Ex-Pompey Women star Katie James: Why European Beach Soccer success in Portugal was ‘my most enjoyable tour’
England women's beach soccer star Katie James insists European success was made even more sweeter given the struggles the team faced just to make it to the competition.
The former Portsmouth player, 26, was part of the England squad who were crowned European Beach Soccer regular phase champions in Portugal at the weekend.
Group phase wins over Czech Republic (5-0) and reigning European champions Russia (3-1) set up a final meeting with Spain - the team who beat them in the World Beach Games final in 2019.
James and her team-mates would exact some revenge, beating the Spaniards 3-1 in the final to take the Euro regular phase honours.
Yet, with a different format to the Europeans this year, it means England still have to go through the Super League phase in September to be crowned the best beach soccer women's team on the continent.
However, Bedhampton-based James - joined in the squad by Pompey Women's goalkeeper Hannah Haughton - admitted the team were just relieved to take partl.
Changing quarantine rules for those travelling from the UK to Portugal before they were due to make the trip had put their participation in doubt, while the team's Covid-19 test results were only returned 12 hours before they were due to fly.
But James insisted the difficulties faced to make it to the tournament gave the whole group an added drive to go all the way.
She said: 'To be honest, we didn’t know we were going until the week before, confirmed. It was all a bit last minute.
'We also had a panic because our tests didn’t come back. We got them at 8pm the day before we flew and we flew at 9am the next morning.
'We all did them together at training on the Saturday to make sure that they all went together so we ended up waiting until 8pm the day before we flew - it didn’t leave much time.
‘To be honest, leading up to the tournament a lot of focus was going into admin things and Covid tests, it was quite hard to focus on training.
‘I think winning it for me - I wasn’t overwhelmed or shocked because I know we have the talent - it was more just pride because we worked so hard just to get ourselves there.
'We were unbelievable in the whole tournament and we grew from game one until the end.
'The build-up to the tour and going through all the Covid testing and hard work behind the scenes made us even more together when we were on the pitch. For me, it was the most enjoyable tour.’
The European regular phase competition was the first time new manager Steve Black had taken charge of the squad, while beach soccer debutants Kate Scadding, Connie Short and Anne Meiwald were all involved.
‘I think all of us thought it was a bit surreal when we were there because nobody thought we were going to make it to the tournament,’ James added. ‘I definitely think it pushed us to want to win even more.'