Jess Clarke interview: The striking talents of Notts’ England songstress
International pedigree is everywhere to be found at Notts County Ladies but it is one of their England players, forward Jess Clarke, who has led the scoring this season, and she has the vocal precision to match.
It is the first FA Women’s Super League campaign for Notts County since their rebrand from Lincoln Ladies last year and there have been plenty of changes for all involved. Moving to full-time status and playing at the famous Meadow Lane, home of the men’s team, have been major plus points.
The Lady Pies have been able to bring in notable names from around the women’s game, including Canada midfielder and 2012 Olympic bronze medallist Desiree Scott. The domestic contingent is strong at the club however, and manager Rick Passmoor has a number of England internationals in his squad.
One of those is Jess Clarke, a player Passmoor coached previously at Leeds United Ladies and Lincoln. The 25-year-old has ten goals in 46 caps for England and in light of the ACL injury suffered by Ellen White she moved up front from her usual berth on the wing.
She has so far notched 12 goals in total this season and as numerous teammates of hers have mentioned on here, she is also a standout when it comes to serving up a tune. Music is an undoubted interest area for Jess so is there any background story to her talent?
“There is actually,” she said. “I’ve never had singing lessons but I remember when I was a kid, I was singing in my room.
“My mum was working nights at the time and she shouted through to me to turn the radio off! She was in shock that I could actually sing so she made me stand in front of her and do it.
“I think it comes from my dad’s side of the family and my stepsisters have always been into singing. I’ve always had a secret passion for it, and dancing too, but I’ve always found it daunting.”
Teammates of Jess’s (past and present) to have singled her out for vocal ability in their interviews on here include goalkeeper Karen Bardsley, defenders Sophie Bradley and Gemma Bonner, midfielders Anita Asante and Megan Harris, and forward Ellen White. As she mentions, Jess has not always found it a breeze to break into a song with an audience eagerly watching and listening, but her belief has grown over time.
“It’s like the feeling of stage fright and I’m my own worst critic, I’m sure everyone’s the same. As I’ve got older I’ve built more confidence as I’ve been singing in front of more people.”
An England player at various youth levels, Leeds-born Jess won her first senior cap for the Lionesses against South Africa in the 2009 Cyprus Cup. Her first goal came in that very tournament as she scored in the 3-0 win over Scotland and she was part of the squad that reached the final of Euro 2009.
Having made her first competitive start for her country in the 2-1 semi-final win over the Netherlands in that European Championship, Jess’s next appearance on the big stage was at the 2011 World Cup. She scored the winner in the group phase as Hope Powell’s side beat New Zealand 2-1 in Dresden, before the team was edged out of the quarter-final by France on penalties.
Injury put paid to her hopes of featuring for Great Britain in the 2012 London Olympics but she was back for Euro 2013 in Sweden. The group-stage elimination and Hope Powell’s subsequent departure ultimately led to the appointment of Mark Sampson and Jess has been included in the ex-Bristol Academy manager’s plans of late.
In a multitude of ways, music comes into the equation when the Lionesses are together. Right-back Alex Scott, who shared all about her tracks and teammates on here earlier this year, is the dressing room DJ for England but does Jess get to take the reins at Notts County?
“There’s been a couple of times I’ve wanted to but I’ve been too shy! At this moment, Desi (Desiree Scott) puts the tunes on; she took that over.
“Throughout the season, all the girls have been picking songs but Fuse ODG ‘Azonto’ is one Desi likes and that gets played. I think this season, Beyonce ‘Drunk in Love’ and ‘Partition’ have been ones I’ve put on there, and Chris Brown ‘Loyal’.
“I’m into a variety really, whatever sounds good, but some of my favourite artists at the moment are: Rihanna, Beyonce, Chris Brown, Ed Sheeran. Rihanna’s always on my iPod though.
“Growing up, Gwen Stefani was one who stuck out for me, and also The Killers. I remember my mum having Gabrielle on the CD player and me nodding along to it, and Britney Spears as well.”
Along with close-season signing from Arsenal, Ellen White, as well as New Zealand full-back Anna Green, Notts County have lost captain Sophie Bradley to an ACL injury this year. The latter of those featured on this site last December and along with Jess was the first Lincoln Ladies player to commit to Notts County.
The pair were FA Women’s Premier League Cup winners together in 2010 as Leeds Carnegie, managed by Rick Passmoor, beat Everton. ‘Bradders’ was the captain that night and she revealed how her and Jess used to listen to Mariah Carey when they would have to get in the ice baths as part of their recovery between games.
She brought this up when asked which of her career teammates she would choose to record a cover version of a song with and Jess opted to go down the same route!
“Yeah that was a good memory, can I pick the same one? I loved Mariah Carey’s album as a kid and that was a good football memory so that’s the one we’d do.
“I’d put Desi (Desiree Scott) and (ex-Lincoln Ladies teammate) Precious Hamilton on it too.”
