After a college career playing in the NCAA in the United States, Erica Cunningham has competed in leagues around Europe. The California native is now prepared to make her mark in England for Blackburn Rovers.
The start of a career in football
“I was born in San Francisco and grew up playing football since I was five years old. When I was a teenager, I knew I wanted to continue playing at a high level. So I went on to play at a junior college for two years, where we won state championships. That experience was great for preparing me for university. I then went on to play for the University of San Francisco.”
For Cunningham, being a professional footballer was not in her initial plans. Even though she played in university, she focused on her career in film production and an internship in real estate.
“After playing in university, I didn’t think I wanted to continue playing seriously. I focused on work for about three years. I saw a number of my former teammates playing professionally in Europe, and how much the women’s game was growing. Seeing that growth made me realize how much I wanted to be a part of that again.”
Making the move to Europe
Cunningham was invited out to Barcelona by a former teammate to help coach in a football camp where she realized she wanted to play professionally.
“I dropped everything I had to pursue playing again. I knew it’s where I wanted to be.”
“I asked some of my former teammates how they made the move to Europe and I was able to get a trial. I trained hard to prepare to come back into football. Even though I missed three or four years to develop outside of the sport, I kept my body very healthy and it gave me a lot of experience as a person. I took the gap because I wanted to see what else I could do besides being a footballer. Taking that break made me realize how much I missed the sport, so I decided to play professionally again when I was 24. It was great for me to see everything about being professional from an outside perspective, because sometimes you may not be as grateful for everything when you’re on the inside. I wasn’t sure if I could do it again but I wanted to find out.”
When Cunningham returned to the sport, she showed her talent at IFK Norrköping, FF Lugano 1976, and FC Zürich Frauen. Cunningham is now prepared to show England and Blackburn the skill that she has to offer.
Adjusting to a new lifestyle in England
“I’ve loved being here so far. Football is a huge part of the culture here. Even when I get on the bus early in the morning, they’ll be showing games. You’re surrounded by the sport 24/7 and as someone who loves it so much, it’s so great. It’s such a great network to be in and the quality of football here is next level.”
Cunningham has several goals in mind since making her move, including being called up to represent Ireland at the national level.
“I was approved for my Irish citizenship after three years of waiting. To end up in a position to eventually be with the Irish national team would be a dream of mine. Now that I’m in England, I see so many of Ireland’s players at their clubs and it makes me feel much closer to that dream. It’s going to be hard work, but I have never been afraid of that.”
Signing with Blackburn Rovers
The January transfer window saw a number of moves across England’s top divisions. Cunningham was among those who joined the FA Women’s Championship side. As a Blackburn player, Cunningham has numerous ambitions and goals set in mind for her new journey with the club.
“Signing with Blackburn has felt like a huge step in the right direction. After meeting the staff and my teammates, I feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be. I’m so excited to continue growing as a player and to see what’s ahead.”
“Blackburn has a technical and talented team. I want us to continue growing each week and use the abilities that we have. There’s so many young players here who are going to have great careers and I’m excited for us to all grow as a team. Through the ups and downs a season has, I hope for us to never stop pushing to be better as a unit.”
Blackburn currently sit in 10th in the FA Women’s Championship, and Cunningham hopes to make as many appearances for the side as possible while being a game changer for the club. While competing for the English side, she plans on continuing her studies to complete her masters degree.
“No matter what is going on in the game, we’re not going to be distracted by what other teams are doing. I’m excited to join the side and I hope to become a game changing defender.”
Following the International break, Cunningham and her Blackburn side will next face Sunderland in the league on March 13th.