Women’s football: Sunderland goalkeeper wants to go out on a high

Sunderland goalkeeper Helen Alderson
Sunderland goalkeeper Helen Alderson
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GOALKEEPER Helen Alderson is determined to leave Sunderland Women this year on a major high – with league title glory.

The 21-year-old Wearsider has signed to play for Doncaster Belles in the new eight-team semi-professional Super League, which begins in April.

But she is determined to bow out in style with a Premier League championship medal in the bag; as well as cheering her team-mates to success in the cup competitions.

Sunderland finally get back in action after the winter freeze tomorrow when they visit Portsmouth in the quarter-finals of the League Cup.

It will be their first game since mid-November and, providing they can hit the ground running after such a long lay-off, an opportunity to progress into the semi-finals. Portsmouth play in the division below Sunderland – and the teams will meet again at the Academy of Light in the next few weeks as the teams have also been paired in the third round of the FA Cup.

Alderson, though, expects to be on the bench tomorrow as manager Mick Mulhern is using the League Cup as an opportunity to give his other keeper Rachael Laws some match time.

Laws will also play in the FA Cup ties as Alderson is cup-tied, having signed for the Belles. And that leaves Alderson, who has been with Sunderland since she was 10 at the girls’ Centre of Excellence, setting her sights wholly on winning the league title.

“It’s been a very emotional time,” she admitted. “It is exciting to sign for Doncaster and to have the Super League season to look forward to.

“It’s a huge change and everyone is hoping it can help the women’s game move on to the next level. There will be TV coverage on ESPN with live games and round-up programmes, and hopefully the rest of the media will pick it up and run with it.

“Without that publicity, it will go nowhere. So it is important the FA gets things right and the Super League will be a success.

“But, for me, I just want to concentrate on the next few months and make sure Sunderland win the league title . I’m so sad to be leaving the group, and I would be gutted if we missed out on the title now.”

Sunderland lead the way in the Premier League by two points from Nottingham Forest, both teams having played nine games. Blackburn, who Sunderland visit a week tomorrow, and Reading are also in contention.

“In a perfect world, I would be playing for Sunderland in the Super League but it did not happen for the club.

“In the end, with Doncaster’s interest in me, I had to do what was best for me. But I love it at Sunderland and love the girls; we have grown up together and it is a fantastic group. I have never been happier at Sunderland, but the opportunity came to play at the top level, and I had to take it.

“It’s so important to me, though, that we go on to win the title. And that maybe in two years time, Sunderland will be able to move up into the Super League.

“The club deserves that after doing so well. And the manager deserves that – has been brilliant.

“I’ll also be cheering the girls on from the bench in the League Cup. It would be great if we could go on to win silverware – we got to the FA Cup final a couple of years ago, and this is another chance to go on and lift a cup.”

Alderson missed all of last season with an anterior cruciate ligament injury but is now back to full fitness, and hoping to boost her international hopes.

She is part of the England U23 set-up and would love to progress through to the senior England ranks.

“I always said I would be happy to have just one full England cap – but I know I wouldn’t! That is an ambition, but I know I have to take things one step at a time and not get ahead of myself.

“Playing in the Super League against the best players is clearly the place to make your mark and try to impress.

“I think my first game as a Doncaster player will be in the FA Cup. I am just hoping that it won’t be against Sunderland. That would be terrible!”