Carly Telford was at the forefront of the growth of women’s football – and now she wants to help bring women’s golf to the masses.
The 36-year-old played for England 27 times, featuring in World Cups, European Championships and the Olympic Games.
Making her Lionesses debut in 2007, Telford has seen at first-hand the popularity of women’s football increase from just a handful of fans watching matches on park pitches to England selling out Wembley Stadium as they won the Euros last year.
And with the AIG Women’s Open set to take place in Walton Heath in Surrey next month, the former goalkeeper wants to see as many spectators in attendance as possible.
She said: “Some of these golfers are unbelievable. I play a bit of golf myself now that I’ve retired, but these girls are on a whole different level.
“Some of the shots they can play are just out of this world. The level of talent is ridiculous.
“I’m definitely going along and I’d tell any other golf fan to do the same. It’s a major tournament so it’s the best of the best – the drama will be incredible.”
Telford visited Walton Heath recently to take on the AIG Challenge Wheel, alongside her former Lionesses team-mate Gilly Flaherty and DJ Monki.
The trio were able to play a few of the holes, giving them a feel for what the AIG Women’s Open field will experience between 9-13 August.
Having enjoyed a long career as an elite sportsperson herself, Telford can appreciate the sacrifice and dedication needed to succeed at the top level of any sport.
And she is delighted that female athletes are now being given the platform and the exposure they deserve.
Telford said: “It’s all about visibility.
“What we’re seeing with a lot of women’s sports now is that teams are playing in big stadiums and on main TV channels like Sky and BBC. What that does for the exposure of women’s sport is massive.
“There are so many great female sports stars out there and people are now getting the opportunity to watch them more often.
“And even with things like social media; that’s now a huge area for promoting all sports and the players know that so they’re happy to post stuff and interact with fans.
“I’m sure it’s the same in golf. It’s great being able to watch women’s golf on TV and on YouTube. There are a few big names coming through, like Rose Zhang, so it’s only going to get more and more exciting as a fan.”
Telford began her career at Sunderland before joining Leeds Carnegie in 2007. A move to Chelsea coincided with the advent of the semi-professional FA Women’s Super League [FA WSL] in 2011.
The FA WSL has grown year-on-year, attracting bigger and bigger attendances and some of the world’s best players, to the point where it soon became the first fully professional women’s football league in Europe.
Telford can still remember her early days when players had to work two jobs, alongside their football, just to survive. Attendances were low and players were anything but household names. But numbers started to rise after the interest generated by London 2012, and again in 2015, when Telford was a part of the England squad that finished third at the World Cup in Canada.
Success on the pitch was forcing change off it and Telford, who won three FA WSL titles with Chelsea, believes there has never been a better time for a young girl to dream of becoming a professional athlete.
Telford said: “I can see change happening and it’s brilliant.
“People in positions of power are willing to listen now more than ever. They want to listen. They want to do more to help promote women’s sport.
“We could have a conversation 15 years ago and it felt like your words were just bouncing off the wall because nobody was really interested in actually doing anything.
“Young girls now; their ambition to be professional athletes is bigger and more achievable than ever.
“People around my age had to make choices at 18 or 19. Do we want to get a job in order to survive, or do we want to take a chance on something, because there was no money in football back then.
“But now women can make a career out of more sports than ever before. In a lot of cases the opportunity is there and the pathway is there and that’s exactly how it should be.
“I think it’s important to highlight the journey we’ve been on because it has been a massive one.
“But one that I think will put women in a better position, not just in sport but in life.”