Gemma Davison interview: Drop a Gem on ‘em – Sounds to step to, from a hot-footing Hotspur
It has been a silverware-shimmering career for Gemma Davison so far, and no player has won more FA Women’s Super League titles than the England international. The ex-Arsenal and Chelsea star has so often been the unique ingredient, and for the current Tottenham Hotspur winger, music is always guaranteed to get those flavours swirling.
When venturing into new territory, a chaperone who knows the track and all its intricacies is never unhelpful to have around. In Spurs’ very first tilt at FA WSL life this season, Gemma Davison has been the four-time winner in Karen Hills and Juan Amoros’ camp.
Her success in the competition has been shared (almost equally) between Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea. It was with the latter that she won the division twice, along with the one-off Spring Series in 2017, and the 2015 season captured the winger at her dazzling best.
Women’s football in England has had premier attacking talents aplenty through the years, but the Potters Bar native’s particular style is hard to find a direct comparison for. Her affection and fascination for the game’s silkier side is pretty much lifelong, with music another outlet for that energy and imagination.
Having just turned 20 at the time, she appeared in the first leg of Arsenal’s triumphant UEFA Women’s Cup final tie against Swedish side Umeå IK in April 2007, as they strode towards a never-forgotten quadruple (also winning the FA Women’s Premier League, FA Women’s Cup and FA Women’s Premier League Cup). Gemma recalls how, for a time at least, she was the one to help get the Gunners locked and loaded – as a team DJ, of course.
“Yeah, I think I was, at Arsenal back in the day for a bit, when I had time to kind of download music all the time! I’ve become busier as my career’s gone on, but I did have a little bit of the limelight at Arsenal for a while.”
From being part of that formidable, all-conquering side, she would return in the early years of the WSL to win another league title (2012) and both domestic cups (2013). Her game has naturally been refined along the way, but the creative heart has always remained.
The former Reading player also coaches and mentors young players, and as she alluded to, priorities tend to shift over time, though a music love never quite fades out. Gemma confirms the supporting role it has undoubtedly played in her life.
“Yeah, 100 percent. I think the type of music that you listen to is according to your mood.
“I think it depends, but before football, it would have to be quite upbeat; something to make me feel ready, and it’s enjoyable as well. So, I think I listen to music based on the mood that I’m in.
“I’m massive on a bit of r&b/hip-hop, especially before football as well. Chris Brown is my favourite and always will be, I think.
“It could be any of his songs at the moment and I’ll be happy with that. I’m pretty much hooked on Justin Bieber and his new album as well; I’m happy to admit that!”
In full flow, there is no doubting her status as one of the foremost entertaining creators in the domestic game. Whether it is a split-second change of pace and direction, driving runs to the byline, or the possibility to wreak havoc centrally, when she’s on the ball, there is a chance of something good.
It is an approach built on instinct, a feeling in the moment that cannot really be converted into a set of instructions, but Gemma breaks down where the inspiration began, and how it has been harnessed.
“I had an older brother growing up and he was quite technical, and I was always trying to compete with him all the time. I think I’ve naturally always been quite technical anyway.
“I grew up massively around playing football with boys, but all the time. All the time on the streets, at my local Astroturf, anywhere, smaller spaces.
“I think watching a lot of football, I became very obsessed with watching things like that on YouTube, and just being exposed to people like that; a lot of my friends in professional football were very technical. I think I just took a shine to the more technical element of the game and kind of obsessed over it really.
“As I’ve gone on in my career, I’ve become braver, to try different kinds of skill sets and master all of it really, and I think it’s really big in the game. I really appreciate highly technical players, because I think all the best players in the world have the best technique.”
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As well as being the one she would try and emulate (and better) when it came to footballing flair, Gemma’s older brother Alex was also her reference point for music once upon a time.
“I used to just copy my brother all the time; Boyz II Men, Eminem, people like that really. Massive on those.”
There was some significant female influence, too. With the Spice Girls’ iconic reign starting to subside (don’t go, Geri!), some slick and streetwise contenders had begun to step up. They were the funky four who were the first into Gemma’s sound collection.
“First CD was a single and it was All Saints ‘Never Ever’. Going back in time there, aren’t we?!”
As well as influencing fashion around the UK at the time – their place in the Cargo Pant Hall of Fame is surely guaranteed – All Saints made sure that everyone remembered that ‘the alphabet runs right from A to zee/zed’. Who says angst can’t be educational?
For 90s hits, though, the memories aren’t all positive for Gemma!
“I think I did the ‘Macarena’ on the bus with England (for initiation). I’ve never been so embarrassed in all my life and I couldn’t wait for it to be over, to be honest!”
