England’s most capped player Fara Williams turned out for the Apna England Lionesses on an unforgettable day at the inaugural women-only Copa Del CL tournament at St George’s Park in aid of Cure Leukaemia.
Williams was among a star-studded list of legendary figures from the women’s game – including former England internationals Laura Bassett, Claire Rafferty, Eartha Pond, Katie Chapman and Sue Smith – to feature in the charity tournament as guest players.
Official Three Lions fans’ club Apna England, which is a multicultural supporters’ group, decided to field a team of South Asian heritage outfield players to promote and highlight talent from the community against a backdrop of a lack of ethnic diversity in elite girls’ and women’s football.
Apna England ended up entering two teams in the charity tournament, with Sheffield United forward Courtney Sweetman-Kirk drawn as a guest player for the team playing for the Apna side under the banner of the Fans for Diversity campaign.
The Apna England Lionesses were captained by Girls 4 Goals head of football Sabiha Jamal and went unbeaten through the group stage, without conceding a goal.
They were roared on as they came from behind through Jamal’s clinical finish to earn a last-gasp 2-1 win against the team entered by Copa Del CL partners the Daily Mirror in the semis to seal their place in the final.
Williams was inches away from sealing what would have been a famous win for the Apna England Lionesses, rattling the woodwork in the closing stages of normal time in a keenly-contested final. But the match ended 0-0 before the Apna England Lionesses lost to Booths on penalties.
‘I just felt I could relate more’
Speaking to Sky Sports NewsEngland legend Williams said: “I didn’t know what to expect coming in, but seeing the amount of women at St George’s Park was overwhelming, and we raised positive awareness for a really good cause.
“When the captain took part in the draw, I actually said to Eartha ‘I hope I’m on this team’. I think I just felt I could relate more to those girls than perhaps some of the other teams. Maybe that’s to do with my upbringing around culturally diverse communities.
“They were really welcoming. It’s quite nervy, even for ex-professionals, when you are playing with players that you don’t know. But I fitted in really easily and they were a really good team. It was a fantastic day.”
Williams’ former club and international team-mate Pond, who is now an independent non-executive director at the Football Association, was in inspired form for Booths, saving two penalties in the shoot-out. Pond did not concede a single goal in the tournament.
She told Sky Sports News: “We raised some money for a fantastic cause and we gave so many women the opportunity to play in a friendly environment. That’s what women’s football brings, it’s family oriented, there’s competitiveness, and it’s all about taking part.
“I’m happy we won. I’m happy not to concede a goal and I look forward to coming back next year.”
Pond also emphasized the importance of diversity in the women’s game and said she was thrilled to see the recent launch of a first-of-its-kind timeline documenting the history of South Asian heritage female players in the modern English game.
She added: “I’m lucky enough to have played at every level from centers of excellence, to academies, to the elite level to England and I have seen the transition. I played with a lot of South Asian players, even from grassroots level at 14. They have been playing and I just don’t think it has been captured.
“So it’s great to see the showcase, very, very pleasing. It’s just about celebrating, there is so much greatness within the game, and it’s not just about diversity in terms of colour, it’s also about diversity in terms of mindset, experiences, and cultures. That’s what Britain brings.”
Duo named in Pakistan squad as Khan suffers injury heartbreak
British-Pakistani duo Zahmena Malik and Amina Hanif have been named in Pakistan’s Women’s squad for their Olympic qualifiers, but Nadia Khan’s season has been cut short by a devastating injury
Pakistan, whose women’s team returned to the international fold in 2022 after an eight-year hiatus, play three matches in Tajikstan over seven days as they make an unlikely attempt to qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.
They face a tough opener in Dushanbe on April 5 against the Philippines, who are more than 100 places above them in the latest FIFA rankings and have qualified to play at this year’s Women’s World Cup. Pakistan then come up against Hong Kong, before taking on Tajikistan at the end of this week.
London Seaward attacking midfielder Malik is featured in the recently-launched South Asian heritage female player timeline after grabbing a memorable 89th-minute assist on her international debut in a historic clash against Comoros, with Pakistan’s women playing African opposition for the first time.
Attacking midfielder Hanif, who started the season at Chesham United, will be hoping to make her international debut in the forthcoming matches.
But Doncaster Rovers Belles star Khan, who was expected to feature in the Olympic qualifiers, faces a lengthy spell on the sidelines after suffering an ACL injury.
Sky Sports News exclusively revealed last August that Khan’s paperwork had been completed allowing the midfielder to fly to Kathmandu to represent Pakistan at the South Asian Football Federation Championship (SAFF) in Nepal.
Khan wrote her name into folklore in a 7-0 win against the Maldives in the final group game, becoming the first Pakistani woman to score four goals in an international match.
British South Asians in Football
For more stories, features and videos, visit our groundbreaking South Asians in Football page on skysports.com and South Asians in the Game blog and stay tuned to Sky Sports News and our Sky Sports digital platforms.