Arguably one of the most eye-catching signings made by any club in the FA WSL going into this season was the Lady Pies’ capture of Canada’s Desiree Scott. The former FC Kansas City midfielder starred for Canada in the Olympics two years ago, making her mark with tenacious and assured performances en route to the team securing the bronze medal.
Like Jess, ‘The Destroyer’ has had her singing skills talked about many times on this site by those she has played alongside. Jess is another to praise the 27-year-old and she mentions her along with another of County’s England players, but for a different reason!
“Desi’s a very good singer as well, I’ve heard her myself and I think she actually applied for and went on a programme in Canada. Dunia Susi’s not the best but she’ll have a couple of singing outbursts which are always entertaining!”
In addition to Scott, Notts have added several players from overseas during their inaugural season. There is the aforementioned Anna Green and her New Zealand counterpart Katie Hoyle (midfield), as well as former Sydney FC captain and defender Danielle Brogan and fellow Australian Caitlin Friend (forward).
Striker Fiona O’Sullivan, an American-born Irish international and another past Beats & Rhymes FC interviewee, was also brought in recently. She got the equaliser in the televised 1-1 draw at Arsenal in July and is the only player other than Jess to score for Notts in the league this season.
Jess spoke highly of the impact the new recruits have made but confirms that they managed to avoid being made to sing when they each joined the team, for now at least!
“We were thinking of a few initiations but we all just wind each other up in general so I think that’s enough! All the girls who’ve come in are such strong characters, not just on the pitch but off it.
“Desi always puts a smile on everyone’s face, Caitlin too. Fiona’s a leader on the pitch and a big character to have.”
Prior to last weekend’s narrow 1-0 loss at champions Liverpool, Notts had not been in action for almost a month. With eight of their WSL games now played, they currently sit 7th on seven points, although half of the league has played at least once more than them at present.
Any side will feel the loss of its key players but the Lady Pies are in the semi-final of the Continental Cup, where they will face Arsenal away in a live BT Sport encounter on Sunday 7th September. Rick Passmoor’s team are also looking forward to a long-awaited home match when they take on Manchester City at Meadow Lane on Wednesday 3rd September.
Jess has been a permanent fixture in the line-up in 2014, netting eight of her goals in the Continental Cup and displaying her finishing ability alongside that trademark pace. She was named in the England squad along with Notts goalkeeper Carly Telford for the World Cup qualifier with Wales this month and her assessment of the overall picture at the club is a bright one.
“It’s been a dramatic change, the whole structure of the club. The team ethos and spirit is second to none and no matter what ups and downs we have it’s like a family.
“With training full-time and having Rick and (assistant) Colin (Walker) they’ve helped me with areas like getting on the scoresheet more.”
Besides scoring in the tournament itself, Jess’s goal haul for England includes four in qualification for the 2011 World Cup. She also hit the mark in the Lionesses’ 2-1 win over the number-one-ranked U.S. in April 2011, the first time England have beaten their opponents from the States since 1988.
Personable and outgoing to talk to, Jess had something to share when asked what she feels her years in football have taught her up to now.
“I think as I’ve grown and developed I’ve had ups and downs but the main thing I’ve learned is to keep believing and trusting in yourself. A quote that’s stuck with me to a certain extent is that you can have all the talent but without hard work, talent goes nowhere.
“I’ve always known I could play football and had that dream but it’s the stuff behind the scenes and all the extra sessions that make the difference. Most nights after school I’d be doing my runs and speed sessions and I’d do it of my own accord.
“Also, it’s important to just enjoy the ride, that’s the main thing, because there’s nothing better than doing something you love. We’re all quite lucky.”
Even for the players who live and breathe football, time away from playing or training can be welcome, whether simply for respite or for the opportunity to take part in other interests. As she discussed this, Jess reiterated her love for singing and dancing before giving a good glimpse into who she is outside of her sport.
“At the moment, I’m doing a teaching assistant course and working with people with disabilities.”
To finish up, it is Jess’s turn to be the latest player to put forward their fantasy 5-a-side team. Selecting from the best they have ever played alongside, each player is asked to put themselves into the line-up and to choose four others to join them.
Here is Jess to introduce her selection and she is certainly not the first to want to name a lot more than four!
“I’d definitely have Sophie (Bradley) in there. She’s obviously our captain and she has really good leadership skills.
“She’s consistent and it’s very rare you see her have a bad game. I’d have Carly (Telford) in goal.
“She’s very vocal and kind of gels everyone together. With her there, especially with Sophie, I’d trust she’d dig us out if we were in trouble.
“This is quite difficult because I just want to pick all of my teammates! I’d have to say alongside me I’d have Precious (Hamilton) – I felt we had a good partnership (at Lincoln) and hopefully we’d cause some problems.
“In midfield, I’d have Desi (Desiree Scott). She’s solid, she breaks down play and her work rate is fantastic.
“She’d get amongst it and hopefully give it to me and Precious to score a few!”
To catch all of these interviews, follow me on Twitter @chris_brookes and like the site on Facebook