Jordan Nobbs relishing trip home with England after tough journey
Midfielder goes back to Sunderland for qualifier against Austria after battling back from injury to earn a call-up
Jordan Nobbs was expected to be the fulcrum of the Lionesses for many years, but her England journey has not been smooth sailing.
A run to the semi-finals of the 2017 Euros was sandwiched between World Cup heartbreak, with injury restricting her to one match at the 2015 tournament in Canada and an anterior cruciate ligament rupture killing dreams of competing at the 2019 edition in France. Since then the pandemic and niggling injuries have stunted her international progress.
Before September’s camp, the side’s new manager, Sarina Wiegman, and her staff had wanted to see more minutes from Nobbs and she was omitted. Now, with Arsenal often playing three games a week and Nobbs fit, the 28-year-old is back in the England fold for the World Cup qualifiers against Austria and Latvia.
Poignantly for Nobbs, the first will be played on Saturday at the Stadium of Light, where her footballing journey began.
“It’s great timing to go to Sunderland and have the family and friends there,” she says at St George’s Park. “That was one of the very first stadiums I played at – at half-time in a men’s game when I was seven – so it’s a nice moment.”
Sunderland means a lot to the Stockton-on-Tees-born Nobbs. She joined the club’s centre of excellence at eight, received her first senior call-up at 16 and her three years in the first team caught the eye of Arsenal, where she has been since 2010.
“It’s home really, ever since I was a kid,” she says. “I used to play in little sand tournaments just outside of [the Stadium of Light]. I’ve got a book at home where I’ve kept a bit of the grass from my boot when I was seven.”
Ultimately, the bigger deal is being back in the reckoning. “It felt like my first call-up again,” she says.
“Mentally it’s been tough. Naturally you want everything to go well in the football world but injuries happen, selection things happen, and you just have to stay mentally strong.”
The woman stepping on to the turf in the north-east on Saturday has come a long way from the girl who picked the grass from her boots and saved it, and the journey has taught her a lot.
“There’s obstacles that come your way, and it tests how tough you are to overcome them. But I think the joy I’ve had with games from the age of seven to now, that feeling never goes away.
“Then I was just a little girl who was passionate about football and now the dream has come true; I’ve got to play for my national team, I’m playing at a top club, for Arsenal. You learn a lot through the journey.”
When Nobbs was injured she would not shy from following the team. “I still watched everything. It was tough watching, but I always want to stay involved and know what’s going on with the squad. It’s the hard part of football but it’s just trying to stay in it as much as possible and taking the free time when you can.”
Sunderland, having failed to retain their Women’s Super League licence when the leagues were restructured in 2018, dropped into the third division and now play in the Championship. The north-east has no representation in the WSL, yet the region nurtured the careers of Nobbs and other current Lionesses such as Lucy Bronze, Steph Houghton, Beth Mead, Jill Scott, Lucy Staniforth, Demi Stokes and Carly Telford.
“They’re in a different place now,” Nobbs says of the club. “Hopefully we can show what good came from Sunderland and try and encourage that a little bit more.”
In Austria, England face their toughest opponents of the qualifying campaign. The visiting team are ranked 21st in the world, 13 places below England. “It’s good for us,” says Nobbs. “The girls have done a great job and scored lots of goals but we need these challenges and different kinds of games.”
Nobbs says there has been no time for banter with her Austrian clubmates, Viki Schnaderbeck and Manuela Zinsberger: “It’s pretty hush-hush really. I think we’ve been so busy at Arsenal we’ve just been focused on the amount of games we’ve had.”
That volume of games has helped to bring her back to her best gently. “It has helped me just ease back in,” she says. “It’s pretty much impossible to have played every minute of every game at Arsenal. We’ve had not even the same midfield three in our last six games. Probably in the past I might have played three games in a week but I’m a player that puts 120% into every game. Sometimes you can break down from that. I’m in a very healthy spot right now; it was probably the best time to get the call-up for here as well.”