Jordan Nobbs has forged quite the career for herself. Having recently recovered from a career-threatening knee injury, she’s now back playing at the heart of both Arsenal and England’s midfield. COPA90 sat down with her to chat family influence, WSL titles, and record attendances.
It’s a typically busy day at COPA90 HQ. Multiple Sonos speakers are bouncing the usual bass-heavy music from wall to wall and spirits are high. The office’s general mood is reflected by Jordan Nobbs who, sitting comfortably in our sofa booth, is all smiles ahead of the interview.
The midfielder has every right to be upbeat. Her club side Arsenal are the reigning WSL champions and she joins us off the back of women's football weekend, where the Gunners ran out 2-0 winners in the North London Derby in front of a record 38,262 crowd.
“When you’ve been in the game for a while and seen a lot of change it’s an incredible opportunity to be involved and play in games like that,” she tells COPA90. “To see the game change and evolve is great and we just hope that we can keep building on that.”
Over the last nine seasons Nobbs has established herself as an integral cog in Arsenal’s midfield. She’s renowned for her professionalism and competitiveness, something that was drilled into her from a young age by her father, Keith, who represented Hartlepool during his playing days.
“He’s been a huge part of my career,” Nobbs explains. “He always knew the right steps when I was younger. I think when you have someone who has played football and is guiding you in the right direction it helps and it’s definitely helped me get to where I am today.”
Keith carried a reputation as a bit of a hardman but when we ask Jordan if that steel has rubbed off on her she laughs, “to be honest, I’ve heard he was a bit of a nutter actually. Back in the day he used to run around with broken collar bones, he broke his jaw…I think he’s got a bit more craziness in him than me!
“When I was younger, we used to play head tennis in my Nan’s back garden and he was so competitive – he’d be playing to win no matter what. But if you ask the other girls now they’ll tell you I’m a very competitive person.”
That competitive streak initially drove Nobbs to turn up for trials at Sunderland aged seven. “I was at primary school. I used to always play with the boys at lunchtime and we had letters sent around Sunderland to see if there were any girls that wanted to trial.
“It was obviously unbelievable being involved in a team like that. It pushed me to become the player I am today.”
Jordan Nobbs on winning her first WSL title
“I obviously went to that trial and there were about 70 girls there. Very few got picked but that was the start of my journey as a footballer. It was the best thing I could have done really.”
Progressing through the Black Cats’ academy ranks, Nobbs made her senior debut at 16 and didn’t look back. She forged a reputation as an energetic central midfielder who had a penchant for long-range shots. Everything seemed to be going brilliantly. That was, until the club’s application to join the newly formed WSL was rejected due to a lack of funding in 2010.
“It’s hard when it comes down to funding and not the actual talent coming through. We had the likes of Demi Stokes, Lucy Bronze, Lucy Staniforth and me who were all in the England system at the time,” Nobbs recalls.
“Unfortunately, to progress our games, we had to play in the WSL. I was never thinking about leaving Sunderland but I believe things happen for a reason.” What could have spelled disaster ended up being a career-defining move for Nobbs when, just 17, she signed for one of the country’s top sides in Arsenal.
“It was a very big move and a risky one with my family being four hours away. It was tough for the first four/five months. You’re not settled, you don’t know the area…I was just learning to drive at the time so it was very tough as a young kid. But I loved football so much, so you have to make those sacrifices.”
Fortunately for Jordan, she found a welcoming atmosphere and a familiar face in the form of ex-Sunderland team mate, Steph Houghton. With the help of those around her, Nobbs pressed on and it wasn’t long before she was tearing up the WSL.
Her first full season culminated in Arsenal capturing the 2011 league title, a moment Nobbs will never forget. “It was unbelievable. Being around the players I was – Katie Chapman, Kim Little, Gemma Davidson, Steph [Houghton], Ellen [White] – it was obviously unbelievable being involved in a team like that. It pushed me to become the player I am today.”
Since then, Nobbs has enjoyed a trophy-laden few seasons, going on to win two more WSL titles as well as five League Cups and four FA Cups. It’s in Europe, though – along with the rest of England’s elite – where the Gunners have struggled to make their mark.
Olympique Lyonnais are the standard-bearers when it comes to the Champions League, having won the competition for the last four seasons consecutively. “If you look at the stats we always get to the semi-finals and then we hit the Lyons and the Wolfsburgs and we just can’t get through,” admits Nobbs.
“I think it shows there’s still a bit of a gap there, but they’re the big games we want to play in and we still need to compete with the best.” That gap has been closing in recent years though, and it’s the same on the international stage, with Europe’s top nations edging closer to toppling the U.S’s dominance.
“We’re a team that win together and lose together. I don’t think you can ever point the finger at one person.”
Jordan Nobbs on the Lionesses’ recent struggles
“I think the Netherlands obviously winning Euro 2017 and getting to the final of the World Cup this year has shown that they’re there to win trophies and be the best. All the teams are growing as the game becomes more professional.”
Nobbs has been a member of the Lionesses’ first team since 2013 and is confident England are one of the sides who can kick on and challenge despite their downturn in form. When COPA90 asked about the recent run of poor results Nobbs was quick to respond.
“We’re a team that win together and lose together. I don’t think you can ever point the finger at one person. I’ve only been in the squad for the last few trips but the game is changing – the staff, players…we’re building to be the best and that’s where we want to go.”
The reason Nobbs has only recently returned to the international stage is due to a ruptured ACL, which occurred towards the start of last season; an injury that robbed her of 10 months of her career and the chance to represent England at the 2019 World Cup.
“I think I’m nearly there [back to full fitness], I’m still being managed with game time,” she says. “Arsenal and Joe [Montemurro] have been amazing with my game time and establishing where I’m at as a player, so I’m really happy with the way it’s been going.”
You’d be hard pressed to find any England or Arsenal fan who isn't ecstatic over Nobbs’ return to action given her influence and presence. Now up and running again, she’s ready to help Arsenal retain their league crown in a title race that’s shaping up to be a classic.
Arsenal currently sit third in the WSL, level on points with Man City and just one behind current leaders Chelsea. “I think it shows the development in the game over the last few years that there’s not just one team running away with it,” Nobbs says. “It shows that all the teams are now adding the best players in the world to their squads and we’re all pushing each other which is raising the standard.”
She’s not wrong. The standard of England’s top flight has never been higher and, off the back of a successful World Cup, public interest in the sport is rife. COPA90 have been at the vanguard of the women’s game for some time now – leading the charge for more media interest and funding – something that Nobbs is keen to recognise.
“COPA90 have been incredible. It’s been such a big platform for the women’s game, doing so many things over the World Cup, and now with That’s The Tea it’s something new and growing where people get to see a different side to players or just different opinions on the game in general.”
Increased media coverage over the last few years is slowly turning players into the type of household names their male counterparts have been for years. “I think now we’re being seen on TV, especially since I did the BBC punditry, people come up to you and know what you do and who you are.”
A rising celebrity profile is a nice bonus for Nobbs, but it isn’t something that’s affected her professionalism or enthusiasm for football. She continues to take each game as it comes, playing with the same competitiveness she did when contesting games of head tennis in her Nan’s back garden all those years ago.
Watch Jordan Nobbs on this week’s episode of That’s The Tea below and stay tuned for more women’s football content right here on copa90.com