Striker Helen Ward, Cymru’s all-time leading goalscorer, has announced her retirement from the international game having scored an incredible 44 goals in 105 appearances.
Ward will turn 37 next month and has been a huge source of inspiration to the players who have emerged through the ranks and into the senior Cymru squad since she made her debut against Luxembourg back in September 2008. It could have been a very different story for Ward as she represented England at U23 level prior to making the switch to Cymru, but over the course of the last 15 years she has played an important role in the progress and development that has moved the team to within touching distance of an appearance at the finals of a major tournament.
What makes Ward’s longevity in the professional game all the more remarkable is that she has given birth to two children, Emily and Charlie, in the last decade while also having her career put on hold three years ago by the pandemic. Her dedication and commitment to returning to professional football each time is an inspiration to any female athlete, while her passion for representing Cymru has been a driving force and a source of personal pride for Ward throughout her international career. It is testament to Ward’s character how she has broken down barriers to continue to play at the very highest-level.
It was against France in 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup qualifying last April that Ward joined the select group of Cymru players who have made a century of appearances for their country, while her final game was a much more low-key affair as she came off the bench in the final minutes against Scotland at the Pinatar Cup last month. A consistent goalscorer for Arsenal, Chelsea, Reading and Watford during her club career, Ward qualified for Cymru through her grandmother, and made headlines in August 2010 when she scored six goals in a 15-0 win over Azerbaijan.
Ward has witnessed first-hand the significant progress and development of the women’s game at club and international level, and it was fitting that her 44th and final goal for Cymru was delivered in what was a record attendance at the time of 5,455 as Estonia were beaten 4-0 in Cardiff back in October 2021. Ward would also feature from the substitutes bench in the 1-0 win over Bosnia and Herzegovina a year later, as an incredible 15,200 fans got behind the side. An unthinkable figure at the time of her debut. Although that campaign would end in play-off heartbreak and would prove to be Ward’s final chance of reaching a major tournament, it does mean that Ward ends her international journey with Cymru in their best ever position both on and off the field.
Adrian Tucker was manager when Ward was handed her debut, and she has since played under Jarmo Matikainen, Jayne Ludlow and now Gemma Grainger. Each manager considered Ward a key part of their plans, but Cymru will now take the final step in reaching the finals of a major tournament for the first time without her.
“It breaks my heart that I didn’t make it to a major tournament with this team, but I know they will make it soon and they will shine on the biggest stage of all and I cannot wait to be their best cheerleader when that happens.”Helen Ward, Cymru Striker