Weekend Interview: How self-belief helped lift Amy Turner back to the top of her game

Sheffield-born footballer Amy Turner Picture: Chris Etchells
Sheffield-born footballer Amy Turner Picture: Chris Etchells
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INJURIES and rejection.

The effect of both on a professional footballer should not be underestimated.

They can not only dent a player’s confidence, but in some cases break them completely.

Amy Turner has had her fair share of the aforementioned blows.

In late 2016 she suffered a serious knee injury while playing for Notts County that resulted in a 15-month spell on the sidelines.

More pertinently, though, came a much bigger setback in 2011 when she was told by Doncaster Belles that she wasn’t good enough and that she was being released.

Amy Turner. Picture courtesy of Manchester United.

Amy Turner. Picture courtesy of Manchester United.

Overcoming a physical hurdle is bad enough, but being told in no uncertain terms that you aren’t up to the required ability is another thing completely.

But instead of sulking, she dropped down the leagues, rebuilt her confidence and eventually let her football do the talking.

It was this sort of approach that earned her a move to Liverpool and then a transfer to the newly-formed Manchester United Women’s team this summer.

It is clear that Turner is now fully recovered from the physical and mental knocks she sustained in her past.

At the time I was too young to really understand the scope of what I was doing, so I just went for it. I learned a lot out there. Football there is very different compared to here. It’s probably less technical but there’s a lot more emphasis on fitness and the physical element.

Amy Turner

“I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in in my career,” Turnertold The Yorkshire Post.

“When I was at Notts I had a knee operation but it took around 15 months to get back from that. While I was out, Notts went bust so I joined Liverpool but a lot of my time there was spent out injured.

“I didn’t have as much game time as I’d have liked.

“But I worked hard to get back and I didn’t give up. A lot of people might have, and I did have a couple of setbacks.

LEADING LADY: Manchester United's manager Casey Stoney shouts to her team. Picture: Dave Howarth/PA

LEADING LADY: Manchester United's manager Casey Stoney shouts to her team. Picture: Dave Howarth/PA

“But I always believed I’d get back and deep down that I’d still be the player I was before the injury.”

Turner grew up in Stocksbridge, on the outskirts of Sheffield and in close proximity to Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough Stadium.

However, it was fortnightly visits to the home of the Steel City’s other side that made her fall in love with football. In particular, she remembers wanting to emulate then United captain, Chris Morgan.

“My uncle was a big Sheffield United fan and so I went along and eventually got a season ticket,” said Turner.

“I’d say that’s probably where I fell in love with the game.

“You see kids nowadays getting distracted on their phones and stuff, but I was enthralled in the game. I liked watching the centre-halves. Chris Morgan was the captain at the time. He loved big headers and big tackles and used to come off the pitch covered in cuts and bruises.

“I’d be like ‘I want to be like that’ – a passionate centre-half.”

Turner was quickly making a name for herself in the youth ranks at both Wednesday and United which earned her a move to Doncaster.

“I was at Wednesday from the age of eight, and worked my way up to the age groups to Under-16 level,” she said.

“At the same time I was also playing for Sheffield United’s academy, which is a bit strange to think now. My weekly team was Wednesday, and then on Fridays I’d go to Shirecliffe and train with the United academy.

“I then went to Belles when I was 16 which was my first taste of first-team football.”

Not only was she given a glimpse but she warranted a first start in senior football – still aged 16.

After impressing there, she was spotted by a coach at Hofstra University in New York. The chance to go across the pond to not only play football but combine it with studying and experiencing a new culture suddenly presented itself to Turner and she looks back on her year there with great fondness.

“In my last year at Belles we played in a county cup final against Arsenal and that was broadcast on a channel in America,” Turner, now 27, said.

“The coach in America, Simon Riddiough who is from Barnsley originally, watched that match and got in touch asking if I’d want to go over there to study and play. I’d always stayed in my comfort zone before then.

“At the time I was too young to really understand the scope of what I was doing, so I just went for it. I learned a lot out there. Football there is very different compared to here. It’s probably less technical but there’s a lot more emphasis on fitness and the physical element.

“I really needed that because I wasn’t the fittest growing up. I was training every day and doing gym sessions that help make you a better athlete.

“It brought me on as a player and I felt the impact when I came back home.”

Upon returning to the UK, Turner re-signed with Doncaster ahead of the inaugural Women’s Super League (WSL) season.

But after just a handful of appearances she was informed that her contract was being terminated.

Understandably, the rejection hit her hard but such was her mental toughness that she rolled up her sleeves and networked, gaining valuable match minutes first at Leeds and then dropping down a further league to Sheffield FC.

A move to Lincoln Ladies then saw her return to the top tier before the club relocated and were renamed Notts County Ladies.

After enjoying relative success with the Lady Magpies – which saw her feature in the first Women’s FA Cup Final to be played at Wembley in 2015 – her time there came to an abrupt end not only due to her bad injury but also when the club withdrew from the WSL in April 2017.

Turner though had done enough to warrant Liverpool handing her a contract, although she didn’t make her debut for the club until January 2018 due to her complicated comeback from injury.

This summer when the concept of a Manchester United women’s team became a reality, one of her old colleagues Casey Stoney came calling and Turner wasted no timke in snapping her hand off.

Stoney was named as the side’s head coach and one of her first pieces of business was to recruit Turner.

Turner added: “I was blown away when Casey told me of the plans and the infrastructure that was going to be in place at Man United.

“It’s unlike anything I’ve seen before at any clubs I’ve been at. We’re considered equals which is massive.

“It was probably the best decision I ever made.”

For someone who has shown a talent for overcoming adversity, you wouldn’t bet against Turner going on to add to her four England caps.

Even more so when you consider that her new club boss Stoney was previously part of the coaching staff on the national team, under the guidance of manager Phil Neville, whose team play Brazil at Notts County today.

“It’s out of my control,” she added, when quizzed on a potential return to the international scene. If it happens (call-up), then I’d be delighted – particularly after everything I’ve overcome in my career.”

The rise and rise of the women’s game

The women’s game in England underwent a revamp this summer. The top league, the Women’s Super League (WSL), was made professional-only and now comprises 11 teams.

Manchester United Women, for whom Amy Turner plays for, are one of 11 sides in the second tier Women’s Championship, along with Sheffield United.

They are Yorkshire’s only representatives in the top two leagues after both Doncaster Belles and Sheffield FC withdrew, owing to financial worries.

Turner, who has represented all three Yorkshire sides in the past, believes there are more opportunities for young girls to make a living out of the sport nowadays – something she didn’t think was a realistic ambition growing up.

“It seems that the men’s team at Sheffield United are getting behind the women’s side,” said Turner. “That’s ultimately where you get success in women’s football, through the backing of the men’s team.

“When I was younger, I dreamed of being a professional footballer but I didn’t think it was possible.

“Nowadays though, a lot of young girls grow up and want to be footballers and can become professionals.

“It’s very much an exciting time for women’s football at the moment.”