Jordan Nobbs is one of six North-East-born players in Mark Sampson’s England Women’s squad for tomorrow’s friendly against Sweden at Victoria Park. Sports writer Steph Clark found out why it will be an extra special occasion for the Arsenal midfielder and her family.
SHE may have been too young to see him play, but tomorrow Jordan Nobbs will follow in her father’s footsteps when she walks out at Victoria Park.
Keith Nobbs made 327 appearances for Hartlepool United between 1985-95 and is well remembered by Pools fans as a no-nonsense defender who lost half a dozen teeth during a 1990 derby win at Feethams and wanted to play on despite losing half a dozen teeth.
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That is just one of several horror stories 21-year-old Jordan has heard about her dad’s professional career growing up, but that didn’t stop her embarking on her own journey to the top of the women’s game.
More than 20 years after Keith made his final appearance at The Vic, Nobbs will walk out on the field her father graced for the very first time when England welcome Sweden to the North-East.
Despite never seeing him play, Jordan regards her dad as the biggest influence on her career even though it was after his playing days finished that she really began to show a hunger to make it to the very top.
Since hanging up his boots, Keith has coached for Hartlepool’s Football in the Community and it was at the summer camps he hosted where an eight-year-old Jordan would get the chance to hone her skills and demonstrate the potential to play professionally.
“She used to come on courses with me and when you looked at her, you could compare her to some of the lads,” Keith explained. “She looked an outstanding prospect then even at the age of eight. To see her develop and come through is great but she’s worked tremendously hard to get where she is.
“She was part of England camps from the age of 12 and during every school holiday she was at special training camps. Through all that hard work playing for England is the pinnacle of her career. She scored on her debut in the Cyprus Cup last year and it’s been fantastic to see her grow.
“All her family and friends will be coming down to support her. I know a lot of people here and they keep stopping me in the street telling me they’re going to come along and watch the game to see her play. I just hope she tackles as well as her Dad!”
It isn’t exactly like father, like daughter when it comes to playing for Keith and Jordan, though, as the 21-year-old has carved out a career as a tricky attacking midfielder who prefers to dictate play with the ball at her feet rather than adopting the tough-tackling approach.
“I’ve heard a lot of stories about him and his teeth being knocked out and his collarbone popping out,” Jordan said. “I don’t want to repeat any of that, but luckily I’m not a defender, I prefer to do all the passing rather than the aggressive stuff.
“It will be good to walk out where he used to play week in, week out. It would have been really nice to have seen him play but he got a bad injury when I was really young so I was unfortunate not to see him.”
Having made a name for herself at Sunderland Ladies, where she was part of the team that reached the FA Women’s Cup final in 2009, the 5ft 2in midfielder was snapped up by dominant force Arsenal when the Lady Black Cats’ application to enter the inaugural FA Women’s Super League was rejected.
Nobbs isn’t the only player to have left the North-East in order to further her career as fellow internationals Steph Houghton, Jill Scott, Lucy Bronze, Demi Stokes and Carly Telford have also moved on after starting their careers at Sunderland.
But when the sextet step out at Victoria Park tomorrow, they will offer a reminder that the women’s game in the region is perhaps more successful at developing international talent than the men’s.
Jordan Henderson and Fraser Forster were the North-East’s only representatives at the World Cup in Brazil, while Nobbs, Houghton, Scott, Bronze, Stokes and Telford are all in with a strong chance of going to next summer’s World Cup in Canada - should England take a point from their final two qualifiers.
It is not since the days of Italia 90 when Chris Waddle, Paul Gascoigne, Peter Beardsley and Bryan Robson represented their country that the North-East has had such a healthy contingent at international level.
The chances of representing your country in the men’s game are dramatically less than in the women’s given the numbers playing and opportunities on offer, but the conveyor belt doesn’t appear to be letting up with a new generation including Sunderland’s Beth Mead ready to make the step up.
“I definitely think the region is one of the best areas for producing talent in the women’s game,” said Jordan. “Naturally, as younger players if you know people from this area have made it and you get to watch them play on such a massive arena it is a big deal.
“There are so many young girls playing football now and they need those role models at the highest level that have come from playing at a weekend for their local clubs.
“It’s been a long time since there’s been an England game up here. Being quite young myself it’s great to be back home and with us having a lot of the girls from the North-East I think that’s massive to show the appreciation of what the region has produced.”
Nobbs has recovered from a stress fracture in her back to be in Sampson’s squad this weekend with her last appearance coming in England’s Cyprus Cup win over Canada in March.
The Bishop Middleham midfielder will jostle the likes of Jill Scott, Fara Williams and Laura Bassett for a place in the team, which has gone from strength to strength since Sampson replaced Hope Powell at the end of last year.
Since then, the Three Lionesses have gone from strength to strength and their place in next summer’s World Cup will be confirmed with a point against Wales in their qualifier later this month.
“I wasn’t under Hope for too long so it wasn’t too much of a big change for me, but I think Mark has done a massive job coming in and he’s had a lot of big decisions to make,'' she added.
“He’s stuck with what he’s wanted to do and I think that has shown in the qualifiers. We’ve been scoring a lot of goals and not conceding very many and that’s been massive for us.
“One thing is that we all definitely believe in Mark’s strategy and what he wants to get out of the game. He comes across very well and believes in what we can do and that’s definitely shown in the qualifiers.
“As a player I’ve always liked competition. It’s good to have that fight. It makes you a better player. That’s the reason I moved down south to play against the best. Mark has a lot of options to pick from in the midfield area, but I’ll be working hard to get into the final squad that goes to Canada.”