Welsh International and Reading FC footballer Helen Ward speaks to Female First in a new and exclusive interview all about her career, women in football and being a first-time mother. Read on to find out what she had to say.

Helen Ward
Helen Ward

When did your passion for football really begin and how did you find your way into this career path?

I always enjoyed being active and watching my brother play from a very young age, and at around 8 years old I joined my first team when my brother brought a flyer home from school. From then on it was something I was very passionate about. Once the game started growing in this country, I was able to earn a little bit of money from it and signed my first contract at 22 when I signed for Arsenal Ladies.

Can you tell us a little about the support of your family in regards to your career?

My family are a huge support and always have been. From the minute I started playing my mum transported me all over the country no matter the time, day or weather and I will always be so, so grateful to her for that. Whether it was training or games she would make sure I was there. Nowadays, even though I am able to take myself to training and games, she still follows me all over to support me, and that's why I'm so proud to be involved with the McDonald's Football Mum of the Year Award, because I've seen first-hand the hard work and sacrifices that football mums make.

My husband, Matt and my little girl Emily are also in tow more often than not and that makes a world of difference to me knowing they are there. My dad has always been very supportive of my football career, even if he doesn't make it to so many games. I know he is rooting for me and will have updates from my mum all the time. The same goes for my brother. He was the one who got me into football in the first place and he is constantly telling me to push myself and has a deep rooted belief in my abilities and potential and that is something I really treasure.

You're Wales' top international goal-scorer with 33 goals in 60 caps - how much pressure is there to keep this standard up?

I think the pressure only comes from myself. It is a record I am extremely proud of and one I would love to keep up. In reality, international football is as tough as it gets and with every team getting stronger (including ourselves) it really does make each game a challenge. With the quality of my team mates behind me, however, I am confident I can keep up a good games to goals ratio and extend my run as Wales' top goal scorer.

Have you faced any prejudices and bigotry because of your choice of career?

To be honest I have been very fortunate in that I haven't faced anything like that. Or at least nothing that I have chosen to listen to! I think now people are realising the quality of women's football, those sorts of comments are becoming fewer and further between.

How much is that changing now with the development of women's football?

As I said in the previous answer, there are fewer and fewer incidents of this nature - as far as I can see, anyway. The media coverage and social media are all helping towards this new outlook on the game and I think the Women's World Cup this summer will go even further to strengthen the state of the game.

We're constantly seeing the landscape changing and positive things - such as women's football being included in the next FIFA video game - how exciting is it to be a part of all that?

Being included on a game like FIFA is huge for women's football. The teams that are in it so far will no doubt be delighted. It is the biggest football game on the planet and for them to be included alongside their male counterparts is great. As a Welsh player, I just hope we can make it into the next big tournament and be included in future editions.

What advice do you have for young girls who want to follow a path similar to yours?

First and foremost I think young girls just need to enjoy playing for what it is. Don't put too much pressure on yourself or look too far ahead. It is great to have aims and ambitions further along the line but just enjoy it and with that, opportunities and experiences tend to offer themselves naturally.

You're now also a first-time mother, what's that experience like for you?

Being a mother is great. There is no other way to describe it! Don't get me wrong, it can be tough and scary at times - knowing that a little person is totally depending on you to make the right choices for her is pretty daunting but I feel like I have adapted well and I was ready to make the step into the next stage in my life and I just love spending time with my little family.

How difficult is it to juggle your personal and professional life?

It can be difficult at times, I won't lie, but as I mentioned before, the support I have from my family makes it a lot easier than it could be. I am able to go to training and complete extra fitness knowing that she is in safe hands and that my husband, parents and in-laws are fully behind my comeback.

What do you have coming up in the next few weeks and months?

We have just finished the first half of our domestic season with Reading and so we actually have a couple of weeks off before returning to a mini pre-season. Matt, Emily and I will be off on a little break to the South Coast at some stage and then it will be back to the grind! In terms of Wales, we have a couple of short training camps over the summer that aim to prepare us for our European Qualifying campaign that starts in September.

Finally how important is it for women to continue to push unnecessary boundaries and defy unwarranted expectations?

I don't think we can look at it as boundaries and unwarranted expectations. I think it is just important to keep doing what we are doing and the rewards will come. We have seen a huge growth in the game since the introduction of the FA Women's Super League and the game will just keep progressing with the work being put in by various different outlets and organisation. I don't think we need to enter a battle or to prove anything - the game will prove all it needs to itself.

Helen is helping to judge the search for McDonald's Football Mum of the Year. The award will recognise hard-working, regular 'football mums' across the UK. Nominations for the awards are now open www.mcdonalds.co.uk/mumoftheyear

by for www.femalefirst.co.uk
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