On Saturday 20th May 2023, Milton Keynes was prepped to host the Women’s National League play-off final between Nottingham Forest and Watford – captained by Helen Ward. As well as being the driving force for the Watford Women's team, she is also the all-time top scorer for the Welsh national team – with 105 caps and 44 goals. Alongside football, she now also has a passion for electric vehicles and made the move to an MG ZS EV. We caught up with her, ahead of the play-off final to find out more about her EV journey.
Women's football in the UK has witnessed a remarkable surge in popularity over the past 15 years. The sport has seen a huge increase in participation, viewership and, most importantly, investment. All of this has led to heightened visibility and recognition. A significant milestone in the professionalisation of women's football came with the establishment of the FA Women's Super League (WSL) in 2010. The league has attracted substantial investment from clubs, broadcasters and sponsors – resulting in elevated standards, improved facilities and increased media coverage.
That increased attention means that the top women’s players can be role models for a much wider audience – for their choices both on and off the pitch.
We asked Helen, why she made the switch to electric vehicles.
“Watford had a sponsor called Alan Day, who supply the kit vans for both the men’s and women’s teams. While doing some promotional work for them, they told me to pick up a car whenever I’m going away with Wales”, explained Helen. “Brilliant, I thought, so they lent me an e-Golf to travel over to Wales and I loved it. It was a bit nerve wracking as it was my first time using an electric car, and as I got towards the end of the journey, the range wasn't quite there. That was my first experience of an EV and I knew that I'd really enjoy driving one day-to-day”.
“That was a year and a half ago, with the cost of petrol going up – which also made me consider an electric. Plus my brother's also got a Tesla, that he speaks highly of”.
“The Football Association of Wales has a partnership with MG, so I was familiar with their ranges. I went with the MG ZS Trophy”, Helen told us. “I love how smooth the drive is. I like automatics anyway, but just the ease of pulling away is different. The fact that if you need to pull out quickly, it's nice and fast off the mark. The different modes of driving are also good. I tend to stay in the eco ‘nice and steady’ mode, but it's great to have the option to go faster in sport mode. I also really like the interior design and layout of the car”.
Any downsides to the move over to electric?
“One of the things that takes some getting used to is planning trips, especially if you're going on a longer journey. You have to know where to charge it, which stops will have fast chargers – that kind of thing. Most of my journeys are fairly local, so I get quite good range out of a single charge”.
As a professional footballer with a young family, how did that influence your choice of car?
“I went for a small SUV because of the kids and their stuff, which makes it easier getting them in and out of the back. As I’m using it for local journeys and day-to-day life stuff, it fits in with our lifestyle. My husband has still got a petrol car, and he does a lot more driving than I do, but he uses the MG whenever he can. We both enjoy the smoothness of an electric car”.
Like most EV drivers, Helen has had her concerns about driving electric – so we asked her about the longest EV trip she’d taken so far.
“We drove from London to Blackburn last year, which is about 200 miles. We charged it about halfway through the journey up there with no problems at first – but once we hit 100% the battery appeared to ‘shut off’, and we couldn't start it. Fortunately, there was an AA man onsite who said that sometimes the charge is too fast and it overpowers the battery, so it shuts off temporarily – but that hasn't happened since. On the way back, it was a bit more of a pain because we had to wait for a charger to be freed up. There are probably not enough charging stations now to meet the demand. We also found out that, even on the posts which appear to have two charging points, only one of them works at a time, which seems a bit ridiculous”.
So Helen has had some ‘fun’ on the road, but what about charging at home?
“We had a Pod Point installed. The set-up process was straightforward as we’ve got quite a handy location at the front of our house that’s quite accessible to our electricity supply. It’s been great”, Helen told us.
That’s at home, but what about at ‘the office’? What are charging facilities like for players when they visit Watford’s training ground?
“We've got about six or seven double charge points so about 14 spaces. It's a slow charge, just seven kilowatt an hour charger. But if I'm there for a few hours, you just whack it in and it gives you a top up – which is really handy”, she explained.
“We had an away trip a few weekends ago down in Plymouth, so I drove to the training ground, plugged my car in, got on the bus, went and played the game, came back to a full charge. So it was happy days. There are also charging points available at the Watford stadium and I’ve seen them at Vale Resort where I stay for training camps with Wales”.
It does make you wonder how many chargers would be needed to sensibly offer EV facilities at a major stadium on match day. And could those facilities make stadia more valuable to the communities in which they sit, if those chargers were available to the public for the rest of the week?
Helen has made the move, but what about the rest of her team mates at Watford and Wales?
“For Wales, there are 2 or 3 other Welsh girls who drive EVs now. At Watford there was some interest at first and people were asking about the cost to charge, how much charge can you get out of it and general questions about how it all works. There’s lots of curiosity, but quite narrow in terms of the people who want to switch to an EV. I think because quite a few of the girls travel further than I do to training, there's still that fear of needing to travel so far and not really understanding the network of charging points. And to be fair, I don't really like driving longer distances either”.
“I do get put off of long journeys by the thought of having to stop or factor in time to charge it. There's still that sort of fear around it and not knowing how the charging is going to work out. I think if the infrastructure in the country gets a little bit better – and it's more obvious & easy, like a petrol station is – then that would tempt a lot more people to make the switch”.
No argument from us. We firmly believe that a larger, more reliable network is coming – but it may take a few years to ‘land’ fully in the UK.
Given all of her experience with various EVs, demands and journeys – what advice would Helen give someone thinking about making the switch to electric vehicles?
“Think about your day-to-day lifestyle and how much you drive, because the cost of electricity has gone up. If it's something where you'd have to charge a car every night, it probably wouldn't be worth it if you're doing that many miles. I probably charge it in the winter once a week. In the summer, even less. Once every ten days to two weeks. I do find the battery drains a lot quicker in the winter. Make an honest assessment of your lifestyle and whether it would fit in with having an EV”.
Given that filling an EV at home will generally cost you less than £10 – even without any special overnight tariffs, Helen’s ability to do over a week’s local driving, on a single full charge, should give newbies some confidence.
Let’s hope that Helen is able to put in an electrified performance against Nottingham Forest.