England goalkeeper Siobhan Chamberlain is far from a beginner in the battle for footballing supremacy but helping Bristol Academy WFC to fight it out for the FA Women’s Super League almost pales into insignificance when compared with a rivalry she was once immersed in!
Having recently returned from Euro 2013, the fourth major tournament she has been at with England, the former Chelsea Ladies keeper has been back with one of the WSL’s leading lights this season, Bristol Academy. The Vixens have been in increasingly eye-catching form in 2013, piling on one victory after another to announce themselves as serious title contenders under Mark Sampson.
Siobhan is currently three years into her second stay with the club and the level of progress for the FA Women’s Cup finalists is at an all-time high. The prospect of possible silverware is more than enough to keep the 25-cap England international on her toes but this is not the first time she has had to tough it out and nail her colours to a respective mast. Music and football is the theme on here and it only takes a journey back to the first record Siobhan ever bought to see that tense duels are something she took on from a young age!
“It was an East 17 cassette and I was 9 I think. There were always arguments at school between East 17 and Take That (fans) and for some reason I went with East 17!”
In last weekend’s televised top of the table game between the Vixens and Liverpool Ladies it was the Reds who took the three points home from Bristol after a dramatic late winner in a 4-3 game that was well worthy of its billing. Despite the result, the Vixens are in a very promising position heading into the final weeks of the season, currently occupying 2nd place on goal difference after amassing six wins from their first eight games. Siobhan has been a pivotal reason for the victories and so too has Welsh international Natasha Harding who despite suffering a black eye showed great incision down the right to set up Natalia’s equaliser at 3-3 in the Liverpool game. She featured on here in June and as it was revealed that she takes care of the pre-game music to set the tone what does Siobhan think to Natasha’s track choices?
“Most of the time it’s quite good but it does sometimes skip to a dodgy tune! I felt like I was in a rave before our game against Everton, all we needed was some strobe lighting and smoke being piped in.
“I guess it worked though!”
That clash with Everton was certainly a notable one as the Vixens’ terrific support travelled up to the Arriva Stadium to urge their team on to a 3-2 victory that saw them move up to the top of the WSL. Siobhan is the team’s Digital Ambassador, helping to lead the level of insight and interaction that supporters get from the Vixens, and her role on the field has been just as prominent.
Her penalty save from Arsenal’s Kim Little was a standout moment in their league defeat to the champions in June but her contribution to the six wins has been rather more rewarding. Music is extremely valuable for the team in their preparation when match day arrives so what strikes a chord with the ex-Fulham player?
“I like a bit of everything really, I used to mainly like r&b but I think my taste has expanded as I’ve got older. I’ve always been a fan of Kanye West and I’m liking his new album.
“I really like Miguel at the moment too and Beyonce and Rihanna are two of my favourite acts I’ve seen live. I also really like Bastille’s album and Coldplay, which are both a little different.
“I drive a lot so I always like to have a few good CDs on the go and try to make sure I keep up-to-date. I can get bored very quickly!
“I used to do the playlist in the changing room at Bristol but Tash (Harding) has taken over now…maybe a sign of getting old! It’s always important to have something upbeat on before a game though because it gets everyone more hyped-up and ready.”
Since getting her first opportunity on the international stage in England’s win over Holland in Tuitjenhorn in September 2004, Siobhan has been part of the squad at two European Championships and two World Cups. The most recent of her caps for the Lionesses came in the 3-1 success against New Zealand in March in the Cyprus Cup, which Hope Powell’s team went on to win. It was in a previous edition of this tournament that defender Casey Stoney, who later succeeded Faye White as captain, shied away from a challenge in a way you would never see her do on the field!
“I always remember before we played one of our Cyprus Cup matches a couple of years ago everyone was up dancing in the changing room. It went around the room and everyone had to do a dance move.
“I’ve never seen Casey squirm so much! She must have tied and re-tied her laces at least ten times!”
This year’s Cyprus Cup victory, which would sadly not be built upon in Euro 2013, was sealed with all-time most-capped England footballer Rachel Yankey’s excellent winner against Canada. The goalkeeper who Yankey scored past was Erin McLeod and she has featured on here along with former Canadian striker Kara Lang. Both players talked about the national team’s very strong liking for one singer in particular and Siobhan cites her own experience of it when recalling teammates’ music tastes across the board in her career to date.
“The most unusual was definitely when I played for Vancouver Whitecaps, they all loved Celine Dion, especially Melissa Tancredi! Bizarre choice of music!”
It may be somewhat commonplace for the Canada team to all sing ‘The Power of Love’ together after a game has gone well but have solo vocal performances ever been on the agenda for Siobhan?
“Thankfully no! I know I can’t sing so I don’t even try, not even karaoke.
“I’ll only ever sing if I’m in the car on my own and even then I’ll have the music so loud that I can’t hear how out of tune I am.”
The hopes were high for England ahead of the recent European Championships but defeat to Spain and France and a draw with Russia meant early elimination at the group phase. A great deal of debate has come about in the aftermath of the tournament with opinions on the way forward for the national team. As disappointing as it was from an English perspective there are undoubtedly numerous reasons for optimism when looking at the overall picture of the women’s game in this country.
