Three years after Karen Bardsley tore a hamstring tendon off the bone in England’s World Cup quarter-final defeat of Norway it has forced her retirement perhaps a little earlier than planned.
“It needed to be repaired and, unfortunately, the repair and the rehab fell right in the midst of the pandemic; and it just never seemed to be right, ”the goalkeeper says. “We tried our best and I just never seem to fully recover. I went for a brief stint on loan to OL Reign [in Seattle] and kind of found a new love for the game again out there. But yeah, unfortunately, the tendon went again and it just never was the same again after that.
“So, after a few more surgeries, it just got to the point basically where I wasn’t going to be happy with my level, and I wasn’t going to be happy with not living up to my expectations.” The bigger picture played a role as well: “Let’s just say I’m not getting any younger, and the risks started to outweigh the reward.”
Bardsley joined Manchester City in 2013 and, born in California to Mancunian parents, it was a chance of sorts to go home. On Wednesday she was celebrated on the pitch after City’s last home game of the season. City are not in the title hunt but Champions League football is in their hands and, having collected the Continental League Cup in March and with an FA Cup final a week on Sunday, there is a chance to end the season on a big high after a tough start.
“Obviously being injured means that won’t be a true gear-up,” Bardsley says of the Wembley final. “But being involved in the whole day is going to be really special, not only for me but I think for the girls, for the club.
“The way the season started, to see the way it’s come to a close, we kind of wish we had just a few more weeks left. Getting the trophy and beating Chelsea at Wembley in the FA Cup final would be just a really, really nice way to close out the season and my career. ”
Bardsley has had huge successes, playing 82 times for England, going to seven major international tournaments and competing with Team GB at the London 2012 Olympic Games. The injury problems denied her the chance of a second Games in Tokyo last summer.
“Unfortunately, [injuries have] been quite a big part of my career, ”she says. “I seem to get injured at the worst times but, ultimately, it’s part of my story, it’s part of who I am, and as much as it wasn’t great and I didn’t enjoy it, it helped shape who I am. today. ”
London 2012 was a highlight. “It’s a bit different in terms of the other major tournaments I’ve been part of; that one felt like more of a celebration of amazing talent in sport because obviously being in the village with all these incredible athletes you’re nothing in comparison, ”she says.
“Everyone’s just the same. That was a real surreal moment when you see Serena Williams walk in or LeBron James, all the world class sprinters like Usain Bolt and you’re like: ‘What’s going on?’ That was really cool.
“It was also my first experience, and so far the only experience, of true parity. The men’s team and the women’s team did everything exactly the same and I thought that was incredible and that really opened my eyes as to how things should be. It wasn’t even a matter of getting paid the same, it was a matter of these being the resources we’re going to split equally.
“We stayed in the same hotel, we had the same meals, we had meal times together, shared the same training venues. We got to know each other… we shared experiences. ”
It was worthy of the tattoo of the Olympic rings on her wrist. “I remember joking with some of my friends in high school when I was 15 or 16, saying, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if one of us went to the Olympics?'” She says. “We said it would be the only time we would get a tattoo. I ended up going to the Olympics and my friends were like: ‘Well, you better live up to that promise.’ Little things like that you never think will happen. ”