The goalkeeping landscape in women’s football is changing – and it means the battle for England’s number one spot has never been more competitive.
Often a maligned position in the women’s game – many would say unjustifiably – a new era of professionalism in goalkeeping is bearing fruit and producing a host of English talent.
Ellie Roebuck, of Manchester City, currently leads the competition but her absence from the England squad through injury has opened the door for others.
Manchester United’s Mary Earps was recalled to start Friday’s Women’s World Cup qualifying victory over North Macedonia, and will hope to keep her place for Tuesday’s match in Luxembourg. Her selection came at the expense of Aston Villa’s Hannah Hampton – considered by many as one of England’s brightest young keepers.
Everton’s Sandy MacIver and Emily Ramsey – on loan at Birmingham from Manchester United – are also exciting young talents, while the experienced duo of Chelsea’s Carly Telford and Manchester City’s Karen Bardsley remain in the frame.
But with a home European Championship looming next summer, who will claim their spot in Sarina Wiegman’s squad? And how have England amassed such a high-quality selection of goalkeeping talent?
‘Anyone could be picked for England’
At the Olympic Games, Great Britain head coach Hege Riise opted for a blend of youth and experience – selecting Roebuck and Telford as her two goalkeepers, following the withdrawal of Bardsley through injury.
“It’s safe to say this is going to be the golden generation of goalkeeping and the renaissance, if you will,” Manchester City’s Bardsley, 36, told BBC Sport.
“Obviously with the professionalisation of the game, it has allowed more and better quality coaching. That is probably one of the reasons as to why we see a blossoming of great talent at a young age.”
Hampton, 20, was invited to train with Team GB despite missing out on selection and she says the competition for England’s number one spot is “definitely the most we have had”.
“The game has developed and the role of a goalkeeper has developed. We are no longer just goalkeepers, we are ball players as well,” she told BBC Sport.
“With previous keepers, you probably had the odd one that was an all-round goalkeeper but now it feels like there are five or six of us. It’s definitely the best we have had so far.
“If I achieve it [England selection] now, then I know I have done so out of hard work and effort. You have to be good enough because the goalkeeper pool at the minute is so high [in quality]. Anyone could be picked.”
How has goalkeeping developed?
Hampton has benefited from full-time coaching within a professional environment but her experience differs from that of Chelsea’s Telford, 34.
“From speaking to her on camp, she used to only have goalkeeping coaching once a week and it wasn’t full-time,” said Hampton.
“It’s come a long way. Everyone is trying to find new and inventive ways to work against teams so keepers are more involved.”
Bardsley, who has been back-up to Roebuck at Manchester City in recent seasons, says the perception of goalkeeping in football has “clearly changed” since the start of her career.
“We have more girls who want to play football,” she added. “It’s quickly becoming something that you can probably make a career out of, which wasn’t necessarily the case before.
“Sports science supports it and underpins it so that has allowed us to become fitter, stronger, more intelligent, better tactically and more technical. It’s also allowed us to be smarter around career longevity and recovery.
“There are several reasons but a lot of it will be the integration of younger players into a professional first-team environment.”
‘The future is at her feet’
Despite Bardsley and Telford playing a key role for England and Team GB this year, the rise of Roebuck – who has consolidated her position as the number one for club and country – alongside Hampton, Earps and MacIver, means we are likely to see new faces involved at the Euros.
Hampton has found new self-belief from working with more experienced keepers and says Telford has been particularly supportive.
“You might not be good in a certain aspect but if you have the belief to keep going, then people see that. That is one thing I’ve definitely learned from them,” said Hampton.
“I’ve tried to learn as much as I can off [Telford] in terms of positioning and reading the game. The belief I have in myself is a lot higher and that is seen in my game more now.”
But can Hampton challenge for Roebuck’s place in the side?
Bardsley says her club team-mate is “going to be the future of England and Manchester City”.
“Ellie has been brilliant. I take a lot of pride in being part of her support network,” said Bardsley.
“She is definitely coming into her own. She gives me a lot of energy and positivity. In training we have a good laugh and vibe off each other.
“The thing I really like about her is that there is no pretence with Ellie. She is who she is. What you see is what you get.
“I’m really excited to see what she does going forward because the future is at her feet.”