90min are releasing a series of articles from some of women's football's leading figures – on and off the pitch – around the SheBelieves Cup in the US. Here, Arsenal and England star Jordan Nobbs talks about bouncing back – again and again and again.
When I was younger, you didn’t get a text message or a call to say whether you’d been successful at trials, you got a letter through the door, and within the letter there would be a yellow slip. That slip was good news because it meant you’d been accepted or you’d made it into a squad.
I used to be desperate for the post to come. I can remember my nan opening a letter after my trial with Sunderland, the first word was ‘congratulations’, and...it feels like everything in my career has stemmed from that moment.
I’ve still got that letter and that first yellow slip, although now it has this ugly picture of me from back then that we had to stick over where my dad doodled on it by mistake!
When I had turned up to that Sunderland trial I was an hour early and found myself passing a ball around with another girl – she turned out to be Demi Stokes. Demi and I were the only two who were picked out of the 70 girls that were there that day, and it’s amazing that we’re still friends and play for the national team together all these years later.
My dad has always been involved in my football. We used to play in my nan and granddad’s garden together. We’d stick two spades in the ground and then run a piece of hosepipe through the handles to connect them to make a net we could use to play head-tennis. We were so competitive, he used to do this annoying clap whenever he was winning that I couldn’t stand, and that made me want to win even more!
When the time came that I had to decide whether to leave my family and move down to London or whether to stay at home, it was the hardest decision I’ve had to make.
I just loved playing football. I was out until it was dark playing, whether that was head tennis, or two v two with my brother and two other family friends until late at night. I never thought of football as being my future, I just never thought of my future not being football. It was only when I got to Arsenal I realised it could be my career as well.
I had a lot of other options at the time, but there was never a chance for me of going anywhere else. I can’t thank the players that were in that Arsenal team enough because it’s made me the player that I am today. We owe so much to that generation who worked their arses off to make sure players today have the opportunities we do.
I moved away from home for Arsenal. I left my family, and football was it. It was everything.
The hardest part in that first year, after moving as a 16-year-old, was my nan and granddad passing away within three weeks of each other. I was incredibly close to my nan and granddad, I spent a lot of time with them, and had lived with them for a couple of years a while before I moved down to London. I was 17 when they died. My granddad was diagnosed with cancer the very first time I went down to take a look at the facilities at Arsenal, within three weeks he had passed away.
My nan took her own life three weeks later.
They had supported me from my first trial – my granddad there with me for it. When I was young they took me to football more than anyone while my parents were working. They were so proud of me, my granddad would ring me every Sunday after my games because they’d always want to know how they went and how I played.
That was an incredibly hard time for me but, looking back, football got me through it.
That was just how it was. When the time came that I had to decide whether to leave my family and move down to London or whether to stay at home, it was the hardest decision I’ve had to make.
It was my dream to be a footballer and it was my grandparents’ dream too. I know that my nan and granddad would have hated it if they thought that I hadn’t followed that dream. So when I lost them, football became even more important. You sometimes realise that you just have to get on with the game. A player’s playing career can be so short that one bad year has the potential to derail you. That was an incredibly hard time for me but, looking back, football got me through it.
I don’t regret many things I’ve chosen to do. I’ve been at Arsenal for nine years now, and I can’t see myself going anywhere else. The only reason I would ever leave would be if I didn’t think I was going to be playing. It’s where I want to be, they’ve done so much for me and helped developed me so much as a player, I don’t think I could love the club any more than I do.
Alongside Arsenal, England has always played a big part of my career. When I was 12 and playing with Middlesbrough I got pushed up a couple of age groups, and got spotted playing at an Under-14 tournament by England scouts. I got a letter through the door with another yellow slip to say I’d been selected to go and train with the Under-15s.
I was 20 when I made my senior debut for England. I was absolutely sh***ing myself for that game, but I scored a decent long-range goal, and that really settled me down. It was in Cyprus, so there was maybe only about one fan there, but the media caught hold of it and my phone just started blowing up after the game.
