Karen Bardsley Talks Tattoos, Tips and Olympic Dreams

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“It’s great, isn’t it? It’s pretty awesome.” England’s recalled goalkeeper Karen Bardsley is speaking to EnglandFootball.org ahead of the France and Canada fixtures. The 36-year-old has been out of the Lionesses picture for nearly two years, following an injury that kept her out of the 2019 World Cup semi-final clash with the United States. Harking back to the 2012 London Olympic Games, she is looking forward to the possibility of representing Team GB once again, nine years later.

“I remember being 16 years old, sitting in the quad in high school with some of my friends over lunch. We were asking each other about what kind of tattoos we would get. I know it seems like a bit of a tangent, but bear with me. I said the only way I’d ever get a tattoo is if I went to the Olympics. We all just kind of laughed it off. Lo and behold, I ended up going. So that will forever be etched in my mind… and on my wrist.

“But I never thought it would happen — I just [thought] it was one of those flippant comments that you make as a child. For it to happen once was a dream. For it to happen again, wow. It would be absolutely unreal. It would be really, really high up there on my list of achievements, for sure.”

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The American-born shot-stopper was Team GB’s first choice when they were knocked out of a home Games by Canada in the quarter-finals. The squad for the Olympic Games in Tokyo this summer can only feature 18 players. That is particularly restrictive for Team GB, whose players come from the four UK nations of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. There are likely to be just two goalkeepers, while a third is expected to travel to Japan as a standby in case of injuries or illness.

Bardsley is desperate to kick on and feature at a second Olympics. However, she is aware that many talented players will have to miss out this summer, by virtue of such a limited squad size.

“Yes, it’s an honour to be selected, but I think ultimately people really have to understand how difficult the selection process is really becoming,” she tells EnglandFootball.org. “We have so much depth in every single position. I think people really need to understand — whether they’re in the squad [or] outside the squad — the way women’s football is going. Not only are we bound by the specific rules placed on us by the Olympics, but the talent pool is growing. That’s only a good thing.

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“What’s really exciting if we look really far forward is that, if things keep continuing the way they are, there will be more opportunities. I missed out on a major tournament in 2005 and I thought my world was ending. You never know what’s going to ignite that spark. For me, that was a big one. It was like: ‘Well, I’ll show you!’.”

Bardsley offers her advice to any of her colleagues or potential colleagues who might end up missing out on representing Hege Riise and Team GB in Tokyo.

“For it to happen once was a dream. For it to happen again, wow. It would be absolutely unreal.”

Karen Bardsley on playing at the Olympics

“No one’s career is ever completely straight. Everyone wants it to be on an upward trajectory all the time. But that’s just not how life is; that’s not how football is. It’s going to be filled with highs and lows, and how you respond to those highs and lows is what defines you. These opportunities for selection give you the chance to show everyone the kind of person that you are and how you respond. So that would be my best advice: use it to really discover who it is that you are, how you want to be, and what you want to achieve.”

The final squad for the tournament is expected to be announced later this month. Team GB have been drawn in Group A, where they’ll open the tournament on 21 July against Chile before facing Japan and finally Canada. The final takes place in Tokyo on 6 August. Team GB will hope to be there in an active capacity, but the first hurdle for Bardsley and others is to earn a coveted seat on the plane. It’ll be a nervous few weeks of waiting for a number of players, that’s for sure.

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