Interview with a Goalkeeper

In full flight for AFC Wimbledon in the FA Women’s Cup. (Photo @MikeyTheTowner)

We managed to convince National League goalkeeper Charlotte Ferguson to give up some of her free-ish time, usually spent in the gym, to answer our questions. The very-soon-to-be 27-year old is currently at AFC Wimbledon and has become a supporters’ favourite with a series of great displays.

Prior to the Dons, Charlotte played in goal for Edinburgh University, Spartans and Murieston (in Scotland), had several spells at Crystal Palace – which included her senior debut at 16 – moved to Iceland to keep goal for UMF Tindastóll and had a spell in midfield for Bromlians. Last season she was at Whyteleafe and moved to AFC Wimbledon for the closing stages of their campaign – deciding to stay on with Kevin Foster and co. for the 2019/20 season.

D2B: What age did you start playing football?

CF: I was about 8. I used to play in the street with my friends and in the back garden with my brother – when our mother wasn’t looking. My personal best was breaking the fence. Not sure I would have liked to be a plant pot in our garden either. Fond memories of spending three hours at a time mastering ‘kick-ups’ as well.

D2B: What was the first team you joined?

CF: After playing a bit for my primary school at the London Youth Games, and going to some female-only coaching sessions, I was able to persuade my mum and dad to let me join a club. I landed up signing for Crystal Palace Ladies U10s.

D2B: Many female players have talked about getting stick from the side lines when they played football as a youngster. Was this your experience and, if so, what made you carry on?

CF: I was pleasantly surprised with the support from all angles. I mean there was some stick about being ‘one of the boys’ from the girls, but I was mostly content. I was oblivious at that age and fearless. I feel like now, as an adult, I care more than I did as a child. I’m not great at standing up to situations like that, though.

D2B: And when did you discover you had a specific talent for goalkeeping?

CF: When I joined Palace at 9, I was rotating with another girl. Parents and other players persuaded me to stay in goal. I mostly became a permanent goalkeeper by Under-11s. I did like the occasional run out on pitch at the end of the season but I realised, as I got older, that if I was going to play at a higher level, being a keeper was my best option.

D2B: Do you have, or have you had a nickname with any of your teams?

CF: I’ve had one that’s stuck since my Edinburgh University women’s football days: ‘Cha-Cha’ – not to be confused with my dancing ability. I would be ‘sliding to the left’, right out of the changing rooms…

D2B: What’s your day job?

CF: Currently, I’m working as a personal trainer in a commercial gym. With a degree in sports science and physiotherapy I have big aspirations. I’m making connections and seeing what I can accomplish doing something I love that helps people. Secretly, I’m hoping my dream job will jump out at me!

D2B: Do your job commitments make the Tuesday / Thursday / Sunday regime tricky?

CF: It does make it easy to work around football and means I have no excuse not to be training and prehabbing. The only thing I don’t enjoy is working long days and then being tired for training in the evening.

D2B: How did you end up at the Dons?

CF: Towards the end of last season when I was with Whyteleafe, our season finished super early (February) so I just sent a half-joking tweet out asking if someone would like to sign me for the remaining games as other leagues still had eight or so to play. Mike Parsonson, the Dons’ Reserve Team Manager, answered and asked me to come down. I just thought I would get some minutes under my belt and keep ticking over, so wasn’t fussed about the level. I don’t think I even played a game for Mike in the end. An injury to the first team ‘keeper at the time meant I went into that set up.

D2B: What influenced your decision to stay with the club for 2019/20?

CF: When I attended training, I like the set up and feel. I have never been at a club where I have felt more welcome, and where the group of girls is as welcoming and kind. The group is a special one and the coaching philosophy is one I understand and like. The absence of drama and the openness of the coaching staff make the environment one that encourages better football from all.

AFC Wimbledon 2019/20 – “Magic. A perfect mix of characters.”

D2B: As a player, what do you think are your strongest attributes?

CF: I think for me it’s mostly communication. As a keeper, I can see the whole picture and can give important information to players that they might not be able to see. I feel like my determination and commitment are other important attributes. I never like to miss a session and I always work hard to be the best I can be. Physically, I work super hard outside of the gym to a point where it may hinder my football playing. Unlike the men’s game – with no support in terms of sports science, strength and conditioning, and psychology – managing this myself can be difficult.

D2B: What aspects of your game do you focus on more, in terms of improvement?

CF: I’m a bit of a perfectionist, but nothing is ever perfect. So I work on everything and feel like there are always aspects to improve in every situation. I’ve been working hard on my kicking and trying to be a bit quicker across goal. Crossing is something that for females, I feel, tends to be a bit more inherently difficult. So, lots of landing mechanics and working on jumping in the gym helps this, as well as continuing to practice on the field.

D2B: The AFC Wimbledon Ladies have only lost once in the league, so the season’s been going well. Why do you think that is?

CF: I think Kev [manager, Kevin Foster] and the coaching team have worked hard to build a team of exceptional characters – both on and off the pitch. There have been moments where we have needed a stern talking to, but everyone is working super hard both on and off the pitch to develop, improve and work collaboratively.

There is healthy competition for places which drives players to stay on top of their game. The Reserve Team Managers have also worked hard to develop the younger girls with some exciting talent coming through. It won’t be long before we see some of them feature in a first team capacity.

D2B: Are there any characters in the Dons’ dressing room we need to know about?

CF: Many – too many characters in this team. I could name the whole squad with everyone’s individual uniqueness. It’s magic – like a perfect mix of different characters. Liz O’Callaghan, who is on a Masters’ Degree, seems to lack common sense but does an exceptional victory dance to the Wii Emoji song. ‘Billy’ [Hannah Billingham], as Captain, does a good job of bringing people together.

