Sussex Born & Bred: Hannah Blundell
In the next of our Sussex born & bred series, we spoke to, Chelsea and Lionesses player, Hannah Blundell about her journey from Eastbourne, to the top of the game.
“My family were all so proud. My Mum tells me that she's always proud of me and I think it was the icing on the cake.” A reflective Hannah speaks with a smile as she recalls that first full England call-up noticing how far she’s come in her career so far.
It’s been an incredible journey for Hannah, and it all started as a seven-year-old in Eastbourne who knew no different than playing in a boy-dominated environment.
“I’ve got two brothers and a sister; I was always out with my brothers for as long as I can remember. I got scouted to join Polegate Grasshoppers when I was 7 years-old. A neighbour of ours, Steve Hall, came and said to my mum that they’d love to have me at the club.
“My two brothers were playing, and my mum had concerns at first, saying she wouldn’t be able to take me, but the neighbour said it’s fine we can take her.
“I was quite lucky because I know a lot of girls have experiences of not being included when boys played, but I was quite fortunate with my brothers, because it was with all their mates as well. I was never the one just thrown in goal thankfully! I think it helped me to be honest playing with boys, it definitely did.”
Talking to Hannah about her childhood makes you realise how far female football has come. Whilst we, of course, have mixed girls’ and boys’ teams today, that isn’t the only option for young girls anymore.
What’s more, girls now have more role models in the game to look up to, a generation of talent that Hannah is firmly part of. Hannah still had influences on her at a young age, one’s she looks back on fondly.
“The big influence for me when I was younger was Kelly Smith; she was the one that a lot of girls knew about and certainly who I knew about and watched.
“I was lucky enough to play against her as well. I say lucky, but she was obviously an unbelievable player! But just to play against someone I grew up idolising was incredible.
“Emma Wood, who was a coach at Brighton when I was 10, she was a big influence, very complimentary of my football. I was then lucky enough to play under her at Charlton when I was 14, and to this day we’re still very close.”
Hannah stood out at Polegate Grasshoppers and it wasn’t long before she was being noticed. She was scouted for Brighton’s Centre of Excellence (CoE) aged 9, with things about to become all very surreal for a young girl of that age.
“I guess at Brighton CoE is where it sort of got a bit more serious. I think I was around 10 years old, if I remember correctly, where I was scouted for their under-10s team before joining Chelsea for a year at under-12s.
“I think you're just happy to play football, but, I do remember being younger and Chelsea being one of the big clubs and you used to play the games at the training ground.
“Obviously, as a kid, you’re just coming into the training ground like ‘oh my god, all the men train over there.’ I was just there as an innocent kid but definitely, back then, it was a surreal moment.
“I think you just look now, especially with the Chelsea Women, we've got our own building, whereas before we didn't even have that, I remember we were sharing with, the Academy side. We've got our own pitches now and we're actually a big part of that training ground.”
It was a struggle at first for Hannah to hold down to one team. Mentally, for a young girl, it was hard for her to deal with the setbacks. How she dealt with them, has made her who she is today.
“When I trialled to stay at the Chelsea Academy they basically said that I was too small, and I’d struggle on the bigger pitches. I went back to Brighton and they sort of said the same thing. It was basically a case of if you didn’t grow before Christmas or something, then we’re not going to keep you.
“But for me, as a kid, that really hit me hard. I couldn't work on it, it's not something where I was being told what I need to get better at. Whereas obviously height-wise there’s nothing I can do so I was heartbroken.
“Me and my mum didn't really know what to do. Then, as I mentioned, Emma Woods, she was at Charlton at the time and we were still good friends from Brighton. She basically just said, come for a trial at Charlton then thankfully I got in. I had the best four years there, so I did move about a bit as a kid!
“I remember training would start around 6pm and some days I would come out of school a bit earlier, which I loved although my mum, wasn't too happy! But I loved it because I felt a big deal being pulled out of class early to go to Charlton!
“My first year there we nearly went unbeaten and had a great coach called Martin. He was unbelievable and for me, getting that training helped me a lot technically.”
Hannah had a successful time at Charlton Athletic, but there was one club that she had unfinished business with, and soon the opportunity would present itself for her to address that.
