Wounded war­rior Jess is ty­ing ‘em in Notts!

The Football League Paper - - WOMEN'S FOOTBALL WEEKLY - By Matt Bad­cock

JESS CLARKE is used to over­com­ing ob­sta­cles.

Af­ter all, with her mum out work­ing hard to keep her daugh­ter’s football dreams alive, Clarke could only get to train­ing on a 40-minute bus ride across Leeds.

So in­tent on mak­ing her own way and not ask­ing for help, she would wait around af­ter train­ing un­til her team-mates had gone be­fore jump­ing on the bus back home.

And when she had a schol­ar­ship at Lough­bor­ough Univer­sity, she would go home at the week­end to wait ta­bles in a ho­tel in or­der to pay for driv­ing lessons.

She says it’s only now, when peo­ple point it out, they seem like hur­dles. Back then it was the norm and it’s that work ethic – in­stilled by mum Carol Sta­ple­ton – that has pro­pelled the 26-year-old to the top.

“It prob­a­bly wasn’t the eas­i­est path,” says Clarke. “I come from a one-par­ent home and my mum had me at a re­ally young age.

“She sac­ri­ficed a lot of her dreams so I could have my own. I fell in love with football in pri­mary school and took it from there.

Bless­ing

“In high school my teacher, Lind­sey Munro, re­ally put her arm around me and or­gan­ised tri­als for me. She took it on her­self to take me to train­ing in Leeds and I got through the tri­als.

“But she ac­tu­ally left the school so I had no trans­port to get to football. All I wanted to do was play football. I lived, ate, slept football. I re­mem­ber in school be­ing on the com­puter look­ing at Nike football boots – I wouldn’t even do my work be­cause I was think­ing about football con­stantly.

“I’d get the bus to train­ing. Be­cause I was a kid, I didn’t re­ally want to ask for help. I’d wait un­til ev­ery­one had left and then I’d get the bus back home.

“There was noth­ing that was go­ing to stop me from play­ing football. I did ev­ery­thing in my power to get there. I built up through the age groups and even­tu­ally I had the con­fi­dence to get lifts with peo­ple – and then mum learnt to drive! But we didn’t have lots of money, so even once she passed she couldn’t take me.

“Then I got a schol­ar­ship to Lough­bor­ough and that was a bless­ing be­cause ev­ery­thing was paid for. I was there for four years.

“I’d be there in the week and come back at the week­ends to work in a ho­tel to get some pocket money.

“Dur­ing that four years I saved up enough money to have my own driv­ing lessons. Pass­ing my test was mas­sive for me. Es­pe­cially when you’re play­ing football, be­cause you’re trav­el­ling the coun­try and, ul­ti­mately, you need a car.”

Clarke is bat­tling away again. Left out of Eng­land’s World Cup squad, the 49-capped for­ward watched the Lionesses roar in Canada on TV.

Although proud of what the team achieved, she doesn’t hide the fact that miss­ing out came as a blow.

“It was a real kick in the gut, I’m

not go­ing to lie,” she says. “For any player you want to be play­ing on the world stage. At the time, and es­pe­cially the sea­son be­fore, I felt I was in re­ally good form.

“To not get se­lected was dif­fi­cult. But it’s one of those things you’ve got to learn from. It’s those set­backs that spur you on to be the best player you can be. It’s how you bounce back.

“You’ve got to go out on the pitch, work hard, and prove a few peo­ple wrong I sup­pose.

“As a per­son I’ve al­ways been like that. That’s the way football is. I’ll take the crit­i­cism and go out and work hard.

“At the time I was re­ally dis­ap­pointed and it did take me a cou­ple of days to get my head around it. But I still had a job to do at Notts County so it was about get­ting back to re­al­ity and play­ing well for my club.”

Clarke knows get­ting back into Mark Samp­son’s set-up will only come if she per­forms on the pitch. Notts County is her only fo­cus.

Lady Pies boss Rick Pass­moor says she brings “gold dust” when on song and on Wed­nes­day night she fired in her first ever hat-trick as they beat Ox­ford United 6-1 in the Con­ti­nen­tal Tyres Cup.

The tre­ble took the for­mer Leeds Carnegie winger to ten for the sea­son – not that she knew the match ball pro­to­col.

“I wasn’t sure how it worked,” she laughs. “I didn’t know whether I got the ball handed to me, or if I had to go and get it – so I just tod­dled back off to the chang­ing rooms! I was just happy to get the three goals.”

Scram­ble

Fol­low­ing on from the dis­ap­point­ment of los­ing the FA Cup fi­nal to Chelsea at Wem­b­ley, there is a de­ter­mi­na­tion at the club to get hands on sil­ver­ware.

The mid­week win sees them top of their Con­ti­nen­tal Tyres Cup group with three wins from three and then there is the mat­ter of the WSL1 ti­tle race.

Although six points off the top, they play Manch­ester City this af­ter­noon, while Ar­se­nal take on Chelsea on an im­por­tant day.

“It’s a big game,” Clarke says. “Manch­ester City are tough op­po­si­tion, they are play­ing re­ally well.

“But for us, we’ve got that self­be­lief that we can go and do it and take the three points.

“We’ve been do­ing ev­ery­thing we pos­si­bly can on the train­ing pitch to rec­tify what we’ve learnt in the pre­vi­ous games and to be­come bet­ter as a team.

“It’s been about con­fi­dence, es­pe­cially in front of goal. We did that in the week and are get­ting used to putting the ball in the back of the net.

“Go­ing for­ward we are very dan­ger­ous and we cre­ate a lot of op­por­tu­ni­ties. It’s about be­ing more clin­i­cal in front of goal be­cause that wins you games.

“If we can get that right in the game against City then I think it’s there for the tak­ing.”

PIC­TURES: The FA & Ac­tion Im­ages

SHARP SHOOTER: Jess Clarke has hit ten goals for Notts County this sea­son Inset: In ac­tion for County, top and the team feel FA Cup Fi­nal heartache, be­low HEARTACHE: Jess Clarke was left out of Eng­land’s World Cup squad

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