Thankfully, her moves have tended to ooze plenty of style and verve on the pitch in her career, whichever shirt she has worn. A winner with Chelsea in the first Women’s FA Cup final to be held at the new Wembley (against Notts County in 2015), music is one key ingredient in setting her into motion as a player, and in colourising certain moments in life outside football.
The depths to what you can glean from listening to music are colossal; an endless ocean of feeling to be explored and experienced. To actually see the sound being created live, and the group or artist’s impact in real time on an audience, however, brings a new dimension.
For live shows Gemma has seen, she has no doubt who is at the top of the tree.
“I think the best person I’ve seen, I’ve seen her three times now, Beyoncé. I don’t think there’s anyone better than her; she’s just the absolute queen, isn’t she?
“She’s unbelievable. I’ve seen Chris Brown and I’m a massive fan.
“Pink I went to see last year, she was incredible as well, but Beyoncé’s the best person I’ve seen.”
To reinforce the point that bit more, Gemma takes all of a millisecond to come up with her choice when asked which band or artist she would choose to see, if she had the pick of any from all-time.
“I’d go and see Beyoncé again, I think! Honestly, she’s unbelievable!”
Gemma was announced as one of seven new Tottenham Hotspur signings, in a bundle of additions after their promotion to the WSL for this season. As well as attacking threat, the number seven offers obvious and considerable experience to a team that has so far looked like comfortably consolidating in its first top-tier season.
Outside of passing patterns, transitions and suchlike, Gemma reveals the really crucial detail – which Spurs player has been carrying the flame as pre-match pace-setter.
“We’ve got quite a good DJ actually, Rosella Ayane. She’ll put the best song on and then give it her best dance moves – she can’t move, but she rocks it out anyway!”
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All Set for Gameday🤙🏼 Trying to keep up with @rosella_ayane 🔥👀 #coys #spurs
Her success in over a decade now at the top level in England speaks for itself, but some may not quite remember or be aware that Gemma was also once mixing it with the best of them over the Atlantic. Stellar international names Christine Sinclair, Alex Morgan, Caroline Seger and Marta were all teammates of hers in a Western New York Flash team that won the Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) championship in 2011, in what transpired to be the final year of the second attempt at a pro women’s league in the US.
It was for the Flash that Gemma scored arguably one of the most impressive goals of her career, darting her way through the Boston Breakers to net a solo effort at Harvard Stadium. With six-time World Player of the Year, Marta, at the club, and as a keen ‘skill school’ student herself, did Gemma ever look to actively practice that side of her game with the Brazilian icon in training?
“We played a fair bit doing skills prior to and after training; she enjoyed the technical side of the game just like me. She was fantastic at ball mastery so we shared the same passion for football, I think.
“I love football and I always want to master every technique there is.”
Unfortunately, if a slippery attacker is getting joy with their moves in a game, there has to be a casualty or two on the other side! Plenty of opposing players have failed to lock Gemma down, though her feint while in possession quite literally knocked one Estonia defender off their feet in a Euro 2017 qualifier for England at Notts County’s Meadow Lane.
In the Lionesses’ last game before that, Gemma scored the two goals of her international career to date, in a 7-0 win in Serbia. Debuting during Hope Powell’s tenure, in July 2009 at home to Iceland, she proudly has 16 caps for her country.
Given the level she has performed at in her career, some may feel she should have been given chance to add more to that. Gemma is asked whether she feels her style might not have necessarily fit with the system for Powell or successor Mark Sampson, as well as if she was ever given any indication of what she needed to do more of, or differently.
“Yeah, I’m not really sure. I really enjoyed my experiences with England, it’s something that you would always strive for.
“I think you’ve just got to keep working hard in places like that, things change all the time and managers want different things, but it’s always something I’ve been open to, and always will be.”
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Game on….2 touch….⚽️ @toniduggan @kazcarney .. #england #lionesses #2touch 📸 @joebennett1987 👌🏻
One very welcome accomplishment would be if she could get her Twitter account back.
“Yeah, someone hacked it, about a year ago, so I’ve been trying to get it back, but I’m struggling at the moment. Really annoying.”
In her role as technical director at the club at the time, it was Emma Hayes MBE who instigated Gemma’s move to Western New York Flash in 2011. The current Chelsea boss was assistant manager during Gemma’s time at Arsenal under Vic Akers OBE, and she set her up with Stateside loan spells as a young player, including the memorable New York summer that she won the 2010 USL W-League Championship with Buffalo Flash (Gemma was on target in the 3-1 comeback win against Vancouver Whitecaps in the final).
