When Jodie Taylor was at primary school she drew a picture of herself playing for Liverpool. “I was eight or nine and that was my dream,” says the former England striker. “It was for the men’s side; I didn’t know girls could have their own teams. But I just knew I wanted to be a professional footballer.”
That ambition would result in Taylor representing 17 clubs in six countries, spread across three continents. Throw in her collection of 51 England caps, the bronze medal from the 2015 World Cup in Canada, the Golden Boot from the 2017 European Championship in the Netherlands and a Champions League winner’s medal acquired with Lyon, and it is clear she has much to be proud of.
“I’ve certainly gone through a few passports,” jokes Taylor as, at the age of 37, she reveals she is retiring from playing after deciding that last season’s stint at Arsenal was a fitting conclusion to a career in which she has lived, in no particular order, in Melbourne, Sydney, Gothenburg, Ottawa, Boston, Los Angeles, Washington, Portland, Orlando, San Diego, Liverpool, Lincoln, Birmingham and London.
“It was nice to finish at a club I love on home soil which has always respected the women’s game,” says Taylor. “I’ve known retirement was coming for the past few months but it’s a strange feeling so it’s really nice to be able to have made the decision on my own terms. It’s my choice and I’m at peace with it.”
Thanks to some inspired forward planning, she is well placed to similarly shape the future. After growing up in Birkenhead, Taylor left Merseyside for Oregon on the US’s Pacific coast where she combined playing football with acquiring a degree in sports science and psychology. More recently, the Uefa A coaching licence has been added to her CV and, as if that were not sufficient, she has embarked on a master’s in sports directorship.
The only debate is whether she opts for coaching, an off-pitch executive role or, having enjoyed working as a television pundit at the men’s World Cup in Qatar, broadcasting. “That’s the million-dollar question,” says the holder of a US green card, open to working across the globe. “But I just love football so much, I know I want to stay in the game.”
To say football has enriched her life would be an understatement. “As much as I’m delighted to see the WSL fully professionalised now, I’m glad it wasn’t like that when I started out,” she says. “If it had been I don’t think I’d have travelled the world, had some crazy, crazy experiences and learned so many life lessons.”
The highlight of a rollercoaster career featuring some “tough moments” at Portland Thorns and San Diego Wave came in Canada in 2015. Despite travelling to that World Cup less than half fit and in a race to recover from knee surgery, Taylor shone in front of a 54,000 crowd at Vancouver’s BC Place, scoring the first goal as England beat the hosts 2-1 in the quarter-finals.
Although the Lionesses narrowly lost the semi-final to Japan, victory against Germany in the third-place playoff secured a bronze medal. “Canada was my best moment and scoring in that quarter-final a major career highlight,” she says. “It even beats winning the Champions League at Lyon. That tournament marked a real turning point for women’s football in England. It was pivotal.”
Two years later Taylor was the top scorer in Euro 2017 as the Lionesses reached the semi-finals. “I had the trust and belief of the manager, Mark Sampson,” says the forward who, after being inexplicably overlooked by the former coach Hope Powell, made her England debut at the age of 28. “He was a great coach.”
Sampson left England under a well-documented cloud but subsequently received a substantial out-of-court settlement from the FA. By then Phil Neville was in charge of the Lionesses and he took Taylor to the 2019 World Cup in France where she spent much of the tournament understudying Ellen White but thoroughly enjoyed an experience which included scoring a memorable group stage winner against Argentina.
“France 2019 was a great World Cup,” says a forward whose irresistible amalgam of intuitive positioning, devastating change of pace and apparently nerveless finishing led to her being described as “world class” by, among others, Michael Owen. “It represented progression, a huge jump forward.”
The only downside was that the game’s tactical development prompted a fashion for lone strikers, something that did not always best suit a forward who had always thrived in 4-4-2 formations. “The best moments of my career came playing in front twos where I could make the most of my movement,” Taylor says. “Later, I sometimes struggled with being a lone striker but playing for so long has been a great ride.
“It’s just crazy how fast the time has gone … but I’m proud, and excited, to have played a small part in the evolution of women’s football.”