Welcome to Moving the Goalposts, the Guardian’s free women’s football newsletter. Here’s an extract from this week’s edition. To receive the full version once a week, just pop your email in below:
Liv Cooke lives a busy life – and shares it all on social media. From investing in property and winning freestyle football world championships, she also seems to find the time to encourage young girls to play football, create new tricks, save phones and iPads from falling from windows with her feet and even paragliding. It may feel like she has it all figured out, that she has had complete control over her career path in the same way she controls the ball – but it wasn’t always like that.
“I wanted nothing more than to be able to say that I am the best freestyler on this planet,” she tells Moving the Goalposts. “I don’t think I’ve ever planned beyond that. So when I got that years later, I was very lost.
“I have just been obsessed with tricks, tricks, tricks, but now it’s like build, build, build a career. Even when I’m looking at these deals getting bigger, my follower numbers getting bigger, for me, it’s not about the money, but about what we can do, and what’s next. At this point, I might go for a seventh world record, I guess that’s on my mind now.”
Showing off on social media is part of the deal and that is why Cooke does things like kicking a phone on top of a diving board and kept a ball up in the air while paragliding. And she is always honest about how hard it is. “If I say it took one take, it was one take. Initially I wanted to do skydiving but it would have been too fast to juggle a ball. So when I was in LA I found a paragliding guy to do it with him.
“We got up there and I’ve been dead confident and cocky this whole time,” she laughs. However, the wind and the height made things difficult. “The first few touches were very hard. I was all over the place, but then I got used to it. When I caught the ball, I realised the guy recording was doing it in landscape, but it’s for Instagram, come on.” The video has already been watched more than a billion times.
When Cooke talks about building a career, she means it. Cooke was playing for Blackburn Rovers along with players such as Georgia Stanway, Ella Toone and Keira Walsh, and it seemed as if she was set to become a professional footballer. However, a back injury when she was 14 forced her to change direction. Trying not to lose her touch during the recovery, she started trying to keep a ball up while sitting down – and even if she didn’t know it at the time, it was the start of a new journey.
Changing careers was hard enough, especially considering that she went from an undervalued career in women’s club football to “no career at all” with freestyling. “It was a stupid decision, really. But I felt it in my heart that it was the right thing to do and I just went with that,” she says.
“It all looks intentional in many ways, but actually, for me, football was never a career. I was heading down that way, but I never once thought ‘I wonder how much money I’m going to sign for’, it was never about that for me. I love football so much and I was going to do it for the rest of my life, and I didn’t care if I made £10 or £10,000 an hour. My enjoyment wasn’t materialistic and it wasn’t financial. It was getting out there, winning on the weekends and enjoying the game with my team.”
For Cooke, having teammates to support you makes a huge difference. “If you make a mistake in a football match, you’ve probably got another 80 minutes to make up for it. And if you make a mistake, probably your teammates are going to cover for you. If you make a mistake in freestyle, no one is coming to help you, there isn’t time to make up for it.”
Growing up with two older brothers, football was always part of Cooke’s life. Playing with them and other boys who were up to five years older than her she always ended up in goal but, as she puts it: “I was a lot younger and not very good.” However, this helped her learn to control the ball and develop her touch. For her, it was never a question if she should play football. She just did. “There was never a point where I felt inferior, that was never in my head.”
Now the 23-year-old’s goal is to encourage girls to feel the same joy in the game as she has. She is building two pitches in Leyland, her hometown, with areas for parents to relax while kids play, dressing rooms and all the equipment for players to develop their skills. The facilities will be open “very soon”. She also tries to respond to the messages she receives on social media and inspire confidence. “I wasn’t a confident kid and I didn’t really have anything going for me. Only through football and freestyle did I grow in confidence. I want them to know that I always just tried to be the role model I wish I had because I know the importance of it.”
Cooke believes that anyone can become the best freestyler in the world – even better than her if they just work “harder and smarter”. However, to achieve that, they need to be able to embrace any setbacks and learn from them. “Instead of being the person who blames everyone else, blames your surroundings and makes all of these excuses, ask yourself why you lost that battle. Then you can go away and work on that.”
This peach of a long-range pass by Lotte Wubben-Moy found Stina Blackstenius on the run past the Leicester defence to score one of the goals for Arsenal in the 4-0 win that meant they spend the international break on top of the WSL.
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