England and Manchester City goalkeeper Karen Bardsley will retire at the end of the season following a 13-year career at the top of the women’s game.
The 37-year-old has 81 caps for England, while she won eight major trophies with City, including their first Women’s Super League title.
Bardsley has struggled for game time, though, since picking up a hamstring injury at the 2019 World Cup.
“Ultimately I want people to know I always gave my best,” she said.
Bardsley’s last league match for City was against Aston Villa in January 2021.
“When your body doesn’t match what your mind wants to do, it’s frustrating,” she told BBC Sport.
“The risk outweighed the rewards in terms of life after football. If I needed to go through another surgery like the ones I’ve been through I don’t think it would be good for me, physically or psychologically.
“[Retirement] was a tough one to accept. If I had this conversation a few years ago I’d be bawling, I wouldn’t be able to get a word out.
“I always tried to be the best leader and goalkeeper I could be.”
Bardsley played in three World Cups and two European Championships for England, winning the SheBelieves Cup in 2019.
She also played at the London 2012 Olympic Games with Team GB, who lost 2-0 in the last eight to Canada.
Bardsley has been at Manchester City since 2014, winning a Women’s Super League title in 2016, three FA Cups and four League Cups.
“One of the most meaningful experiences in my life was winning the League Cup final in my first season with Man City,” she said.
“We were this ragtag bunch of girls that got thrown together. No-one expected anything from us.
“We all came together as a group and I just remember that first goal going in, a header from Izzy Christiansen, I just couldn’t believe it was happening.
“It solidified everything we wanted to happen. It was a really nice start to the history of the club.”
‘We haven’t always had respect we deserve’
The US-born keeper also said she was proud to be part of an England side to “break through some historical barriers”, including reaching the World Cup semi-final in 2019.
“Ultimately, it’s just an honour to be part of a community of amazingly talented female athletes that have persevered through situations where they haven’t really had the respect that they deserve,” added Bardsley.
“We have built and built, and now we’re in a place where young girls can join a grassroots football club and aspire to be a Lioness or professional footballer.”
Bardsley started her career in 2009 at US team Sky Blue FC, before a spell in Sweden with Linkopings. She then moved to WSL side Lincoln City Ladies, now Notts County, in 2013 before making the switch to City.
After spending last season on loan at US side OL Reign, she signed a one-year contract extension with City in July.
Bardsley is already looking to the next stage of her career and wants to use her experience to help grow participation of girls playing football – and build on the legacy of this summer’s Euros in England.
She added: “What really excites me, what really drives me, is about giving people the best opportunity possible to fulfil their potential, whether that’s in football or another environment.
“I really want to give back to football and the goalkeeping community in particular. There are a lot of things I would do differently if I was a young goalkeeper, with the knowledge that I have now.”
- Has the FA Cup lost its significance? The Sports Desk talks to managers and fans to find out
- ‘You can’t just walk away, they’ll kill you’: Follow the police tackling county lines drug dealing in Devon