Exclusive Interview: Saltdean United’s Georgia Bridges

Imagine signing for a new club, you’d be buzzing and itching to get on the pitch with your new teammates. Spare a thought for Saltdean United‘s Georgia Bridges, the news of her signing broke the day Matt Hancock announced the beginning of lockdown measures which would develop into the national lockdown. So Georgia is yet to train or play with any of her new teammates. I was fortunate enough to have some time to catch up with the former Lewes forward.

Since 71: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Georgia: I guess I should start with my name, I’m Georgia Bridges, live and from Brighton but support West Ham United – if I didn’t, I think my dad would disown me.

I’ve played football since I can remember, the game has always been a massive part of my life, it’s my release, my happy place. I love to travel, so much so that I’ve lived in America for short spells at a time coaching football, Australia for two and half years working at Google and playing semi-pro football and went to uni in Wales – does Wales count as abroad?

You’ll see me in number 24, it’s my lucky number as myself and my grandma were born on the same day, 24th July, not quite the same year though!

Who was your biggest footballing inspiration while growing up?
Growing up my biggest inspiration without a doubt was and still is my dad, he’s always been invested in my game and improving me as a player, even when I was in Australia he flew out to watch!

Despite dad being up there with the best, it is fantastic to see that the next generation of footballers have access to and able to relate to female footballers and athletes. It of course comes second hand with the enhanced media coverage, marketing, large sponsorships from established companies supporting the game, plus networks of inspiring people like yourself at Since 71 or the team at Women in Football all aiming to drive the game forward.

Could you tell me about your experience at youth football?
My first memory of football, besides in the garden, was dad taking me to a football session at Hove Park at 4 years old, there were about 50 boys and me!

Another memory of playing Youth football was when I was in year 4, so 8 years old. I played for my school with 11 other boys. We got to a game and the other team were pointing and laughing at me saying there’s a girl in your team – they soon shut up when I took the ball around them all and scored in the top corner. Secret Ammunition.

These memories were however in 1998 and 2002, and a lot has changed at school football since, there are all girls school teams, and different all girls school cups/tournaments they can participate in. When working for Russell Martin Academy as the Women’s and Girls Development officer I used to host six-a-side school tournaments for girls, the interest was incredible, at one stage we had nearly 30 different Junior schools from around Brighton and Hove turn up – that’s around 240 girls!

At club level I played for Brighton & Hove Albion from the age of 7, where I found my first female role model, my manager called Audra. I then played at Patcham and Hassocks and made my debut for Lewes at the age of 16 where I was also playing for my new boss, Joe McTiffen, when we were at BHASVIC college together.

After college you found yourself at University in Cardiff. How did you find the challenge of settling into the area?
Looking back Cardiff seemed miles away, but now compared to living in Australia and America it was a short drive.

I remember the moment my mum and dad dropped me off at Uni with a carload, being honest, I was excited rather than nervous, but I think that is also in my nature. Fortunately, I also had a best friend that moved with me to Cardiff, and the people in my halls were amazing so from that aspect I settled in well.

Another element that helped was joining the football team – you immediately had contact with people in the same boat, with the same interests and those that had experienced what I was currently going through. My recommendation to anyone joining university will be to join a sports team or social group!

It was a challenge at times. We played every Wednesday in BUCS Prem, every Sunday in the Welsh Prem, and trained four times a week, whilst also studying a Bachelor of Science in Sports Coaching, plus I had a job and was also one for enjoying the social side of Uni - looking back I don’t know how I had the energy.

You joined the local Welsh Premier League side Cardiff Met. How did you find the balance of studying, socialising and playing sport? It must have been a challenge?
It was a challenge at times. We played every Wednesday in BUCS Prem, every Sunday in the Welsh Prem, and trained four times a week, whilst also studying a Bachelor of Science in Sports Coaching, plus I had a job and was also one for enjoying the social side of Uni – looking back I don’t know how I had the energy. I have very fond memories of University, so despite the demands from various aspects the reward and life time friends at the end was well worth it!

How important was your time playing University football in your development?
I regard to my personal mental health football was and is always very important to me. As mentioned it is my release, keeps me exercising and I love the social side. In relation to development, we were in a competitive league, which if won the winner would play Champions League football which was the case for Cardiff Met 2/3 time I was there.

When you returned from University you rejoined Lewes for a second spell. How did it feel to be back at a club? Was it like you’d never left or did you have to reacquaint yourself with a new set up?
Lewes will always have a special place in my heart, so it was amazing to return to the club. Quite a few of the girls I played with in my first spell were still there which made me feel even more at home – it was a comforting feeling returning back, especially when I stepped foot back onto the Dripping Pan.

