After finishing 5th in the National League South last season, Watford were hoping to improve this season. Before the league announced the season would be null and voided I was fortunate to catch up with Watford and Wales striker Helen Ward about how she manages to balance being a mum as well as playing football and what it is like to be Wales’ top goalscorer.
Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I was born and raised in Watford – although I now represent Wales through my maternal grandparents, I play as a striker or winger and I am back home at Watford FC who also happens to be the team I support.
Have you always been interested in football since you were young?
I’ve always been into sport and I guess watching my older brother play at the weekends inspired me to get involved. My whole family is sporty so it was natural for me to follow in their footsteps.
Who was your biggest footballing inspiration growing up and why?
There’s a couple to be fair. My brother was the first one who really supported me and said I had a talent so he’d have to be up there. My parents also played a massive part in that by never letting the fact I was a girl get in the way. In terms of players, Michael Owen was the forward I always wanted to be. Off the shoulder of the last defender and an eye for goal. He was incredible and I won’t let anyone tell me any different!
When did you realise that you wanted to play football as your job?
I don’t think I ever did!! I think I am lucky in that the game grew as my career progressed. There were never any teams who were anywhere near professional until I was about 28/29 and even then it was a gradual progress. I’m not sad about that, though. I’m very proud of my career and how its gone and I wouldn’t change anything about it.
Could you tell us a little bit about your experience at youth football?
I played my whole youth career at Watford. From 8-22 it was my whole life and I was and have always been a forward so there’s not really much to tell there either! My time at Watford was unbelievable and I met some lifelong friends who made playing football the best thing in the world. It helped that we had a good team and won leagues and cups season after season.
You are currently second in the National League South but have 3 games in hand compared to top of the league Crawley. With the 3 games in hand do you think Watford will have a realistic chance of winning the league?
At the moment it would be nice to just play another league game, full stop. It’s kind of hard to talk about football right now but yes, IF we got back into league action this season, with the squad we put together, I would definitely expect us to mount a good challenge for the title.
With it being so tight in the league this season are you feeling more pressure going into each game?
Again, it’s hard to imagine right now. We have a lot of experience in our squad and I’d like to think the likes of Emma Beckett, Meg Chandler, Katie O’Leary, Renee Hector, Anne Meiwald and myself, who have all played for a number of years in high-pressure situations, we’d have enough to keep calm and maintain our high levels of performance.
What’s your favourite goal that you have scored in your career?
I’m fortunate to have scored a few goals but there are one or two that stand out. If I had to choose, I’d probably go for the one I scored in a friendly against Slovakia up in Bangor for Wales in 2015. It was a scrappy goal as I charged down the keepers clearance and put it into an empty net, so it wasn’t pretty. It didn’t really mean anything in the grand scheme of things either as it was a friendly. But personally, it meant the world. It was the first goal I’d scored for Wales after having Emily (my eldest) and made all the hard work worth it.
How do you balance being a mum as well as playing football and training?
It’s very tricky at times (VERY tricky right now) but I have an amazing support system in my husband, parents and parents in law who will take care of them when I need to train.
You are currently Wales’ top goalscorer, what is it like every time you go out and play for your country?
It’s an unbelievable feeling and one that will never get old. As I’ve got older, I try to take in each and every game even more as I know how precious they are.
How would you feel if someone broke your Wales goalscoring record?
Of course I am very proud to have scored as many as I have and I hope to add to the total before I retire. But if someone overtook me, then it means that hopefully the team are doing well and that’s the most important thing, for Wales to be successful. So as proud as I am of my individual record, it’s what the team does that really matters.
How is the leagues pausing affecting you and how are you managing to deal with it?
It’s really tough because it’s such an unknown. At least when it’s the off season or winter break you have a date and a target where you’ll be back playing. So this is really hard as we don’t know how long we’ll have to stay apart for and that can make it hard to motivate yourself to train on your own. We have a WhatsApp group though and we try to keep each other’s spirits up and have little challenges to keep busy, so that’s something.
Do you have any pre-match rituals or superstitions?
I have to say, not really! The only one would be that I wear the same sports bra and pants for every game!! They get washed in between though!