Did you ever watch Match of the Day as a kid and then try to recreate the goals you’d seen in your back garden? If your answer is yes then you’re in good company with Caversham AFC Ladies captain, Emma Hopkins.
Emma is a local girl having grown up as a Royals supporter, and her football love begins as she reminisces about past successes for Reading: “Being at the Madejski Stadium when Reading won the championship title in 2006, there was a pitch invasion at the full-time whistle. Also, going to Wembley to watch them in the FA Cup semi-final against Arsenal.”
Unfortunately, Emma wasn’t afforded the opportunity of playing for a team while growing up, the chance just wasn’t there, but this didn’t dim her passion for the game. While at secondary school, she heard from friends who played for a local team that there were under 14 county trials and as she puts it, “forced her PE teacher to put her forward for them”. She was selected for the squad and “thoroughly enjoyed the experience of playing in that set up”.
Throughout her school years, Emma played for both Westwood Wanderers and Theale Tigers before she upped sticks and headed off to Southampton Solent University.
‘Winning the BUCS final in Cardiff was a day I’ll never forget’
Emma recalls her most memorable moment was her time at university, she joined Solent Ladies FC, and the success for the team seemed endless as they won two league titles and made it to four cup finals in one season. Emma was jubilant in her answer when she talked about her sporting success, “I’d probably have to say being part of the Solent Ladies squad that won five trophies in a season. Winning the BUCS final in Cardiff was a day I’ll never forget.”
It could’ve been a totally different story for Emma after university however, as she had hip surgery, for the second time, in 2017 and was told by doctors that she would never be able to play competitive football again.
“Safe to say I ignored that”, says Emma, which brings us to the start of the 2019/20 season and her registering to play for Caversham AFC Ladies. Caversham play in Division 1 of the Thames Valley Counties Women’s League and after just one season, which was null and voided in March due to the Coronavirus pandemic, Emma was named as captain for the 2020/21 season. She’s made 22 appearances in that time, nabbing four goals and three assists across the two seasons. When asked about her playing style, “I’ve lost my pace in my old age so am more of a number 10 these days, linking the play between midfield and attack.”
Despite this, Emma is insistent on wearing the number 9 shirt, she admits to being extremely superstitious, as she explains “I always put my right shin pad, sock and boot on first!”. Emma is keen to get on the scoresheet more this season and is confident she can pick out a pass, which is made even better when given the chance to nutmeg an opponent.
Emma has nothing but praise for the rest of her squad, undeterred by the fact there are many new players in the team this season. She’s honest in her reflection about the team’s performance during this tumultuous time as she explains they are, “in transition and success doesn’t happen overnight.” She cites that ‘patience and persistence” have been vital as they’ve introduced a new style of play and formation this season. Much of this is down to manager Georgia Graham, who’s worked within the elite game having been part of the Regional Talent Centre (RTC) set up at Reading Women.
A glowing report from the captain as she says Georgia “knows the right things to say at the right times to get the best out of players.”. And this couldn’t be more true than for players like Tiffany Newland, Caversham’s centre forward, Emma explains she, “scores goals for fun, she’s a defenders nightmare as she possesses so much pace and power.”
The statistics confirm this as she has more than 80 goals in all competitions for the team. Emma also has plenty of recognition for the club’s technically gifted midfielder, Izzy Davies, referring to her as “the engine of the team and her work ethic is second to none.”, meanwhile Sophie Wicks is Emma’s heart of the defence and “isn’t bad at free-kicks either”.
It’s not all serious, hard work on the pitch at Caversham though, as Emma affectionately refers to Jodie Hayden as the class clown and reveals she “definitely didn’t pay any attention in Geography at school!”. According to Emma, the dressing room isn’t complete without a pre-match motivational speech from Shannon Hobson during their huddle, who’s “loud on and off the pitch and isn’t always the best trainer…”.
‘Although media coverage has improved in recent years, there still needs to be vast improvements to enable clubs to attract much-needed sponsors. I also think the coverage is important to promote female role models for young children’
Caversham find themselves middle of the table currently having played six games, with two wins and four losses under their belt. They’ll no doubt be raring to get the season underway again after lockdown 2.0 draws to a close, but with tough fixtures ahead of them as they take on Badshot Lea Ladies who’ve not long exited the FA Cup, followed by current table toppers Carterton Ladies.
Talking of the FA Cup, fixtures are expected to get back underway shortly as more ‘elite’ clubs enter the fray. Emma reflects on the challenges faced by women’s football and how “certainly in the elite women’s game there is a lack of funding and sponsorship.’
We come off the back of a staggered and fully televised Women’s Football Weekend in the middle of November and Emma believes, “Although media coverage has improved in recent years, there still needs to be vast improvements to enable clubs to attract much-needed sponsors. I also think the coverage is important to promote female role models for young children. More televised fixtures and coverage for the WSL would enhance this.”