“When I reached under-16s at Charlton, I had the choice to stay on there or move back to Chelsea. All my friends were at Charlton, so it was a really tough decision, but I decided to go back to Chelsea and join their academy side. I remember I cried because I knew I was leaving Charlton.
“I moved away from home, started at college up there, and then I think it all got a bit more serious. I was playing for the college team, as well as Chelsea Academy and being offered trials to play for the reserves. But at the time I just didn’t think I was good enough for the reserves, so I didn’t trial for them, and at the weekends I was going back home and playing for Eastbourne Ladies because I just lacked a bit of self-belief.
“In my second year at college, I had gained a bit of the belief in myself, and I went and trialled for Chelsea Reserves. I was around 17 years-old then, and luckily, I got in, and things went from there really.
“I ended up doing an extra third year at college just to stay up here, as I needed somewhere to stay, in-order to remain in the Chelsea setup. The college were good to me, they said well as long as you are studying you can stay in our accommodation still.
“During that third year is when Emma [Hayes] (Chelsea Women manager) came in and I think she just saw something in me and started to get me involved with the Chelsea first-team. Then I remember her saying, ‘do you want to live up this way?’ I was lucky enough that they [the club] managed to sort me and Drew [Spence] (Chelsea teammate) out with a flat right next to the training ground, and I’ve lived up here ever since.”
From that point forward, Hannah has been a mainstay in the Chelsea first-team squad. It would have been a lot for Hannah to take at a young age, moving to different clubs, being let go for things out of your control and she added: “I think for me, maybe that was where my self-doubt came from.”
Looking back she says: “There was definitely a lack of confidence at first. I’d probably say only the last three or four years is where I’ve got more confidence and just self-belief really. I’m happy now that I've got that self-belief.
“I think even now I like to pride myself on staying grounded and staying humble and all of that. I would never like to think of myself as getting a little bit too big for my boots. I’ve always got to remember where I've come from and my family will remind me of that as well!”
As mentioned previously, she is part of a generation of female players that now provides young girls with endless role models in the game. Asking Hannah about being part of this creates an unnerved smile as she realises exactly what she’s part of.
“As I got older, I gained more experience and I just think ‘you know what, it's done’ I've got to where I am, achieved, what I have, and I'm thankful for everything I went through as a young player.
“I like to say I take it in my stride. I think for me, I do still look at myself as being that girl from Eastbourne, and no one really special, but I like to think that a lot of my story can help younger girls as well.
“If they've had setbacks being told that they were small, or that kind of thing, or if you go to different clubs, it doesn't mean it's the end of your career, it just means another door is opening for you.
“So, I like to think I am a role model to them and that I'm a good one as well. I mean, with social media also, I think it's nice that kids nowadays can reach out to us. They can reply to tweets and that sort of thing which is nice.
“Obviously when the fans are at the games as well, you see a lot of young kids there and you just see how happy they are when you sign their shirt or something. I think as a female footballer it’s nice to see that.
“When I first made it professional, I had to step back a bit and think ‘wow, okay’ and get used to the fact that I'm actually in the women's game now, at young age.
“I know now that I'm here and I deserve to be here. It was just making sure I took every game as it came learned from it.”
Hannah anticipates the next question as we discuss that first senior Lionesses call-up, one that you get the feeling she’ll never be tired of talking about.
“I never saw it coming. I think obviously when you get to the top level, of course, it's in the back of your mind to get that England call-up.
“That is the dream and finally getting it, I remember it was 2015, me and a few my teammates got our first senior call-up. The fact I was sharing it with them was a big moment because we’d had an unbelievable season. It was when we first won the league, The FA Cup and then to top it off you get an England call-up.
“My mentality then, though, was I've got it, I need to make sure I keep working hard now to keep at it, keep making sure I get in the teams.”
It was a pleasure to talk to Hannah about her inspiring story and career so far. She looks at herself as being “that girl from Eastbourne” but at the age of 26, she has three Women’s Super League titles to her name, two FA Women’s Cups and is a Lionesses International, isn’t bad really is it?
Lastly, she gave some advice for aspiring female players in Sussex: “If you enjoy it, definitely go for it. Work hard and practice as much as you can. You never know what can happen from it. The opportunities are there now, definitely more opportunities now than when I was younger.”
To find out more about playing opportunities in Sussex please contact:
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