Fantastic Story (And Article) For Any Young Budding Female Goalkeeper To Read Below.
Its Northern Island International Goalkeeper, Emma Higgins in Her J4Ks ?
Lunch with Mo, FA Cup final and World Cup dreams – Glens keeper prepares for League Cup showpiece
When Emma Higgins made the flight back to Belfast from Iceland in summer 2012, she thought she would be returning to her top-flight club KR Reykjavík a few weeks later. She didn’t, though.
Instead, the Northern Ireland international goalkeeper received a call-up from Powell, then-manager of the Great Britain Women’s Olympic team, to join the squad as they prepared for the London Games that summer.
Team GB’s historic journey to the quarter-finals of the competition is one which Higgins, selected as one of four standby players but fully involved with the squad, said would “stay with her forever”.
“Hope phoned and asked if I’d like to join the Great Britain Olympic squad – and I wasn’t going to turn that offer down,” she said.
“She knew about my injury but said I would get the ‘best of the best’ treatment from the squad physio, which I did.
“I was the third-choice goalkeeper and didn’t play in the games but to just be involved was unbelievable. I was with the squad in London throughout the whole tournament.
“I was brushing shoulders in the Olympic Village with huge sporting names such as Usain Bolt, Linford Christie, Ryan Giggs and Neymar.
“We’d bump into Mo Farah going for lunch and then watch him compete later that day, and we ate our meals with the men’s GB team so I got to meet Ryan Giggs, who was an idol of mine.”
FA Cup final with England Lionesses
Higgins was recalling her Olympic experience as she prepared to play for Glentoran Women in Friday night’s Women’s Premiership League Cup final against Sion Swifts Ladies in north Belfast.
Having returned to Northern Ireland from playing club football in Iceland to sign for the Glens just ahead of this season, the 33-year-old will no doubt be calling on her experience of the 2008 FA Cup final when she was on the bench for Leeds United Ladies in their loss to Arsenal.
“I had won a sports scholarship to Leeds Metropolitan University and got a move to Leeds United Ladies through the university’s connections with the club,” Higgins explained.
“We had a fantastic squad with players who are now starring for England at the Women’s World Cup in France. I was competing for a place with England keeper Carly Telford, while current England captain Steph Houghton was also in the team.
“They are a lovely bunch of girls who were good fun and wore their heart on their sleeve. They played for the badge on their shirt and enjoyed their football – you could tell they were determined to succeed, as we all were.”
Answering keeper call after team-mate got pregnant
A regular between the posts for Northern Ireland, the Ballymena woman’s career as a goalkeeper almost never happened.
For a start, she played a different sport as a youngster.
“I started off playing Gaelic football for the local boys’ club but once you get to under-13 the girls were not allowed to play with the boys anymore,” Higgins recalled.
“At that stage I didn’t even know that women’s football existed but I got asked to join in training with Ballymena All Stars and took it from there. As long as I got to have a ball at my feet, I was happy.”
Enjoying her time as an outfield player, it was only when the team had an emergency one week that Higgins donned the gloves for the first time.
“Halfway through my first season our keeper announced she couldn’t play any more because she was pregnant, and we had no sub keeper.
“I was 13 at the time and the coach knew I had played Gaelic so ‘must be able to catch the ball’. I soon got scouted for Glentoran (then called Belfast United) and within a year I was playing for the Under-17 and Under-19 Northern Ireland teams.”
2021 World Cup a definite target
Higgins has now amassed 87 international caps and recently took part in a training camp with the squad, which was the players’ first opportunity to meet with new manager Kenny Shiels.
The team watched a couple of games from the World Cup in France while they were together and Higgins admitted that their appetites were well and truly whetted.
“The main objective of the camp was to get to know the new manager and his staff, and I enjoyed everything about it,” she continued.
“We play Norway at home in the first match of our Euro 2021 qualifying campaign so we watched their World Cup game with particular intent.
“Reaching a major finals with Northern Ireland has always been a goal for all of us girls who have stuck together from such a young age. Why should it not be? The passion, talent and belief are there.”
Cup final tale of two keepers
Before that, though, Higgins has her sights set on winning her first major trophy in what is her second spell with the Glens, when they take on the Swifts in the League Cup final.
There will be a World Cup flavour to that game as well with the Strabane outfit’s goalkeeper, Nicole McClure, having played for Jamaica as they took part in a World Cup for the first time.
The pair will be among the most experienced players on the pitch and Higgins said they will both be using that to help their team-mates.
“I have a few friends in the Jamaica squad and it was fantastic to see Nicole playing in the World Cup – she has done her country and her club proud,” Higgins added.
“She travelled back and played for Sion just 24 hours after playing against Australia, which showed great commitment and fitness. I hope she was able to have a good rest after that.
“Both teams have given everything they have to make the final and I’m sure it will be a great game to watch.”