Arsenal starlet enjoying Finland experience

Hayley Ladd explains why she has moved on loan to Finnish outfit Kokkola F10 from the Gunners

IT would be fair to assume that Finland probably wouldn’t be the first destination of choice for an 18-year-old aspiring footballer who plies her trade for Arsenal Ladies – the leading English club in the women’s game.

But with opportunities limited at the Gunners, and with an important European qualifier looming for her home country Wales next month, Hayley Ladd – a former St Albans City Youth player – says her two-month loan deal to Kokkola F10 will provide much-needed game time and a chance to stake her claim for a Red Dragons jersey in September.

So how exactly did the move to Kokkola F10 – a club in Finland’s Naisten Liiga (professional women’s league) – come to fruition?

“Wales have a very important European qualifier match in September so my national coach, Jarmo Matikeinen, wanted me to play for a team regularly over the summer so I would keep up my fitness and also to help build my match experience,” said Ladd, the former St Albans Girls’ School student.

“Jarmo is Finnish and has many contacts of good managers and coaches in the Naisten Liiga and so I spoke to a few about a possible move for me. After finishing my final A2 exams in late June, I had a day to pack and then the next morning I was on the plane to Finland.

“It is an unusual move, especially as, like the Naisten Liiga, the Super League (English professional women’s league) in the UK is now played in summer. I only know one other British girl in the league and she is from Jersey. There are a lot of Nigerian, Swedish and American girls over here as it is a professional league and has many good opportunities for people like me who aren’t tied down with a job, etc.

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“The deal is more of a loan because I’ve come about halfway through the season and will only be here for a couple of months before my university course is due to start.”

So how does Finnish football differ from that of the English game? “The style of play is quite different,” said Ladd.

“It’s less physical but more direct with lots of attractive and technical attacking play. As the league attracts a lot of foreign players, the top teams are able to bring in a lot of good players and this raises the standard a lot.”

Ladd says her experiences playing for St Albans City Youth put her in good stead for her football career so far, that contains some great experiences both on and off the pitch.

“I played for St Albans City Youth for many years and thoroughly enjoyed my time there,” she added. “In my younger years, I played for the boys’ team and therefore benefited a lot from playing at a good standard and intensity. From the age of roughly 12-15, I played for the girls’ team alongside Arsenal Centre of Excellence which meant I could also play in a more relaxed, fun environment whilst at the same time giving me the opportunity to meet some great friends too.”