D2B: Do you have a best friend in the group?

CF: I must give Liz Berkeley a shout out. I was with Liz for 2 years after returning to Palace at the age of 22. She left for Whyteleafe and then I went to join her there, last season. Then, like me, she dual signed [in 2019] with the Dons and decided to make the move permanent.

D2B: What’s been your proudest moment as a footballer?

CF: I think my proudest moment was when I was 14, representing Kent Schools FA in a tournament in America. I played horribly, but the fact my football took me to the other side of the world still stays with me.

I think also its always sweet winning the league, but at University we won the league the year I was president of the EUWAFC so that always stays with me as a fond memory too. As does achieving my Manager’s Player of the Year Award at Whyteleafe last season.

Ed: My 10-year old son, George, has a couple of questions as his best friend, Violet, is a goalkeeper.

G: What’s your favourite save that you’ve made?

CF: Ooh, this is easy. Semi Final of the Scottish Cup in my third year. I’d had a good game and it was about five minutes from the end of extra-time. It was about to go into penalties and a cross came in from the right onto the head of a girl 6-yards out. I think everyone was sure it was in and, somehow, shot across and scooped it out. Mike Ross, my coach at the time, said it was one of the best saves he’s ever seen. Not sure if he was just saying that to be nice…

G: What’s your longest clean sheet streak (number of games)?

CF: I found some old football stuff the other day. At Under-12s we went unbeaten with clean sheets for fifteen games at Crystal Palace. I think I peaked then!

D2B: Do you support a team?

CF: Loosely, I’m a Crystal Palace fan. Occasionally, through work, I get the opportunity to go but usually I’m working or busy. Probably go to more Bromley FC games than anything other arenas.

D2B: Which players do you admire?

CF: ‘Gigi’ Buffon [Gianluigi Buffon] – Goalkeeper’s Union – plus we both had the same spinal surgery, so he was my inspiration when rehabbing.

Nic Sturrock currently playing for Hamilton “Accies” in the SWPL [Scottish Women’s Premier League]. This girl has worked tirelessly across the years and I’ve been lucky enough to share a pitch with her both at Uni and at a club. She has come from knockbacks, adversity and stood up every time and proved to everyone she is a worthy footballer. Her resilience is astonishing; not to mention her long range efforts that nearly always find top corners!

I feel Eartha Cumings of Bristol city women should also get a mention – imagine playing topflight women’s football after nearly losing both legs. You can read her story online – I encourage you to do so. [And you can here…]

Bristol City’s Eartha Cumings – An inspirational story

D2B: Who is the best footballer you’ve played with or against?

CF: Argh! This is a hard one…

I went to Denmark to visit one of my friends Rachel Harrison who I spent a lot of time with at University). She played at Danish club Fortuna Hjørring. I got to play fives with players like Brazilian International Tamires [Tamires Cássia Dias Gomes] and other Danish and Slovakian internationals as well.

D2B: What about coaches? Any real standouts you’ve worked with over the years?

CF: I spent three years playing under Mike Ross with the Edinburgh University Women’s First team and achieved a great deal, including being league champions. He really opened my eyes to football being more than just turning up and playing; instilling the importance of tactical understanding and opening my eyes to becoming a coach. Mike also developed me as a person through football – something unique to him and his coaching abilities.

I signed for Whyteleafe having been at quite a low. Charlie Bickell and Danny Rose encouraged me and drew out my love for football again, and got me playing with confidence, for which I will forever be grateful.

Goalkeeping wise: Mick Strain and Cam [Cameron Howell] at Keepers Ball  who provided a huge amount of encouragement on my comeback from spinal surgery.

Tomasz Król ran my favourite sessions working with me at Palace and is a phenomenal coach now working at a big club over in Poland. And I suppose Lee Heywood and his “sidies” over at the Palace Academy probably should have a mention too!

D2B: Is coaching something you would like to do when you finish playing?

CF: Funnily enough I have been coaching for a while now and work for Crystal Palace Foundation in a coach and physio capacity. I love goalkeeping coaching and I also do some private 1-to-1 sessions around my other commitments. I would like to be able to get into a coaching role. Watch this space.

D2B: Do you follow the women’s game outside of your own role with AFC Wimbledon?

CF: Yeah, I have some friends playing in leagues throughout the world: Sweden, Iceland, Italy, America. So, I try and keep an eye on them and results.

D2B: What do you think about the recent growth in interest in women’s football?

CF: I think the profile it’s building, and the interest from investors is great. It’s been crying out for this. I feel there is still a long way to go but every year it’s getting bigger and better. Big things are coming; maybe by the time I retire it will peak.

I’m a ‘woman of science’, though. The comparison of women’s football to men’s is difficult as we don’t have the same finances, resources and opportunities. I think women should be given the chance to train and play similarly to the men. Midweek fixtures after working an 8-5 physical job makes it hard to perform at your best – as well as not having the same backroom sports science and training opportunities, and other things that may give you the small advantages.

D2B: It can’t be all football can it? What else do you like to do to kick back?

CF: My version of kicking back isn’t really kicking back at all. I just like to keep moving. I’m trying to read more books, though. Currently it’s The Diet Myth by Tim Spector. Then, when I’m done with that, my sponsor Gary Jordan kindly gave me a copy of his book Out of the Shadows which I’m going to try and crack. Christmas and the need for annual leave maybe just might give me a chance.

D2B: So, ‘Cha-Cha’, the six-million-dollar question, if you didn’t play football, what would you do with your Sunday afternoons?

That one’s easy – I’d be in the gym, maybe teaching a spin class and / or lifting’; on the golf course or riding my road bike. I have been known to do all three in one day…

The obligatory head shot.

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