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Hosted on the day by Sky Sports Johnny Phillips and BBC Sport, BT Sport and Wimbledon Presenter Kenzie Benali, over 100 female players graced the pitches at St George’s Park alongside a host of former legends of the game including England Football’s highest capped player Fara Williams MBE, Sue Smith, Earth Pond, Laura Bassett, Siobhan Chamberlain, Courtney Sweetman-Kirk and Claire Rafferty.
Teams took advantage of the opportunity to live like professionals for a day, featuring in matches on the FIFA-approved 3G pitch and then enjoying an evening dinner whilst listening to stories from throughout the careers of Fara Williams, Eartha Pond, Katie Chapman and Claire Rafferty.
Companies and clients from across the UK entered the tournament including the likes of The Mirror, Molson Coors, Apna England, Price Waterhouse Coopers, Booths, InchCape and Women in Sport amongst others.
In a first for the Copa del Cure Leukaemia, the Professionals Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) were on hand to provide four professional female referees to keep the players in order.
The Final went all the way to penalties as Fara England’s Apna England took on Eartha Pond’s Booths team. In the end, it was Earth Pond making the decisive save in goal to ensure that Booths took home the trophy and the status of the first ever Women’s Copa del Cure Leukaemia Winners.
Fara Williams MBE was only too happy to attend when she received the call up from the charity.
“It has been a great day. When I was asked to do it, I jumped at the chance to put my football boots back on and come out. I didn’t know what to expect to be honest, I didn’t know how many women at this ability would be interested but I was blown away by them and how big the tournament was.”
“You can see the ones (ex-pros) that are still competitive, they don’t ever lose that – Katie Chapman in particular – she is definitely competitive – but yeah it is really nice to get back with the girls and as I mentioned, it is for a great cause, to try and raise more awareness of blood cancer and leukaemia and hopefully raise some more money through that.”
Sky Sports Pundit and former Lioness, Sue Smith became the first female ex-pro to play in the mixed gender competition back in October and was a key driving force behind the launch of the female-only competition, and once again laced up her boots to support Cure Leukaemia.
“It has been absolutely brilliant. When I was first invited to the mixed event, I loved it. I thought it was brilliant and the atmosphere was great. I think it’s obviously a fantastic cause, we all know that, and I think the fact of bringing football together, that’s always a powerful thing.”
“When I think back to when we first spoke about it (a female-only competition) and we had discussions and we said wouldn’t it be great if we could get an all-female event and then you just think, well it would be nice, but will it happen?”
“It’s actually quite a nice little reunion. I’ve caught up with some of my old teammates and it’s funny because some of them have said “oh I haven’t played for so many years and I’ve never changed direction in about three years” so I’ve seen a few of them actually there on the massage bed at the moment.”
“We all said the same thing. We miss that team spirit, that team togetherness and competitive competition which is great, and I think you’re playing in fantastic facilities, which the Lionesses will be using themselves next week.”
Alongside the tournament there were plenty of additional elements to the event to add to the fun including a Speed Gun challenge to see who could strike a ball the fastest and a favourite of current professional players – Teqball tables (a football form of table tennis).
All the proceeds from the Copa Del Cure Leukaemia are donated directly to Cure Leukaemia, and the ongoing battle to eradicate all forms of blood cancer, a disease which has affected many players and their families within football in recent years – most recently including the Tottenham Fitness Coach, Gian Piero Ventrone, who sadly passed away from a short battle with leukaemia aged 61.