Ultimate Goal is the new reality football programme searching for previously unearthed talent from the women’s game. It supports BT’s commitment to inspire a new generation of girls and women to participate in football, as part of its long-term partnerships with each of the four UK Home Nations Football Associations.
Created by ZigZag Productions, BT Sport and Insight TV, the show is giving 31 talented and aspiring female footballers the opportunity to live and train as professional footballers and develop their skills with a group of well-known coaches.
The 31 players are from all over Europe and a vast array of backgrounds. Emma Coolen has come from the Netherlands with a deep love for both playing and promoting the game. Georgia Stevens, formerly of Liverpool and Everton has “bounced about between clubs just due to pursuing education and a university degree”, while Ellie Paris from Bromley is heavily involved in coaching but never had a huge opportunity to play. All of the women who have made the cut have arrived excited for the chance to showcase what they’re all about. As one triallist, Ronnell Humes, told us: “I think being here is a massive opportunity not just for myself but for other people as well around me. It gives you the chance to showcase your skills to other coaches.”
Based at St. George’s Park, they will have access to the best facilities and will be provided with a whole range of classes and sessions – from nutrition and fitness with England’s Dawn Scott to on the pitch drills with different positional coaches and players – to help them improve. It is something that Ellie Paris is looking to grab with both hands: “Even before we got on the pitch, we’ve all bonded so well and made friendships already so I can’t imagine how we’re all going to feel by the end of the first ten days. It just shows on the pitch really, to be playing at these facilities with top level coaches around us, who have experience in the game. It’s just all of our dreams.”
The players will be coached during the show by a group of experienced former players. It is a new role for ex-Lionesses Eniola Aluko and Rachel Brown-Finnis, and Rosie and Mollie Kmita, who will be drawing on a wealth of experience they have from their days on the pitch.
All of them have their own reasons for getting involved. For Brown-Finnis, it’s “a unique chance [for the players] to get back into the game of football which, for whatever reason, they may have either become disengaged from or feel that they have not had the right opportunity.” For Rosie Kmita, it is all about the journeys that hits close to home, having not become a professional footballer until aged 24: “I suppose my journey was a lot different to other players that I was around when I was playing professional football. I think I’m an example of someone who thought they had missed the boat and then all of a sudden, the opportunity came and I was able to fulfil my dream.” Aluko, meanwhile, is particularly interested in the human stories that will be captured: “It’s very varied actually, and I think that’s probably the best part. That’s the part for me that I’m looking forward to the most, hearing about the human story and the journey.”
It is an unenviable task ahead for the coaches. While getting to know the females involved, they will have to cut 31 players down to 16 over the course of the series, with the final group playing a match against a top side in front of scouts. However, they are all embracing being part of it. While Jamie Vardy’s Academy and Wayne Rooney’s Street Striker are examples of talent searches on the men’s side, until now, there has been no equivalent for the women’s game. As Brown-Finnis says: “Clearly this is a unique opportunity for the girls who are actually here to try and better themselves. But absolutely, it is unprecedented; it hasn’t been done before for women’s football on TV. And for me, it is another stake in the road as to how women’s football has grown.”
For the players now, they have ten days in which to display their skills and fully savour all aspects of the experience. As Emma Coolen said to us: “For us players, it’s kind of a win-win-win situation, because you can’t lose anything from this. The worst-case scenario, you get cut and you go home. You’ve had the amazing experience of being here, playing with these coaches, these players, and these amazing facilities. So, we can only win from it and that’s a great thing”.
Ultimate Goal, airing on BT Sport this Autumn, sees women footballers vie to play in a special match watched by scouts from leading sides. It supports BT’s work with the UK’s four Football Associations to inspire women and girls’ participation in football.
The 31 players selected are:
- Ellie Bohannan, 22. From the UK. 2018 Development League and Cup winner, former England U 15 International and former Everton U 17 player.
- Tasia Brough, 18. From the UK. A former Man City player, currently at Stoke City.
- Selin Buyukgiray, 23. From the UK. Former Brentford FC academy player who scored 42 goals in 24 matches. Father was professional footballer in Turkey.
- Dayna Chong, 24. From the UK. Played for Milwall, Tottenham and West Ham United. Combines playing football with work as a care assistant in residential home for adults with learning difficulties.
- Emma Coolen, 26. From Holland. Emma went from rebellious teen to top-flight footballer.
- Alice Curr, 22. From the UK. Trains 6 to 7 days a week while also coaching. Fulham FC player.
- Amy-Rose Dodds, 20. From the UK. Studying coaching and plays for Hashtag Utd.
- Maria Farrugia, 19. Malta international. Top scorer for Sunderland College.
- Olivia Fox, 21. From the UK. Currently a Sports Dual Career Scholar at the University of Derby, playing for Derby County Women.
- Ruth Fox, 21. From the UK. Plays for St Ives town. Published a book in 2018 about mental health and football.
- Olivia Gunn, 19. Lived in France. Trains with the AFC Sudbury Academy.
- Ronnell Humes, 21. From the UK. Clinical finisher in front of goal. Works for Tottenham Foundation coaching children 6-15 years old.
- Falhat Hussein, 19. From the Netherlands. Not allowed to play football when younger but has broken down stereotypes by playing for both Charlton and QPR.
- Shardonna’e Kekere-Ekun, 18. From London. Grew up shielded from gang violence by her grandmother and uncles. Currently plays for Charlton Athletic.
- Haley Kern, 22. Born in the US, currently lives in Scotland, plays for Forfar Farmington Ladies. Her College team became 2017 Northwest Athletic Conference Champions.
- Samaira Khan, 28. From the UK. Played at Wesleyan College in the US. Currently playing for Cambridge United.
- Sue Kumaning, 22. From the UK. Played for multiple clubs, including QPR, Arsenal and Barnet.
- Emily Mackler, 19. From the UK. Represented Maccabi GB at the 2019 European Maccabi Games in Budapest.
- Tyra Mills, 20. From the UK. In foster care growing up, football was her outlet during times of hardship. Played in the 2018 Homeless World Cup in Mexico.
- Olivia Moore, 19. From South East London. Involved in the “Rising Ballers” academy, has done footballing shoots for Lucozade and Nike.
- Georgie Morton, 20. From Colchester. FA Youth Cup Winner. Former Arsenal, Tottenham and Ipswich Town player.
- Hayley Nolan, 23. From Ireland. Played in the US for 5 years and in the European Championships (2014).
- Ellie Paris, 25. From Bromley, Kent. Crystal Palace player. Chosen as Sports Ambassador on football tour to Beijing, China.
- Harriet Pavlou, 28. From the UK. Former England Junior turned Freestyle Football star who now boasts 4.9 million TikTok followers. Captained England’s 5 a side team and holds a fastest dribbling skills female record.
- Holly Rogers, 20. From the UK. Covid-19 put a hold on her trials at England University this year.
- Rio Rosenberg, 18. From the UK. Recently signed for Crystal Palace development team.
- Evita Schippers, 24. From Holland. Recently graduated from the FIFA Master.
- Erin Smith, 18. From the UK. Currently at West Bromwich Albion. Also a Miss England Finalist (2020), frontline care nurse during Covid-19 pandemic and Ambassador for WASUP charity.
- Georgia Stevens, 20. From the UK. Got her first pro contract at Sheffield United at 18. Has played for Liverpool and Everton.
- Amber Taylor, 19. From the UK. Recently signed for Watford FC.
- Alex White, 20. From the UK. Currently plays for AFC Wimbledon and represented England in Homeless World Cup. Works in Kings College Hospital during Covid-19 pandemic.