I do have a bit of a guilty secret; I watch my goals back when I score. I love to watch them over and over again. It’s terrible but it’s something I do, so when I scored that goal on my debut it was on repeat for a few days.
I just couldn’t sprint. I was training, then being in pain. The next day same again – training, then pain. It was torture.
When I watch it back now, it’s amazing to think I spent those precious moments with players – like Kelly Smith and Rachel Yankey – who I looked up to so much. I was so lucky, I was getting to play with legends. Lucy Bronze, Toni Duggan and I came through at that time, and I’m truly grateful that Hope Powell gave me an opportunity to go to the Euros in Sweden.
Me, Lucy and Toni weren’t playing so much, but we knew how lucky that we were just to be there. I think we always felt like that.
When Mark Sampson came in, he gave me more belief than anyone has. Ever. He made me feel like a key ingredient in his England squad – and once you’ve got hold of that England shirt, you want to work your arse off to carry on that journey and not let it go.
I’ve always been quite hard on myself, I always want to prove that I’m a top player. When I say this people say back, ‘you are a good player though!’, but I feel like I’ve never had a chance to show that at a major international tournament.
At the last World Cup, I suffered a hamstring injury. I was distraught. I had got injured just before the tournament although at the time, my strength testing was showing that it looked as though I might be okay. All of my tests were showing that I was strong enough to play, the physios thought perhaps there was a nerve issue, because for some reason I couldn’t sprint. I was training, then being in pain. The next day same again – training, then pain. It was torture.
We came third in that World Cup but I still don’t feel like I have that bronze medal, even though I played a full 90 minutes against Colombia with – it turned out – a torn hamstring. I’m just gutted that whenever it seems to come to a big tournament, I haven’t been able to just play and show the best version of me.
I want to get better, I want to improve, I want to do whatever I can to be a good role model. I want the same things for the women’s game in general.
When I think about my education, when I think about my family, football has always been my outlet. It’s always been positive, it’s always been a release. When something like injury comes along, something you can’t change or predict, it’s incredibly hard to take. It can make you realise how much football rules your life. You can train your body, but sometimes it can be just down to pure bad luck.
Major tournaments like the World Cup are so important and they play such a huge part in helping to promote and grow the women’s game. And although I think it would be stupid to say the women’s game is exactly where we would want it to be, because there’s so much more to come, it is still incredible how quickly it’s changed just in the time I’ve been at Arsenal. Being who I am, I want to get better, I want to improve, I want to do whatever I can to be a good role model. I want the same things for the women’s game in general.
Little things can start a snowball effect. In ten years time, I want to be there with players like Lucy Bronze, Toni Duggan and Danielle Carter and be able to say ‘we were a really big part of the transition from semi-pro to pro, but also we were a big part of giving young girls an opportunity to train every day at a top club.’
On a personal note, with the injury I’m recovering from right now I’ll miss the World Cup this summer. And...I don’t always know how I’m going to feel in the morning in the gym with recovery. When you’re a footballer and you have nine months out...I can’t put into words what it feels like.
It can be hard for other people to be there for you, but I’ve been so fortunate that Danielle Carter, who is one of my best friends and suffered a similar injury to me, has been in the same position, and we’ve been able to support each other. I’m just as excited for Dan to come back as I am for myself. I believe that some football teams can get through things by having top players and not necessarily a great environment, but at Arsenal we’ve got a great blend of both.
So I’ll be cheering the girls on from the sidelines this summer at WWC 2019 whilst keeping the next set of big competitions in my sights on the horizon – carefully, knowing my luck around major tournaments! I’ve made sure that I’ve taken the right amount of time to properly recover now, to make sure I’m ready to come back stronger.
I want to have an amazing season next year, to come back with a bang and to put my name back into people’s heads as the top player I want to be.