England Under-19s footballer Holly Manders is hoping her switch to Sunderland will pay off having opted to increase her chances of first-team action. Midfielder Holly previously plied her trade with FA Women’s Championship side Durham but dropped down a division to feature for the Black Cats in the 2020-21 season.
Sunderland were unfortunate not to be promoted to the second tier in recent seasons and the 19-year-old is hoping their youth-first mantra will pay off in the FA Women’s National League.
“Things were going well before the pandemic so Sunderland were quite unlucky in the end,” said Holly, who is financially supported by GVC Holdings and SportsAid through the Pitching In initiative. "I just really wanted to go there, I saw it as a really good opportunity to go and progress myself and to try and push myself forward.
"The club gives a lot of opportunities to young players, my main aim is to just play as many games as I can to try and build up that experience and Sunderland felt a good place to be able to do that. It's a good club to be around. It's got a big history and there's been a good winning mentality around the place which is good to be a part of.
"I really don't like to lose, I'm super competitive so it's really enjoyable being part of that. It would be amazing to get promotion, the girls all deserve it from last year but if we were able to do it this time, it would be such a good feeling.”
Holly’s experience isn’t just limited to domestic action, featuring for England Under-19s in their most recent matches prior to the coronavirus pandemic. The talented teen played a starring role in Emma Coates’ side but was unable to build on her displays with football, and the world, coming to a halt.
But with on-field action having returned, prior to the more recent temporary suspension, the Teesside University student is hoping to put the new-found experience to good use.
"It was a really long time without playing which was really frustrating, so it was exciting to finally get back out there,” she added. "I've been part of the England age-group squads for a few years, which is really good. I've been around lots of talented players and that's been a really big part of my progression.
"I was the only person from the north in some camps so it was a great learning experience. I was playing with and against people from Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City so I was really able to learn a lot from that. I just want to keep progressing through the age groups and hopefully that will lead me to the first team.
"Doing that would mean everything to me, reaching the England team is what you dream of and it's hard to describe how nice a feeling that would be.”
GVC announced a three-year partnership with SportsAid in 2019 to help talented young athletes, just like Holly, realise their potential and pursue their sporting ambitions. The investment provides funding for training, travel and equipment, and allows athletes to access mentoring by Olympians and Paralympians on topics such as nutrition, media and sports psychology.
"The funding and support means a lot. I'm a student at university so from a financial point of view, it means the world,” she said. "It goes towards a lot of things. Coming down from the north, there can be a lot of travel expenses that build up so it's a real boost for things like that.
"We do a lot of camps and training experiences so the funding can make a real difference. Those experiences make me a better player and it's reassuring knowing that I don't have to worry about them. It gives me a lot of confidence. I've believed in me but it's nice knowing that other people are putting their faith in you and believe that you can achieve.”
GVC is proud to be championing the next generation of British sporting heroes by providing talented young athletes with financial support and personal development opportunities in partnership with SportsAid. Please visit gvc-plc.com to find out more.