Helen Ward is a bit of a legend – even more so now that she has become the latest Royals champion to feature in our Reading FC Women in the Spotlight segment!
Not only is she comfortably the highest scoring Welsh international of all time, male or female, she has also held aloft the WSL2 Championship trophy, and has enjoyed success at two of the biggest clubs in the women’s game – Arsenal and Chelsea. Even Ryan Giggs is a big fan! I even have ‘WARD 18’ on the back of my Reading shirt, which is probably the biggest accolade of them all, even if she hasn’t made an appearance since I got it printed!
Helen is also the proud owner of a lovely toddler, is half way through a university degree and is a regular football columnist and broadcasting pundit. So the word ‘legend’ definitely fits the bill!
Here are Helen’s views on this season, football in general and lots of other random things!
How did you get into football and which team do you support?
My brother used to play and rather than wrecking the sides of pitches by running up and down with a ball while he played, with his persuasion I joined Watford Ladies as an 8 year old. I also support Watford as well and have had a season ticket for about 20 years…wow I’m old.
How did you end up at Reading, how long have you been here and why shirt number 18?
I came to Reading when Jayne Ludlow took over in 2013. She was a team mate of mine for Arsenal and Wales and I was coming to the end of my time at Chelsea when she took over. I have a lot of respect for what she did as a player and so it was a no brainier to join her here. As for the number 18, my preferred choice of 10 was taken by a certain Lois Roche, not sure if you’ve heard of her? So I was just given what was left and it’s stuck.
Erm…well I wasn’t actually offered a professional contract so I’ve not experienced it to be honest! I train more often than I ever have, though, which is obviously a big thing and helps massively in terms of fitness and technical detail which means I don’t have to find the time or energy to fit it in on my own.
When you were little what did you want to be when you grew up?
I was never really sure! Football as a profession wasn’t even a dream when I was a kid. I did always want to be in the Olympics, mind. I’m still determined to make it, Tokyo 2020 is my goal…just not sure what my event will be yet. Maybe weightlifting.
How do you feel about the WSL1 season so far for Reading and your own performances?
It’s been up and down at times. In general we’ve been pretty solid and difficult to beat which, as a newly promoted side is really important. We may not have won many but our goal difference isn’t bad and we’ve only lost 4 games [at time of writing!]. Personally it’s been a tough season. I think I have done ok in the games I’ve played but I would have liked to have contributed a bit more in terms of goals and assists.
What do your evenings and days off from football generally consist of?
Chasing a nearly-two-year-old around and sleeping! I like to spend time with Matt and Emily and we often go over to Marlow or Henley for lunch and a stroll along the Thames.
Did you follow much of the Olympics? Which gold medal performance did you most enjoy watching?
I loved the Olympics, absolutely couldn’t get enough of them. I just love seeing sports I don’t usually take the time to watch. It’s so hard to pick out one particular moment but I did love seeing the hockey girls win that amazing gold medal match. As someone who plays in a team sport it’s just brilliant to see what togetherness and absolute belief in what you’re doing and your team mates can do.
Have you already achieved all of footballing ambitions or is there anything left you want to still do?
I have been very fortunate to achieve some amazing things in football but the one thing that I feel I would love to do more than anything is to represent Wales in a major tournament. We have come such a long way in the 8 years since I made my debut but we just haven’t had enough to secure that spot. The 2019 World Cup is our next chance.
How did it feel to win awards at the Wales and Reading Sports Awards last year? Have you got them on display somewhere?
It was amazing. Having had Emily just a year prior to the awards, they really are something I am proud of. I have them on display in a cabinet in the lounge alongside my WSL 2 league medal and my hat trick ball from the Wales v Kazakhstan game.
What 3 things would you take to a desert island that you couldn’t live without (not including Matt and Emily)?
Hmmm…probably chocolate, and a lot of it. Then, well I wouldn’t need anything else. I’d be happy – as long as I knew Matt and Emily were OK, of course.
How do you manage to juggle being a mum, a professional footballer, a journalist and a student?!
Ahh it’s not so bad. It’s not like we have to work a 9-5 job so I have time to fit in the rest. Thankfully mine and Matt’s parents are hugely supportive and help out with childcare issues and then the rest just falls into place. In my eyes, if you want to do something enough, you can always find the time to do it.
How would you describe yourself in 5 words?
(Very) dry, thoughtful, polite, competitive and (very) funny 🙂
What do you make of the changes to the format of the WSL for next season?
I think as long as the fixtures are regular and without long breaks, then returning to the winter should be a good thing. Clubs must make sure that they have good facilities and top quality pitches so the risk of postponement is as small as possible.
Do you have any pre-match rituals and what is your normal match build up?
Usually it’s just getting on with my daily routine with Emily. It’s normally pretty chilled to be honest. I don’t have any rituals as such but just try to make sure I’m getting the right food and plenty of water. Other than that it’s just a normal day!
If your little one decided she wanted to be a footballer what advice would you give her?
To enjoy it and work hard. As long as she is happy and enjoying herself, the rest will take care of itself. I won’t be pushing her into anything, but I would love her to be into sport in some way.
Any message to the fans for the remaining few games?
Just a huge thank you. We truly can’t say how much we appreciate you all following us up and down the country and for singing our names so enthusiastically. There’s nothing like hearing my Helen (or baby) Ward song as I take my place on the pitch.
Thanks to Helen for answering all my questions and for doing it in such a speedy fashion, with perfect grammar!!
Helen has proven goalscoring ability and is Reading’s joint highest league scorer this season with Emma Follis, despite having made just 6 starts and only playing 25 minutes since being substituted at half time in the away game at Liverpool back in July. She is also fresh from scoring for fun again for Wales against Israel on Thursday evening, taking her tally to an incredible 41 goals in 70 caps!
With the Royals not having found the net in open play in the last 4 games hopefully we’ll see Helen make a goalscoring return before the season is out to help ensure our survival in WSL1.