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Women's Football News
Jessica Fishlock looked back on a successful year in Holland with AZ Alkmaar and insisted she has no regrets about the biggest decision of her life.
The 22-year-old Welsh international became her country's first ever female professional footballer when joining AZ from Bristol Academy and crowned the season by helping her new club win the Dutch league title for the second year in succession.
"It has been very eventful and it's been really good for me, a great experience and I'm really glad I did it," Jess told Women's Soccer Scene.
Jess made the choice to join AZ after mulling over her future for some time. "It was a very, very difficult decision as I had so much here to stay for," she admitted. "To just pack it all in and go on my own to a different country where I don't really speak the language was quite scary, but it was the right decision for me and, with the season I had, the right one for my football.
"It was probably the hardest thing that I've ever done both personally and football wise but you have to do things if you want to get to where you want."
The language problem did prove to be a huge stumbling block. "It still is difficult to try and communicate with them," Jess revealed. "When you're playing, you want to scream at them but don't know whether to in English or not. Communication is still a big issue - we have our hand signals and I kind of know the basics of the Dutch football language. We're getting better but we're still miles away from understanding each other.
"Over there, the yellow cards and the rules are a lot different. If you get four yellow cards, every one you get from then on means you miss a game. I think I got my four in the space of two months so I had to reel in my game a lot.
"I managed it, but my mum seems to think I've gone soft now," she quipped.
It was not all plain sailing for Jess though as AZ were eliminated from the UEFA Women's Cup at the opening stage and, when the league started in Holland, she found she wasn't the most popular player over there.
"The other teams weren't overly impressed with it," she admitted. "The way the league is set up is for Holland as a national side - then all of a sudden they bring in a foreigner and they weren't too happy with it.
"I had a lot of boos and cheers when I made a bad pass but, looking back on it, it's quite funny and I just take it as a compliment."
Jess also had to change her style of play to fit in with her new team. A ball winning midfielder with Bristol Academy, she was given a more attacking role at her new club. "It's a totally different game of football over there and from the teams I've played for over here," she said, "so it took me a lot longer to adapt than I thought but as soon as you get it, then it all clicks into place.
"For the first couple of months, I thought I was never going to get it. It took time but it's a good standard of football and I'm glad I was able to adapt to it."
However she persevered and her story had a happy ending as AZ emerged as the winners in a very close title race. "Before the last game of the season there were three teams that could have won it, which you don't tend to get in many leagues," she recalled. "We had to avoid defeat in the last game against Willem II and we won 6-0 which was fabulous.
"In the next few days, there were parties put on for us and an open top bus around the whole of Alkmaar. We had a meal with the mayor and a lot of stuff was put on for us and a supporters party as well. I've never experienced anything like that in my life."
Another adaptation that Jess needed to make was to professional training and coaching. "It would depend on what time we had and the time scale inbetween games," she said. "We would train every single day but our manager would give us Saturdays off if we had played on the Thursday.
"Sometimes we would train twice a day, it depended on the schedule really. We would be together as a team for 4-5 hours a day, train together and eat together.
"It was difficult to adjust to and I thought my legs would be dead! I had a few injuries and my body was struggling to take it to be honest."
With no professional football for women over here and having witnessed the way the game is organised in another country, does Jess feel that the authorities can learn anything from the Dutch? "I don't think football wise it needs to change over here with regards to the way the girls play - the league is good here, very good," she replies.
"But I think that everything that surrounds the game is nowhere near where it should be. The girls are good enough over here and they should have a better fan base, better support from the FA and just make it bigger. It needs a lot more backing and funding to get it where it should be.
"In Holland, every club is with the men's club and they use all the facilities that the men have. They play in their stadiums - we played in the AZ stadium four times last year and the last game (of the season) was at Willem II's stadium and there were 11,000 people there - to get that number there was unbelievable.
"You think back to here and when Everton played Arsenal (the attendance) should have been a lot bigger than it was, especially with the players they had on show in that game. We didn't have the players in our game that Everton and Arsenal had but they didn't get the crowd that they deserved to get and that's disappointing."
So if a player approached Jess in the future, saying she had received an offer from a club in Holland, what would her advice be? "Do it," she replies. "I think that anyone over here that wants to experience how football should be run and the way that women's football should be treated, then I would say they should do so - just to experience the everyday training, the facilities that you have and the fact that you can have one-on one training with a professional who would give as much as he would to the professional men and everything that surrounds it."
Despite everything that has happened to her in the past year, Jess is still coming to terms with what has gone on. "I still have to pinch myself actually," she smiles. "When I'm home and with my family and friends - back to reality you could say - I tell them that I can't believe where I am and doing what I'm doing."
Jess has made Welsh football history by playing full time in another country but is still keeping her feet very firmly on the ground. "I've never actually thought of that to be honest, because I've always considered Jayne (Ludlow) to be the best," she modestly replies. "Jayne is a role model for us and you can't overlook that.
"Wales has some amazing footballers and I play with them when we meet up and I don't really consider that."
You can watch the full extended interview with Jessica Fishlock on our TV Channel!
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