Jordan Nobbs from County Durham was only 17 years old and the most sought-after talent in English women’s football. Arsenal were then, even more than they are now, the powerhouse of the game. By that stage, mainly under the guidance of the legendary Vic Ackers, they had won Tier 1 titles on 12 occasions as well as 10 FA Cups.
But the plucky northern upstarts of Sunderland AFC had given the southern aristocrats two of the biggest scares of their period of dominance, with Nobbs playing a part as we took them all the way in the 2009 FA Cup Final before losing 2-1 and then, following promotion to the Women’s Premier League in 2010, we handed them only their second league defeat in six years.
Nobbs won the FA’s Young Player of the Year Award that year as the Lasses managed to survive relegation. But they could not - and not for the last time - survive the FA’s organisation of the women’s leagues; the club didn’t show sufficient backing to the women’s team and their bid to join the newly forming Women’s Super League was unsuccessful.
The exodus of talent was immediate, along with Nobbs went fellow young future England talents Lucy Bronze who joined Jill Scott at Everton and Lucy Staniforth who went to Lincoln City, departed Wearside to pursue their glittering careers at the pinnacle of the game. We remained stuck in Tier 2 for another four years, being leapfrogged by newly flush Manchester City in the process despite winning the league every season.
Nobbs’ natural talent and drive to succeed had shone from an early age, according to former Sunderland captain Steph Bannon and defender Gemma Wilson, it was obvious to everyone at the club from her first training session with Sunderland that she would become one of the best players in the country, if not the world.
She went on to captain England at the U17 World Cup in 2008 and won the 2009 U19 European Championship. Akers, at that point General Manager at the Gunners, took the opportunity to recruit one of the game’s brightest stars with both hands.
Jordan is only 17 years old, but has already shown huge potential, and I’m confident that she will prove herself on the highest level, when the Champions League gets underway in September.
For her part, Nobbs was just excited to be joining the country’s undisputed elite club:
I am chuffed to bits to be honest, Arsenal Ladies are the stand-out side in England, and are among the best in Europe. I can’t wait to get started.
Also joining Nobbs in moving to north London was Mackem lass and former Sunderland forward turned England defensive stalwart Steph Houghton, who had moved on from Sunderland to join Leeds in 2007.
At Leeds and Sunderland, Steph has proven she is a terrific player, who can play in a whole range of positions. She will be a great asset to the Arsenal Ladies side.
Nobbs and Houghton joined Ellen White, Kelly Smith, Rachel Yankey and the rest of the stars of the Arsenal side and became an established part of the England setup, making her senior debut a month after making the move south.
Her Arsenal debut came in the Champions League and she retained her Young Player of the Year title as she won her first league and cup double with the club she still represents. She’s since received a further two WSL winners medals and lifted three more FA Cups, as well as five Conti Cups, the FA Player of the Year, the Players Player of the Year and a World Cup bronze medal.
Injury has frustrated her on many occasions and kept her on the sidelines as her current and former club teammates lifted the Euro 2022 trophy at Wembley last month, but she will surely be in the reckoning as the Lionesses aim to add the World Cup to the FA’s trophy cabinet next summer in Australasia.