An aspiring England international helped inspire the next generation of female footballers by sharing her experiences at a special Q&A as part of Girls Football Week.
Sunderland and Gateshead Regional Talent Club (RTC) midfielder Jess, who recently made her debut for the Lionesses under 15 side against Scotland, spoke to players and parents about her journey in the game so far from playing in boys teams to representing her country.
The 15-year-old posed for photos with the shirt she wore at St George’s Park and offered advice to members of the RTC squads who are hoping to follow in her footsteps.
“I started playing football when I was five having a kick around with my brothers and used to go and watch them play,” says Jess. “I’ve always had football there really and love playing.”
I got trials with North Shields Juniors and started playing for the boys’ team. At first other clubs thought, ‘Oh there’s a girl on the team this is going to be easy’ but once they saw me play they were was different.
“I then moved to the girls under 11s team and because I’d been playing with the boys it was totally new and I found it wasn’t as physical. It took some getting used to but my experience with the boys’ team definitely gave me an advantage.”
Looking to progress in football, Jess’ dad saw the Centre of Excellence were holding open trials which the then nine-year-old attended at Gateshead Academy for Sport.
“I really enjoyed the trials and although I was selected for the squad I made the decision to continue playing for North Shields Juniors,” she adds. “I went along for the trials the following year and decided to join. It’s been amazing, I’ve really enjoyed my time here so far.”
Jess’ performances for the RTC as well as playing for the Northumberland county side led to a call-up for England Under 15 Schoolgirls for European tournaments against some of the continents’ best young players.
Jess says: “Last year my Northumberland county manager put me forward for England School Girls team and I was lucky enough to be picked.
“We went to Portugal which was amazing with the hot weather and learning a different culture and then to Ireland to play in a tournament.”
The first-class training with the RTC and facing teams such as Manchester United and Manchester City continued the youngster’s progression and development and she was rewarded when her father received an email from the FA inviting her to join up with the Young Lionesses for a training camp.
“I’m not sure how it happened with England,” she adds. “Maybe there were scouts watching me play for the RTC. But I couldn’t believe it, I was so happy!”
Training at the FA’s National Football Centre in Burton also left an impression on Jess, an experience she will never forget.
“The coaching was amazing, we did opposition and player analysis and there was a big focus on nutrition,” she says. “We even practiced the national anthem!
“St George’s Park was incredible, the facilities were world class and all the pitches were cut to perfection. Everything is there for players.
“I was so proud to represent my country but it was nerve-wracking too. We played against Scotland and I didn’t realise there were so many people watching as I was so focused on the game.”
Nine-year-old Abbey, who joined the RTC under-10 squad this summer, said: “I want to play for Sunderland Ladies and England so listening to Jess talk about her experiences makes you want to continue working hard and play more football.”
That’s definitely what I’d tell girls who aspire to progress in the sport: work hard. And enjoy it, because if you don’t there’s no point in doing it.
Foundation of Light offers a unique Player Pathway for boys and girls, from Evening & Weekend sessions through to exit routes with Sunderland AFC Ladies and coach education programmes.
Central to the pathway is the Foundation-run Sunderland and Gateshead Regional Talent Club (formerly Girls Centre of Excellence), the North East’s elite development centre, which has produced England internationals such as Manchester City stars Steph Houghton and Jill Scott and Demi Stokes, Jordan Nobbs (Arsenal), Lucy Bronze (Olympique Lyonais) and Carly Telford (Chelsea).
10 November 2017