1. ITV Report

Cardiff Met students football teams set for European stage

  • Video report by ITV News presenter Stacey Foster

The month of July is usually a quiet one for Cardiff Metropolitan University as there are no students or classes.

Over the next week, however, its football teams are set to take part in the two club biggest competitions in Europe.

The men will face Luxembourgian side Progres in the Europa League, while the women start their Champions League campaign in Slovenia.

Both sides are a far cry from the multi-millionaires used to playing in the competition, as each team member pays an annual subscription of £150 for the honour of representing them.

For the men it is the culmination of years of hard work which saw them promoted three times in four years to the Welsh Premier League and securing European qualification via a playoff last season.

The women are very used to such a stage, having competed in the qualifying stages for the Champions League on numerous occasions.

"It's a dream come," centre-back Brad Woolridge told ITV News. "From when we started here eight years ago, to go through the leagues to playing in the Europa League, it didn't really seem possible all those years ago."

For Woolridge himself it has taken eight years to get this far, having joined the team as an undergraduate, progressing both on and off the pitch.

He is now the team's captain, which he does alongside studying for a PhD.

Midfielder Robyn Pinder is a key component of the women's side and is also a lecturer in Sports Ethics at the university.

She can offer plenty of advice to the men, as she is about to play in her sixth Champions League since arriving at the university as a teenager.

"It's a dream, you always want to play in the Champions League.

"I always say to the girls I will put it in my Twitter bio: 'Played in the Champions League' because it's just the best competition and everyone wants to be in the Champions League.

"My brother likes to tell everyone I've played in the Champions League."

Both players are testament to being driven both in sport and academia to go as far as they have in life, all the while trying to find the right balance between the two.

"The football commitment has definitely increased in the time that I've been here," Woolridge explains.

"With discipline and as long as people are willing to work hard, it's definitely manageable [to balance both].

"The football is so enjoyable, it all seems worthwhile as well."

Pinder is the first person to attend university from her family and has surprised many with how far she has come in academia, committing more to football in her early days at university.

"It was really difficult for me as I think I got the balance wrong, ask any of my old lecturers" Pinder says.

"They were surprised to see me doing a PhD now because I was always so focused on training and football and the social side overtook the education for me.

"For the first two years I found it really really difficult to manage.

"Luckily I had a few good teachers and a few good mentors who pulled me in and got me back on track.

"Obviously, I owe Kerry Harris [the team's coach} a lot for sitting me down and saying education is just as important as sport."

She will be looking to help the women's side progress from a qualifying group in Slovenia, while the men have a two-legged tie against Progres, a team who defeated Scottish giants Rangers in the Europa League a couple of years ago.

Eleven players will start in Luxembourg for the men's team on Thursday night, a feat in itself as 200 players a year try out to make the squad who train and play twice a week.

"This is the highest level a lot of us will ever play," Woolridge says.

"There are a lot of professionals in the leagues who will never get the chance to play in the Europa League.

"It's quite a surreal experience."

There's still a few rounds before the continent's biggest sides enter the competition but Woolridge has one eye on playing his boyhood heroes.

"It's mad really.

"I am a big Wolves fan so I've seen that they've got to come into it at some stage.

"Some of the boys are Man United fans, so to even put your name in the hat with those sorts of teams is unbelievable."

Juggling study and football is hard enough, but no one will be complaining if they have to swap the library for planes to embark on a longer European tour.