Fortunately, Helen didn’t quit playing and the lockdown in England is starting to ease, however she told FIFPRO that she expects the English Football Association (FA) to have a contingency plan to protect players from similar struggles in the future.
Helen, who plays for third-tier Watford Women FC, took to Twitter in January after the FA shut down tiers three to seven in women’s football due to a second wave of Coronavirus in the country. The consequences of this decision have had a huge impact on the personal and professional lives of the players at that level.
“When the announcement came in January that we were going into another lockdown, it just became a little bit overwhelming. The thought of being at home all day, trying to home school kids of three and six while simultaneously trying to keep myself fit was daunting.”
“It was particularly difficult the second time round, because it was only from Tier 3 down in the women’s game that had to stop. In the summer we were all kind of in it together. Nobody was playing football and it was a bit of a novelty, but in the winter it felt a bit different - more lonely, and I think that was probably the most difficult thing to deal with.”
My Watford team-mates were all in the same boat as none of us have had the chance to train and play together as a team, but they didn’t have the same worries about maintaining match fitness ahead of international games. However, I had to make sure that I didn’t fall behind the level of my Wales teammates, who have been able to train and play.”
“I was having an emotional moment when I shared my fears on Twitter, but I had really kind responses and encouraging messages that said: ‘Don’t let it beat you’. So here I am, we’re hopefully out the other side now and I’m still a footballer.”
“However, it’s daunting to be turning 35, having basically lost a year of my career – time that I cannot afford to lose. I’ll be lucky to have reached 15 games in the last 12 months and that lack of consistency brings its own problems in terms of injuries - which is a huge risk at this point in my career.”
“I am the oldest player at both my club and in the Wales international team, but I don’t want to be judged or defined by that - I still feel like I’ve got another few years in me at the highest level. So going forward I’m just going to have to focus on the advantages of being an experienced player as opposed to any physical drawbacks that come with it.”
“With all this in mind, I’m going in to the 2021/2022 season with a positive outlook, as things are certainly looking a bit more rosy than they did this time last year. In saying that - there are things that need to be addressed to minimise any negative impact on the women’s game in years to come.”
“The FA have already taken a huge step by allowing club applications for upwards movement - which is a real positive in my mind. Plenty of sides from our tier and below have huge ambition to progress, and really should already be playing at a higher level - but because of the pandemic and last year’s null-and-void season, they’ve been stuck where they are. Without this promise of progress, I think a lot of players would have to consider dropping out of the game earlier than planned, which would be detrimental to both the individuals and the sport itself.”
“While I’m pleased that the FA are maintaining the integrity of the sport in this way, and hopefully come the start of next season all the teams will be in their rightful place, I do worry that we need to be better prepared in the future.”
“There needs to be a contingency plan in place in the event of another lockdown, and while I really hope this doesn’t happen, it would be naive to rely on plain sailing here on out. Something needs to be in place to avoid this knee jerk reaction which left many of us in unstable situations in our careers. This year we were left having a vote towards the end of the season about league promotions, when every team is going to have a different opinion depending on where they are. Whereas had we had that before a ball had been kicked everybody is going to be coming at it from the same level.”
“We need to plan and prepare for the worst-case scenario, be delighted when it doesn’t happen – but also ready for it if it does.”