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Sheffield 160: Natasha Cooke

9:00 AMAleks Vee

by Aleks V |

2017 marks the 160th anniversary of the world's first football club, Sheffield FC. Sheffield 160 is a bi-weekly series that goes behind the scenes of the historic club through interviews with players and staff.

This week, Aleks chats with former Sheffield FC Ladies defender, Natasha Cooke, on her time at the club.

Cooke was instrumental in helping the team win the treble in the 2013-14 season, as the SFC Ladies became champions of the FA Women's Premier League Northern Division, also taking home the FA Women's Premier League Cup as well as the Sheffield & Hallamshire County Women's Challenge Cup. In 2014, she became the 15th player to make 100 appearances for the club. Her individual awards include 2011/12 Manager's Player.

Natasha Cooke playing for Sheffield FC Ladies away at Bradford City, 2014.
What were your first impressions of Sheffield (the city and club)?
When I first turned up to a training session, I found the players to be very friendly. They made me feel at ease straight away. The players showed real togetherness, which was great to feel and be a part of. The club was also very professional, and I got a good feel for the club immediately.

What made the experience at SFC unique?
If it wasn't for [General Manager] Helen Mitchell, then there wouldn't have been a club. She lived and breathed the club. She wore many different hats; being the manager, club secretary, coach, marketing/PR, to even washing the kit! She was very well respected, and if we ever needed a reason to perform to our best (which we did anyways), then she was the reason.

Describe your most memorable game at Sheffield. 
I was a part of so many memorable games at the club and have a variety of silverware. But for me, it has to be the friendly against Doncaster Rovers Belles. I was up against [winger/forward] Sue Smith and [midfielder] Millie Bright and at the point we played them, they were in Super League One, which meant we were the underdogs. We didn't win the game, but drew 2-2, and the passion and commitment from all the players was amazing. It felt like a cup final. Prior to the game, I had been hesitating whether or not to commit for another season, and after that game, it confirmed for me that I would be making the right decision in committing myself for a further season.

Do you stay in touch with anyone at the club? Have you been back to visit?
I have been in touch with a few people, like [midfielder] Leanne de Silva, [defender] Ellie Gilliat and Wardy (SFC Ladies Captain, Carla Ward). I haven't spoken to any of them for a while now, but follow their progress on social media. I haven't yet been to watch them play, although I do keep saying I would like to, but never have got round it. However, I may get a chance to play against them in a pre-season friendly this summer!

You missed the first half of a season, traveling around Canada and the US. Can you talk a bit about that?
This had been something that I had been wanting to do for a while. My dream was to visit America. The hardest thing apart from leaving family was having to leave the club for six months. I had an amazing time over there and learnt a lot about myself. It's something I would recommend to anyone.

The intention was to go out to Canada and train with a team, but unfortunately they had finished their season, which was disappointing. So I played for a volleyball team instead.

There were many significant moments for me out there, like meeting Robert Downey Jr. at Venice Beach, being caught up in a shoot out in Hollywood. I stayed in Hollywood for a week and every day I visited the Runyon Canyon, which was full of hills and a great place for running and walking. Each time I visited that place, I would stand at the top whilst looking at the Hollywood sign, which was breathtaking. Mainly, the culture was completely different to the English. The Canadians and Americans are so laid back, happy and really friendly. It makes you realise how the English are so fast paced and are wrapped up in everything.

What has been your biggest challenge thus far?
For me, there have been two challenges that stood out. The first was coming back from travelling and joining the team halfway through the season. I felt I was forever playing catch up and didn't feel

100% fit. I remember my first game back against Manchester City and thinking, "Oh my God, what have I done?" I didn't feel or appear to be the player I was before I went away. Secondly, a big challenge for me was taking the decision to quit football due to personal reasons. Football up to then was everything to me, and it was a very hard decision to make, but it needed to be made. It was never anything about the club, as it was fantastic.

Is there one piece of advice you would give yourself before you began your career?
To give yourself the best possible chance to play at the highest level. Take the opportunities given to you. When I was younger, I had the opportunity to play at a higher level and receive top coaching, but decided to stay put and play with my mates. It is a decision that I regret a lot. Also, work just as hard off the pitch as you do on the pitch.

Natasha Cooke with the FA Women's Premier League Cup, 2014. Photo: Sheffield FC via Flickr

Natasha Cooke is a former defender for Sheffield FC Ladies.

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Read more on Sheffield 160 here.
Join the conversation on Twitter using hashtag #Sheffield160.

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