Big Interview: Former world champion football freestyle champion Liv Cooke

Craig Salmon talks to football freestyler and Leyland-born Liv Cooke, who returned to her roots to herald the start of a planned £2.6m playing pitch hub development

Friday, 17th September 2021, 4:28 pm

Champion freestyle footballer Liv Cooke believes the women’s game could have been on a par with the men’s equivalent if history had been kinder.

Football is now the No.1 participation sport among women in this country with more than 2.5million registered players across England.

It’s a similar story across the world with soccer enjoying huge popularity in the United States and Europe.

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Liv Cooke

Since 1991, FIFA has staged a women’s World Cup every four years and in many countries across the globe, the game has grown beyond recognition domestically.

In England there is a professional league known as the FA Women’s Super League which boasts teams such as Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United.

In the States, the the National Women’s Soccer League runs along side Major League Soccer and in a pioneering move this week, the US Soccer Federation announced that it’s offering the respective players’ unions for the men’s and women’s national teams the same contract proposals.

And in England, parity in pay is already equal for those who represent their country regardless of gender.

Liv Cooke with young footballers and other dignitaries at the Playing Pitch Hub

Despite the positive moves forward, the women’s game remains a a poor relation of the men’s game in terms of popularity and regards finances – and it is difficult to see it ever catching up.

It was not always the case though as in the early part of the 20th century, women’s football enjoyed a golden age, with the famous Preston-based Dick, Kerr Ladies FC very much to the fore on a global stage.

Matches often attracted large crowds , but in an era where women fought for the right to vote politically, the Football Association banned women’s football games from taking place on the grounds used by its member clubs in 1921 and that ban remained in effect for 50 years.

It was not until 2008, that the FA issued an apology for banning women from the game of football.

Leyland girl Cooke (22) – who began playing football from a very early age although a serious back injury curtailed her progress – began freestyling in her mid-teens and is now widely regarded as one of the best exponents of the sport across the world.

She was back home last week to herald the planned development of a new £2.6m South Ribble playing pitch hub at Bamber Bridge Leisure Centre.

The planned facility will benefit the community as a whole as well as aiding the continued growth of women and girls’ football.

“I think the women’s game would be beyond the men’s game which it was back in the early 20th century,” said Cooke, who attended Woodlea Junior School and Balshaw High School.

“But unfortunately that all happened but you can’t dwell on it.

“The women’s game has suffered setbacks over many years but it is coming back and is becoming more and more popular.

“It’s finally getting the recognition that it deserves.

“You can describe it as a conveyor belt – once more funding goes in and the number of female players who are able to live off the sport increases then the level will go up.

“More fans will attend because the standard is better.

“But it is about time it started getting the recognition that it deserves.

“Women’s football was massive until the FA put a stop to it.

“It has taken a long time to get the women’s game back to where it is now, but there is still a long way to go.”

The new multi-million pound facility Playing Pitch Hub is something which is close to Cooke’s heart.

“It’s the stuff of what dreams are made of,” said Cooke. “Growing up in Leyland, I saw the lack of facilities in my area.

“I am so fortunate for what football has given me in my life – it’s more than I could have ever dreamt of.

“But it’s all down to a ball and I feel like everybody should have the opportunity to play.”

Cooke started playing football on the street near where she lived after school and at weekends.

She started playing competitively for Preston North End before being scouted at the age of 14 by coaches from the Blackburn Rovers Centre of Excellence.

“Unfortunately, injury struck and that’s when she turned her attentions to freestyling.

“I think my dreams are always changing,” Cooke said. “Back then my dream was to play for England but when I got my back injury, which kept me out for several months, I then discovered the world of freestyling.

“Once I learned my first trick, I became completely obsessed.

“It just made me want to learn the next trick and the next one.

“Within a year, I wanted to be the best freestyler in the world.

“I think the great thing about freestyling, it is a muscle memory sport.

“It’s all down to practice and dedication. I have devoted my whole life to it.”

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