Interest is gathering momentum all the time and it is always enthusing to see people supporting the players. Sweden hosted Euro 2013 and all involved created an unforgettable spectacle, with the nation’s unequivocal backing for women’s football something to really behold. Siobhan and Everton goalkeeper Rachel Brown-Finnis were restricted to a watching brief with Karen Bardsley the first choice. Nevertheless, the occasion did at least have a sizeable effect on Siobhan.
“It’s always great to be selected for your country and to be selected for a major tournament, but it’s also frustrating when you don’t play. The atmosphere in Sweden was fantastic, the fan zones were great and so was the way the whole country and media got behind their team, it was just disappointing that we didn’t perform better.”
Working in harmony with the greater interest in women’s football in the UK is the improved coverage and accessibility of the game. Bristol Academy WFC have been at the heart of that, featuring prominently on such programmes as The Women’s Football Show on BBC, in the televised FA Women’s Cup final, and on BT Sport in the FA WSL Review Show and with their live game against Liverpool.
On the return from the Euro 2013 break, the Vixens had to step it back up with some testing fitness sessions with coach Graham Williams. Siobhan has also benefitted from the guidance of an ex-Trinidad & Tobago international goalkeeper and it is an area of relevance considering the criticism women’s goalkeeping can attract. I brought up a point that I remember Australian international keeper Melissa Barbieri making – that it is not fair to single out this aspect when female goalkeepers are not given the high standard of coaching they require. Siobhan, who won the 2011 Save of the Season for her stop in the FA Women’s Cup semi-final against Liverpool, offers her thoughts on the discussion.
“The biggest change for me this season is my new goalkeeper coach. John (Granville) is great and has played at the highest level himself and demands high standards, not just from me but from the rest of the team.
“It’s helped me to improve my game and I’m really enjoying playing at the moment. Goalkeepers need very different coaching to outfield players and at the moment there isn’t enough specific coaching to enable goalkeepers to improve and develop as much as they potentially could do.
“Even playing at the top level hasn’t meant I’ve had regular and good quality goalkeeping coaching and it makes such a huge difference. I’ve noticed it just in the past year through having good regular coaching.”
A Fulham fan who took a lot of inspiration from ex-Holland keeper Edwin van der Sar, Siobhan was actually an outfield player until she was 14. You would never have guessed it, especially on the strength of her performances for her club this season, and she is vital to the Vixens’ chances of success. There were 1226 at Stoke Gifford Stadium last Saturday to see the game with Liverpool and although being beaten by the odd goal in seven late on is hard to take it was certainly an exciting encounter for the viewers.
Ann-Marie Heatherson’s opener for the Vixens was cancelled out by a Louise Fors penalty and a goal for Nicole Rolser. Icelandic international Katrin Omarsdottir crashed an unstoppable effort in off the bar from outside the box before a fightback from the home side. Spanish striker Laura del Río’s intelligent and precise finish was followed by compatriot Natalia’s equaliser for 3-3. Reds captain Gemma Bonner grabbed the win for the visitors with a superb shot to see them edge ahead of the Vixens on goal difference.
The game also marked the Bristol debut of Spanish midfielder Keka, who won three league titles and a Copa del Reina back home as a Rayo Vallecano teammate of striker Natalia. The signs are that Keka will be a great addition, not only in terms of the playing pedigree but with the dynamic she, Natalia and Laura del Río bring to the team. The Spanish girls have their own personality and culture but fit into the group seamlessly. With five of the six remaining games away from home it will be a significant challenge to win the WSL but the Vixens have a group of players enjoying it, strong leadership and coaching and incredibly committed support, so why not?
There is a lot of work going on to harness the club at all levels, including within the community with the camps that are held for various ages. It is about more than just getting a team to win silverware but what a bonus and achievement that would be. Figures like Siobhan are actively involved in the growth of the club and she explains what else takes up the majority of her schedule.
“I work at SGS (South Gloucestershire and Stroud) College two days a week as a sports lecturer and the college are really good as they understand my commitments with football and are very flexible. Other than that, it’s mainly spent training and driving up and down the M4!”
It has been a week in which Siobhan has celebrated her 30th birthday and with on-field success and more enjoyment the aim over the coming weeks there is a lot to anticipate for her. Having played in the WSL, the Champions League, FA Women’s Cup finals, and at international level, she has linked up with a multitude of top talents. Here is the 5-a-side team Siobhan would choose to be part of based on the best players she has ever worked with and as you can see, the Spanish / Canadian attack would be well backed up by an English spine!
“I’d have to have Laura del Río in there as her skills and footwork are just ridiculous and I’d definitely rather have her on my team than play against her. In defence would be Anita Asante, it’s almost impossible to get the ball off her or get past her!
“I’d probably put Melissa Tancredi,’Tanc’, up front as she’d bully the defence and score all the goals. Last player would be Fara Williams.
“I remember playing in 5-a-side teams with her when we were kids and she would always control everything, scoring with both her left and right with ease.”
Bristol Academy WFC next face Lincoln Ladies, away on September 1st with their last home fixture of the season against Birmingham City Ladies on September 12th.