Earlier this year, Fleet-born defender Yasmin Bunter made her Women’s Champions Leageu debut for Basel in a 4-0 win over Montenegrin side Breznica. The match was the culmination of years of hard work to reach the top of the women’s game and came eight years since the 26-year-old had decided to leave the UK to further her career.
Having started her senior football career at Fulham alongside studying at Farnborough College, Bunter decided to head to the States in 2010 to study at Francis Marion University in South Carloina. After graduation, the defender has since spent four years in Switzerland where she has won numerous trophies.
She played three teams this year in the Champions League qualifying round, which is a group stage in the women’s version. With only the top placed team in each qualifying group making it into the main tournament, Bunter’s side narrowly missed out on qualification, winning two of their three games.
I got the chance to ask the former Fulham player a few questions about her career so far…
English Players Abroad: What made you want to leave Fulham to move to the States?
Yasmin Bunter: I always dreamed about playing football in the US, especially as my favourite childhood film was Bend it like Beckham. The main attraction was to be in a country where women’s football (or soccer) is as popular if not more popular than men’s football. As it happens, Fulham WFC folded that year. They had been dropped by the men’s club a few years previously and folded in 2010 due to the withdrawal of sponsors.
However, I had already decided to go to the States after college as it felt like the best opportunity at the time. Women’s football is huge in the states and the college system is great for young athletes. I was excited to carry on playing football and train every day while completing my bachelor’s degree at the same time.
EPA: Did you find it easy to combine studying and playing whilst in the States?
YB: It wouldn’t say it was easy, I needed to be well organised. But the schedule is made up so that you have classes in the morning and training in the late afternoon so there were never any clashes. Sometimes we even had fitness training before morning class!
While in the States I played in a semi-professional league (W- league) every summer. It was nice to be able to play high-level football for the summer without thinking about studying. It was a good challenge for me and also a great cultural experience exploring new parts of the US and living with host families.
EPA: Was the level of professionalism in the States a big step up from what you were used to?
YB: I would say the level of play wasn’t a huge step up from what I was used to but it was new for me to train every day. The facilities were definitely a lot better and we had regular access to physios which was great. We had a lot of rules in the team which I wasn’t really used to and found challenging at times.
EPA: After the spell in America, how did the move to Switzerland to join FC Neunkirch come about and what convinced you to join the club?
YB: After finishing playing in the States, I knew I wasn’t ready to stop playing and I wanted to play professionally if I could get the chance. As I didn’t have a club to go back to in England my thought was, if I am starting from scratch at a new club I might as well try a new country while I’m at it.
A few players I knew who had played in Europe gave me the details of an agent and he got me in touch with FC Neunkirch. I wanted to play in a top European league and FC Neunkirch was in the Swiss Premier Division. I already knew some German, having done German A-level in college, therefore I was comfortable going to a German-speaking country. Although it did take me a while to understand Swiss-German!
FC Neunkirch made a decent offer and my agent said it was a good ambitious club to go and start my professional career. I was really happy to be given the chance to play somewhere in Europe. It ended up being one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I played for the club for 3 years and we improved every season, culminating in us winning the Swiss Premier League and Cup double in 2016-17.
EPA: Was the standard of football in Switzerland a step up from college soccer? Is the style of play different?
YB: It was definitely a different style of play. Football in America is more about athleticism and the players are generally less technical. In Switzerland, it is the opposite. Players are more technical but not as fast or athletic.
Coaches also responded to me differently in the US and Switzerland. For example, in the US I was considered technically strong but not fast enough whereas it was the opposite in Switzerland. This cultural change has seen me transition from a central midfielder in the US to predominantly being a full-back in Switzerland.
I had to adjust and I struggled for playing time during the first few months in Switzerland. I worked hard to improve technically and by the second half of the season, I had fought my way into the starting line-up.
EPA: You’re now at Basel, how happy were you to join a club of such stature? It must have been a great experience playing in the Champions League?
YB: I was extremely happy to have the opportunity to move to FC Basel as it’s the biggest club in Switzerland. However, I was also sad about leaving FC Neunkirch. We were a small village team that in 2016-17 became Swiss double champions and folded in the same week. It was a roller-coaster ride but I am immensely proud of what we were able to achieve and it was a highlight beating our rivals FC Zurich on penalties to win the Swiss Cup. We had a very international team including players from around ten different countries. At times there were five languages being spoken on the pitch at the same time!
Once the news of FC Neunkirch was confirmed I was on the lookout for a new club. I was then hugely grateful to have to an opportunity to join FC Basel as they are one of the top women’s teams in Switzerland. Last season (2017-18) we came second in the league, which meant Champions League qualification. As I was denied the opportunity because of FC Neunkirch’s plight, playing in the Champions League for FC Basel this summer was an experience I had always dreamt of. It was definitely a career highlight. I’m hoping to get another opportunity as we, unfortunately, didn’t make it past the qualification stage.
EPA: Finally, what are your ambitions for the future in terms of your football career?
YB: I am still really enjoying my football and would like to play at a high level for a few more years. At the moment I am very happy in Basel and I am also working part-time as an English teacher. Maybe one day I will come back to play in England as the WSL is fully professional now and is great for promoting women’s football in the UK. But for now, I’m concentrating on performing well for FC Basel and aiming to qualify for the Champions League again.