Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Bristol Academy's forward, Natasha Harding, tells us about her future at Bristol, playing for Wales and her work in the Vixens community. The ex-Cardiff City captain has represented her country 17 times and played 21 games last season for Bristol, scoring 5 goals.

Q. How are you looking forward to the FA WSL season ahead? Are you fully fit and prepared?

I'm very much looking forward to it, especially after the season we had as a team and the great season I had last year myself. In terms of being fit and prepared, I've realised that with age, recovery is massive!

Q. Bristol have had a great history since the FA WSL started, jumping from 5th-2nd in recent seasons. Do you think this year could be the hardest yet for you, with the likes of Manchester City joining and more players coming into clubs?

I wouldn't say harder as such but I would definitely say more competitive. Every team has strengthened some how including us so this year, so it can only be a more exciting and more competitive.

Q. Are there any teams you see as rivals in your league? Especially Liverpool perhaps, who just beat you to first place last season.

Well we want to compete with the best and obviously Liverpool and Arsenal are up there with those teams. I wouldn't say so much as direct rivals, but to be on the same level as Liverpool would be great, so beating them would be on the agenda.

Q. You've recently signed a new contract with Bristol, after playing every game last season and scoring 5 important goals. What is it that about the club that made you want to commit to another season? Did any other teams show interest in you?

I thought after last year with everyone working so hard to get second and the Champions League it would only be justified by me staying and others at the club. Last year was my best season by far, so I thought if I stayed one more year it would only make me better. I had a few top English teams show strong interest, one in particular was looking the most likely that I was leaving for. I even had two top Swedish clubs interested, one of which is still in the Champions League. But when the time is right and I feel like I have given everything to Bristol and visa versa, then it will be time for me to move on and learn from other clubs/coaches.

Q. In 2012, you scored your first hattrick in an international qualifying match against Israel, congratulations. Obviously you play a lot with Bristol and Cardiff players for Wales, so I assume you all know each other well anyway. How does playing internationally compare to domestic games?

Yes it was an amazing feeling, scoring a goal for your country is always great but for me I was lucky enough to score three at once. It was a great day personally, but overall most importantly we won as a team. With international matches it's a different because it is more defensive, so my roles are a bit different. It's challenging as a player but that's how individually and as a team we learn.

Q. With the second tier being created for the FA WSL and more matches being shown on TV, positive steps are happening in women's football. How does this feel for the players to finally see the game developing more and being invested in?

Football in Britain is only getting bigger and better, and to make another league will only strengthen that. More and more players from overseas are wanting to play in the league and that is only positive for women's football in Britain.

Q. Aside from football, am I right in thinking you study? If so, how do you find the balance dividing your time between that and football?

I finished my degree last June (2013) and I'm fortunate enough to just play football as my job. But I was getting bored in the times when we didn't have training, therefore I got a job as a teaching assistant in a college working with special needs. It works around football and is challenging, but equally rewarding.

Q. That's great work, and you are also actively involved in the Vixens community programme. What sort of activities/events do you partake in?

Yes, the community programme is going great, although with this other job I am just balancing them both, so I'm pretty busy at the moment. We do half-term and holiday camps and they have been great. We are also getting local schools and clubs more involved in the area. It's growing more and more popular in Bristol thanks to our success last season.

Q. Is there anyone you see as your football idol/hero?

I just think what Mia Hamm has done for the women's game is massive and thanks to her generation, my generation are reaping the benefits.

Q. And finally, what does the future hold for you Natasha, in terms of continuing playing, or would you possibly like to get into coaching?

Well obviously it's to do well this coming season, win some sort of trophy and to do well in the Champions League. But I don't plan anything too far in to the future because we never know what happens.

After an impressive season last year, coming second place behind Liverpool by five points, Bristol Academy begin their 2014 campaign against Chelsea at home on Thursday April 17th. Good luck Natasha and the girls and thank you for your answers.