Last Sunday saw the Addicks open their 2023/24 Barclays Women’s Championship campaign with a hard-fought 1-1 draw against Sheffield United, and for Mary Bashford it was her first game since signing her first professional contract with the club she joined at just 15 and is a shining example of the pathway that exists for academy players hoping to make it to the first team.
Joining the Addicks’ Regional Talent Club at 15, the midfielder quickly progressed through the ranks, joining the first team for training while still a member of the under-21’s. Her progress was rewarded with a permanent spot in the first team in August 2022, accompanying them on their pre-season tour of Scotland that summer.
The Gills then took Bashford on loan in January 2022, where she made an instant impact, scoring on her debut.
There was also double cup delight for the midfielder earlier this year, scoring a 96th-minute equaliser for the under-21’s in the Resposs Isthmian Women’s Cup Final against Billericay Town in April, taking the game to penalties where the Addicks would prevail 5-4.
A month later, Bashford helped Gillingham Women FC (now Chatham Town Women) win the DFDS Kent Women’s Cup Final 6-0 against Aylesford Town Ladies.
This fine form was recognised, signing her first professional contract with the club this summer, and was an unused sub in last Sunday’s season opener.
Speaking on her journey through the club’s ranks, the midfielder said:
“It's been good, I feel like I've grown a lot throughout the under 21’s and now the first team and I've really enjoyed my experience. All the coaches have been supportive and helped me sort of progress and find my confidence in the first team so yeah, I'm really enjoying it.”
Bashford also spoke about the pathway that exists for academy prospects like herself:
“There is (a clear pathway) and I feel like it's nice that everyone's in the same place, we’re all training at the same sort of venue so you can see how players grow up to the first team. It's easy to chat to the first team, just being around that environment which is really lovely to see and it's just a great place to be.”
Words by: Gregg Baxter