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Wales' Greatest Players: Jess Fishlock

In Budapest, a Welsh footballer registered to an American team, won a Champions League final playing on-loan for a French club. It's the kind of globe-trotting story that only Jess Fishlock can write, not just for the air miles accumulated but for the success that has flown alongside her. Since making her debut for Cardiff City Ladies aged 15, Fishlock has gone on to play in England, the Netherlands, Scotland, Australia and Germany, as well as the United States and France. Numerous honours have followed including two Eredivisie titles, two NWSL Shields, two W-League Premierships and - now - two Champions League crowns.


On the international stage, too, Fishlock has enjoyed a remarkable career. She became the first player to ever reach 100 caps for Wales and each game she plays these days extends her record as the country's most-capped player. Meanwhile, her presence in the heart of midfield during the women's last qualifying campaign almost helped the nation reach its first World Cup since 1958.
But besides the medals, trophies and accolades amassed from across the world, what sets Fishlock apart as a true Welsh legend is how she's achieved them.

Her journey began as a teenager when she left her family back home and moved to the Netherlands. Signing for AZ Alkmaar made her Wales' first ever female professional footballer but the hard work had only just started. Adjusting to a full-time training schedule, not knowing the language and being the only foreign player in the Dutch league made her question the move. However, after speaking to her family, she decided to stay and that proved to be the catalyst for a phenomenal career.

As well as encouraging her to travel again later on in life, she improved as a player, reverting from an all-out attacker to a box-to-box midfielder. Consecutive Eredivisie titles followed before she returned to the UK with Bristol Academy, who were about to embark on a first professional season in the newly formed Women's Super League. The team enjoyed relative success but Fishlock stood out during her two-year spell, being voted the club's best player in both campaigns and also earning the WSL Player Of The Year award in 2012.

Fishlock has seen success in the US, Germany, France and Australia

With her stock continuing to rise, Fishlock continued to pursue new goals by flying out to Australia during the WSL off-season. Despite playing just six games, she became a popular and important member of the Melbourne Victory team and was nominated for their own player of the year award. Soon after, at 26 years of age, her footballing dreams were finally realised when the newly-formed Seattle Reign signed Fishlock for their inaugural season in the National Women's Soccer League.

Playing in the United States had always been the main goal for the Cardiff-born player but she's continued to progress further during her seven-year stay. The Reign have won the NWSL Shield back-to-back and off-season spells at Victory, Glasgow City and Frankfurt have brought more titles, as well as her first Champions League winners medal. This season, the best women's team in Europe, Olympique Lyonnais, brought her in and cemented their dominance by winning the French league and cup double, plus that Champions League final in Budapest.

Fishlock is now written in Welsh footballing folklore. Her name reads alongside the likes of Ryan Giggs and Gareth Bale as a multiple European Cup winner. But while Bale has enjoyed time on the stage of a major international tournament, Fishlock is in the same boat as Giggs having never tasted a World Cup or European Championships with Wales. The international woes of Fishlock tug at the heartstrings more than the tale of Giggs, though. Yes, the former Manchester United winger more than warranted a chance to compete against the world's best after ending his career as the most decorated player in the history of football. But his commitment to the Welsh cause had often been questioned with his absence from many friendly matches.

Fishlock excelled on loan at Frankfurt

On the flip side, Fishlock has collected the most caps in the nation's history despite living outside the United Kingdom for much of her career. In the qualifying campaign for this summer's World Cup in France, Fishlock said getting Wales to that tournament would have been her biggest career highlight by far. That's an incredible statement that speaks volumes about her passion for her country. Now aged 32, the heartbreak she's felt whilst representing (and being dropped by) Wales, along with the copious amounts of travelling, has often led her to question if she should quit. Flying around the world for so many years may well have shortened her career at club level. Yet she still can't stop pulling on the red jersey.

However, along with other long-standing members of the squad - such as fellow centurion Loren Dykes and all-time top goal scorer Helen Ward - the upcoming Euro 2021 qualifying campaign is pinned down as Fishlock's last in a Wales shirt. There's no guarantee that she'll sign off her incredible career with the international tournament she deserves but there is an opportunity to build on what her and the rest of the squad have achieved so far.

Jayne Ludlow - a legendary player herself with a European Cup winners medal and several titles under her belt - has done an amazing job as the Welsh manager. Attendances have reached record levels on the back of a campaign that saw the team needing just one win to qualify for France. They may have lost out on a finals place to England but the spotlight shone on the women's team more than ever before. It shouldn't have taken this long for people to notice but, thankfully, all these players are finally getting acclaim for their hard work and dedication. Fishlock, meanwhile, is also receiving recognition for her work off the field. She was recently awarded an MBE for services to football and the LGBT community and she continues to encourage others to understand their feelings and find pride in themselves.

One of the great Welsh performance - 0-0 vs England

During Wales' upcoming qualifying campaign, then - as well as supporting the long-standing Welsh international women - go and watch Jess Fishlock play. Admire her passion. Admire her skill. Admire her haircut. Take your family and let them be inspired. Because Fishlock proves there's no stopping any Welsh youngster from achieving what they want in life - whether that's being accepted for who they are or lifting the European Cup.



Written kindly for @TFHBs by writer Lewis Davies (@Hst_Groundhop) - follow him on Twitter and check out his site at https://highstresstherapy.com/

Check out more of our Wales' Greatest Players Series:
We discuss our Wales' Greatest series on Episode 1 of our #TFHBPodcast, please check it out!


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