It was with Hayes’ Chelsea that she had some of her most enjoyable moments in football to date, with those WSL and FA Cup-winning seasons in 2015 and 2018, and a sense of togetherness that so many long for. In good times and bad, music is never too far away, and that was the case in that Chelsea group, as explained by goalkeeper Becky Spencer for this same feature in December 2018: “There’s one that a few of us last year at Chelsea used to sing and it was ‘Life’ by Des’ree. We’d finished training and something funny had happened, and I think someone said it, and then started singing the song.
“If anything used to go wrong, like we were on the losing team in the 6-a-side, we’d go in and be like ‘liiife!’ It would make everyone laugh again.”
And you thought we were all done for 1998 songs in this article.
On the incredible final day of the 2014 WSL season, Gemma’s Liverpool began in 3rd, and ended it leapfrogging Chelsea and Birmingham City to retain their title. The live TV cameras were rolling as a giddy Gemma cried out in the post-match celebrations: “I am so happy!”
For a player, and indeed a person in any walk of life, to feel genuine happiness, there are different pieces of the puzzle required. So, in her career, where and when does Gemma think she has felt that the most?
“I think, to be honest, I’ve really enjoyed the journey I’ve had at a lot of the clubs I’ve been at. Arsenal is obviously where I grew up playing, where I developed, and I really enjoyed my time there; obviously had a lot of success there.
“Went to Liverpool and won the league, and learned a different side to my game, which was great. Went to Chelsea and the first season was probably the most enjoyable season of my career; winning the double, and I’ll never forget some of the team feeling that we had that year, and the football that we played.
“The journey that I had at Chelsea was unbelievable, and now at Tottenham, building something that’s gonna be a big future, I feel valued and I feel an obligation to try and help people more as well, which I really enjoy.
“Let’s see where the journey takes us. We’re enjoying the fact that we’re kind of exceeding expectations, which I think’s massive, us proving a point all the time.”
Back on the tune train of thought, if Gemma was to record a song with any teammate(s) from her career, she would take a little something from her time at Liverpool, Chelsea and Spurs.
“I’d have to go Lucy Staniforth, because she’s actually a good singer, and I don’t know if anyone knows that. I’d have to have Rosella Ayane, just because of her dance moves; I think she’s a good laugh.
“Eni Aluko – I think she thinks she’s a bit of a diva! Maybe Millie Bright; she’s got a little bit of spice about her as well.”
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Wembley Again with this one @enialuko 💙 #facupfinal #wembley #wembleystadium #facup
Once sharing how she wouldn’t mind designing trainers, as she was obsessed with buying them, Gemma’s non-playing endeavours have long included coaching. Family time is also something she has always been quick to stress the importance of, and that comes up first as she describes life away from being a menace to defenders!
“Yeah, I’m very close with my family; niece and nephew are the limelight of our family, full of character and jokes. Any teammates I’ve played with know how funny the kids are.
“I do run my own elite coaching company for kids, which I’m very passionate about, so I put a lot of my time into helping kids develop as football players, and also mentoring and guiding them on their football journeys. It goes way beyond football for me when I coach; I want to be someone the kids can always rely on when they aren’t happy with something.
“It’s about making them enjoy every moment. In terms of things I watch on TV, I’m a big fan of documentaries, and I’m also secretly gutted there’s no Love Island on at 9pm each evening at the moment.”
As we come to the regular closing question, rarely has a player been more fitting for it! Through the years, these music/football interviews have wrapped up with the player asked for four teammates from their career they wouldn’t mind having alongside them in a 5-a-side line-up.
For clarity (and to spare a few feelings…) the question asks just for some examples of players Gemma might choose, rather than an outright, definite ‘best four’ she has ever played alongside. With its hectic energy, small spaces and constant transitions, few are as equipped to pick the pocket in a 5-a-side setting like Gemma.
But which ones could bring the fun and the flavour for her team?
“So it includes me? Okay…I’d pick myself anyway!
“If I play 5-a-side then I play to win, so if we’re winning then I’d enjoy it. Can I pick subs as well?
“I’d have to go with Becky Spencer in goal, because she’s probably one of the most technically gifted keepers in the country. I’d have to go with Drew Spence, because she’s got a bit of bite about her, and she’s got some tekkers in her locker as well.
“I’d have to pick Ji (So-yun), from Chelsea. Definitely Ji.
“I’d pick Fran Kirby. This is tough, you know?
“I’m picking all these technical players here. Do you know what?
“Jo Potter’s not a bad shout; good defender, technical, she’s got a good left foot. I’ll stick with that for now.”
To catch each of these interviews, you can follow me: @chris_brookes
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