday I would get the new Blues kit. I went to all the finals and the play-offs and got the coach down with the Blues fans. My mum and dad brought me up that way.
BN: At what age did you start taking football seriously?
KC: I’ve been playing since I was six or seven, but I was just messing around really. My mum and dad put me into a local girls’ team. When I was 10 a woman who is now high up at the FA gave me a list of about 200 teams I could go and play for. It was simple choice though. Because I was a Blues fan there was no other team for me and that’s how it happened and I joined in 1997.
BN: I suppose at that point you had no idea where the next 17 years would take you did you…
KC: No, not at all. I’ve been lucky to have had really good coaches and people with me along the way who looked after me well. I enjoyed it and it became a bit of a rollercoaster. By 13, I was having England trials. It was a meteoric rise because by the age of 17 I was playing international football.
BN: After nine years at Blues Ladies you moved to Arsenal in 2006/07 and had a very successful time there, didn’t you?
KC: Yes, in the first season we won the quadruple. That was pretty amazing and perhaps I should have retired after that!
BN: You then went over to America to join MLS side Chicago Red Stars. What was the reason for that move?
KC: I’d just come out of university and it was either get a job or wait and have a gamble and see if I got drafted. At 21 someone said I’ll take a gamble on you and pick you in the draft. I was something like 15th draft in the world, which was pretty amazing, and had the opportunity to turn professional. I was able to spend a couple of years in the States, it was my job and I was training every day and being a full-time footballer.
BN: Did playing full-time help you progress as a footballer?
KC: Yes and I also think I learned a lot of life lessons because I developed so much off the field as well. It was a massive growing up period for me.
BN: You then rejoined Blues Ladies in 2011. Had things changed much from when you had been there before?
KC: Yes, it had moved on massively as a club. A few people said it was a backward step for me, moving from being a pro back to semi-pro, but I didn’t think that. I wanted to come back and be closer to home and my family and friends. I also believed in the coaching staff and what they were trying and do.
BN: You won the Women’s FA Cup with Blues in 2012. How special was it to lift the cup, especially with the team you’d started your career with?
KC: It was amazing and was probably one of the best days of my life. All my family and friends were there, plus some of my team-mates who I’d been on the long journey with, including my best mate Laura Bassett, who was captain, and Jo Potter.
BN: In terms of international football, the top two women’s teams in the FIFA rankings are Germany and the USA. What is it that makes them so good?
KC: I think it’s an accumulation of many things – the money, the training and the number of people that play in those countries. They’re full-time – not all of our teams are full-time yet. When we get that here our national team will definitely improve, but the gap is definitely narrowing.
BN: As well as participating in Euro Championships and World Cups for England, you also represented Great Britain in the London 2012 Olympics. That must have been a unique experience?
KC: Yes, it was fantastic. Everybody was behind us and I’ve never had such a positive reaction from wearing a tracksuit as I did when I was in the Olympics. It was just a shame that we didn’t come back with a medal because that would have been the icing on the cake.
BN: The World Cup starts in Canada in June? After winning all ten of our qualifying games, what do you think England’s chances are?
KC: It will be tough but everybody is beatable on any given day in tournament football. I don’t know how we are going to do, but we’ll give it our best shot.
BN: Back to Blues Ladies, you came oh so close to winning the league last season, only losing out on the last day of the campaign. That must have been a major disappointment?
KC: Yes, it was probably the worst feeling ever to see everything you’d worked for all season go down the pan. Even if we’d got Champions League football that would have been a saving grace, but it wasn’t meant to be for us.
BN: Blues Ladies’ WSL season kicks off on 29 March with a visit from big spending Manchester City. How do you think we’ll fare during the forthcoming campaign?
KC: The money and investment has increased by everybody, including our club, but Man City, Chelsea and Liverpool have been throwing money at it. We’re always one step behind but as long as we don’t fall two steps behind, that’s the important thing. Ideally we want to be up there and punching with them. Anything is possible, but it’s how we approach our games each week and if we’re on it. I think we’ve made some good additions over the summer and I’m confident we can progress.
BN: Finally, in terms of the FA and Government, do you feel they are giving more support to the women’s game?
KC: Yes, I think everyone in general wants women to succeed and participate in sport. It’s not just football; it’s also rugby and cricket. Just because you’re female doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to perform at a high level. I’m not raising my arms for feminism but I think everybody should be given equal opportunities.