One of England’s most capped players of all time, winger Karen Carney achieved success at not one but three clubs during the course of her glittering career, establishing herself as one of the key talents of a generation.
Born in Solihull, Karen Carney was passionate about football from the age of “around 6 or 7”, and though she was in high demand by the age of 10, there was only one team for her. A Blue through and through, Carney joined Birmingham City, coming through the ranks alongside future England teammates Eniola Aluko and Laura Bassett.
The Blues were a growing force at the turn of the millennium, earning promotion to the top flight in 2002, and Carney was one of the brightest talents of that era. The exciting midfielder was already having England trials at the age of 13, and would make her senior debut for City just one year later.
As Birmingham’s stature grew, so did Carney’s game time. By 2005, the women’s side was a real force in the Women’s Premier League, aided in no small part by their teenage sensation. Not yet 18, Carney won the FA’s Young Player of the Year award in 2005 – scoring a goal on her England debut that same year - and, despite financial turmoil at the club, achieved the feat again in 2006.
2005 also marked her breakthrough on the international scene. Carney came off the bench for her first cap against Italy, duly scoring in the 4-1 win. Within four months, she was making an impact at the European Championships, her last-gasp strike clinching a Lionesses win in the opening game against Finland.
After nine years in the Midlands, Carney left her hometown club for league and cup holders Arsenal, and quickly became part of the furniture at Meadow Park. Installed as part of the Gunners’ attack, Carney chipped in with 13 goals from 36 appearances in her debut season. The 19-year-old collected the first silverware of her career in North London, starting both legs of the UEFA Women’s Cup final, and featuring prominently in the club’s league, FA Women’s Cup and Premier League Cup successes.
Carney remained a regular on the scoresheet in the following two seasons, as Vic Akers’ all-conquering side clinched back-to-back league and FA Women’s Cup doubles. She followed assistant Emma Hayes stateside to Chicago Red Stars, going full-time with the Women’s Professional Soccer outfit.
On her return to the United Kingdom in 2011, Carney came home to Birmingham City. The forward has spoken openly about struggling with mental health issues thereafter, citing former City and Arsenal teammate Bassett as a key supporting influence. Now 24, Carney rediscovered her fine form, helping City to a runner-up spot in the league and a League Cup final.
At Wembley that season, Birmingham City met Chelsea in the FA Women’s Cup final. Carney put in a woman-of-the-match performance, providing the assist for Rachel Williams’ last-gasp equaliser, before converting a free kick in extra time to level the scores again at 2-2. With the scores tied, the club talisman also stepped up in the penalty shootout; her coolly converted spot kick, and Gemma Bonner’s ensuing miss, earned the Blues their first (and to date only) FA Women’s Cup triumph.
The winger remained at City until 2015, topping the league’s scoring charts in 2014 and securing her beloved club’s top-flight status with two penalties in her final game. She moved south to champions Chelsea, reuniting with previous coach Hayes, who considered her to be “a genuine world-class addition to the squad”. Carney helped the other Blues win the Spring Series, and added another league and Women’s FA Cup double to her collection in 2018.
Carney was just as important to the national side. She featured at ten major tournaments in total, including the 2012 Olympics, scoring twice at the 2009 Euros and finding the net in two of England’s group games at the 2015 Women’s World Cup. Carney also became a Lionesses centurion, earning her 100th cap in 2014. Karen went on to earn 144 caps for her country over a 14-year period, scoring 32 goals. Only Fara Williams has featured more for the national side.
Principal English clubs: Birmingham City, Arsenal, Chelsea
Honours: 3 Women’s Premier League National Division titles; 1 WSL title; 1 UEFA Women’s Cup; 5 Women’s FA Cups; 1 Women’s Premier League Cup
Caps: 144 (32 goals)