I love going to the Dripping Pan! For me, it is the best stadium and match day experience in women’s football. Do you have a personal highlight while playing at the stadium?
That makes two of us, even thinking about playing on that pitch is making me smile. You might not know but Lewes is a supporter-owned club, this passion and love for the club immediately transpires into the game day atmosphere, our crowd was always and still is very loud – especially when they get the drumming band along!

A personal highlight for me would be seeing the girls I used to coach come to the games, it was motivating knowing the next generation were in the crowd hopefully feeling inspired by us all. Also, they got their fitness in as they used to run up and down the Pan cheering my name, it used to make me laugh.

A personal highlight for me would be seeing the girls I used to coach come to the games, it was motivating knowing the next generation were in the crowd hopefully feeling inspired by us all.

You were front and centre for Lewes’ Equality FC campaign, the club are well respected for their social stance on a number of issues inside and outside of football. How important was it to you that your club strives to improve their local community and the world of women’s football as a whole?
Club philosophy is a core value for me. Lewes have always been a unique club in what they stand for so when they brought out the Equality FC Campaign it did not shock me as they have always been forward thinking. It’s great to see the movement beyond this campaign. These campaigns certainly have an extra drive when you have inspiring pioneers within the club who set the standards and truly care about making a difference.

A key example is Jacquie Agnew (my manager at Lewes during my first spell), who has been at the club since 2002, or Maggie Murphy the current General Manager and the many other people, players and supporters that make a difference.

You took the difficult decision to leave Lewes to sign for Apia Leichhardt in Australia. What came first, a desire to go to Australia and find a club, or was it the club declaring interest in signing you?
The desire to go to Australia came first, I then had a talk’s with different clubs and really like what APIA stood for and their aim of winning the league that season – which we successfully did with style only losing a single game and scoring 122 goals as a club!

Your Dad is a West Ham United fan right? He must’ve enjoyed seeing you playing in the claret and blue, even if it wasn’t quite the Hammers?
I remember when we played them away we used to come out to “I’m forever blowing bubbles”,  I obviously couldn’t resist singing. It was of course also a real treat to play at Rush Green, West Ham United training ground.

For those who aren’t aware of the Apia Leichhardt, including myself, could you tell us about the club?
Apia Leichhardt are an Italian club currently in NSW NPL1 (the second highest league in Australia), who started as nothing and now are certainly something. As mentioned above, two seasons ago we won the NSW NPL2 league which led to promotion to NSW NPL1 – one of the toughest leagues in Australia. Amazingly APIA are the only club to have both the men and womens team in NPL1. Last season Apia made some big signing’s who play at the top level in Australia, playing for both the National League and in the A-League – it was great to play and train alongside the girls.

What are you abiding memories from your time with Apia Leichhardt?
Definitely winning the league in my first season, the game where we won the league was so special, we were playing our Italian rivals Marconi, we had the u8-u17 teams, friends and family all watching so the atmosphere was buzzing. I scored a goal just before half time at this game to make it 2-0 and it will always be one of my favourite memories, alongside when everyone flooded the pitch at full time.

What is it about Saltdean United that attracted you to the club?
Over the last ten years I’ve always had a fun, respectful and professional working relationship with Joe both on and off the pitch (he may say different). These are a few characteristics that are fundamental in a successful manager – player relationship, and quite often very rare, so when you have it with someone, why hide? As both a player and as his assistant back in the day at BHASVIC, I understand Joe’s coaching philosophies, what he stands for and how he likes to play tactically, so it just makes sense.

I think I was one of the first people Joe told about Saltdean, when it was just a twinkle in his eye, he told me of his grand plan and what he wanted to achieve in such a short space of time. Being honest, I questioned if his dreams were even possible but low and behold, he’s reached and if I am honest exceeded what he told me three years ago – for me this is inspiring but also motivating to play for someone who believes in something so much and won’t let anyone knock him. Joe understands me as a player,  knows my strengths and weaknesses and I am more than confident, in fact, I know he will bring the best out in me. Also, there are also some extremely exciting, forward-thinking projects happening within the club.

On a scale of one to ten how frustrating is it to have announced the move, be ready to play but due to lockdown restrictions being unable to even take part in your first session with the team?
20! Very frustrating.

How are you overcoming that and incorporating yourself within the setup?
I know most of the girls, I used to coach a lot of them at BHASVIC and used to play with some of the senior players so I feel like once we are able to get our first session in I will settle in well. They’ve already been very welcoming so I’m just raring to get started now to be honest.

Finally, once we are back out there on the pitch, what are you personal and team targets for the rest of the season? It’s going to be a great battle with yourselves and Dulwich Hamlet.
Well, the team target number one is to get on that pitch! Winning the league, the team is more than capable of this, there will be some tough games along the way i.e Dulwich Hamlet, but if we can get this season completed, I truly believe next season we will be in the National League.