Jayne Ludlow recently announced her decision to retire from football after an illustrious 13-year playing career at Arsenal Ladies.
Now 34, the Wales international, who made more than 60 appearances for her country joined the Ladies from Southampton in 2000.
Blessed with natural leadership skills and a supreme will to win, Ludlow skippered Arsenal through the quadruple-winning season of 2007, lifting the European Cup after a 1-0 aggregate victory over Swedish side FC Umea.
In total, Arsenal won 26 major trophies in the 13 seasons that Ludlow represented the team.
Described by Arsenal Ladies general manager Vic Akers as “one of the best box-to-box midfielders in the game”, Ludlow struck 28 goals in her first campaign in north London, eventually becoming the Ladies’ all-time top scorer.
Speaking to Arsenal.com on the eve of her retirement, Ludlow revealed why she decided to hang up her boots, looked back at her trophy-laden career and outlined why she sees her long-term future as a coach.
Jayne, you've just announced your retirement. What brought the decision on?
I’ve reached a time in my career where coaching has become the thing I enjoy most. I get more of a buzz from setting up sessions, challenging youngsters and leading them rather than doing things myself now, so that’s what I’ve decided to focus on.
Injuries mounted up towards the end of your career - did they play a role in your retirement?
I’ve had a fantastic time here and even prior to my time at Arsenal. I really have enjoyed every minute of itJayne Ludlow
They did play a part because you kind of get to a point where you’re waiting for the next one to arrive. I still love the game and hope I can be involved in it for the rest of my life. But time moves on for everybody. I’d love to still be that 22-year-old running around but there are more interesting things I’d like to focus my energy and time on now.
You joined Arsenal in 2000 - it must feel great to know that you’ve been such a key player during what has been a terrific period for the Club...
It’s been fun - 13 years of lifting trophies, making friends and really good memories. It’s been interesting working and playing alongside so many different personalities. I’ve had a fantastic time here and even prior to my time at Arsenal. I really have enjoyed every minute of it.
Arsenal Ladies won 26 major trophies during your time at the Club. How proud does that make you?
I actually don’t know how many I’ve won - does that sound bad? I think maybe some people are a bit envious of what we’ve managed to accumulate but for us older generation, we just enjoy the competition - be that a cup final or a league game or a friendly, we’re always competitive. There’s a generation of us that would probably say the same things I’m saying now. It wasn’t about trophies, it was about winning every game we played and we accumulated trophies along the way.
Do you retire safe in the knowledge that you achieved everything possible, especially at club level?
Yeah at club level I have. I have the memory of lifting the European Cup alongside Anita Asante and nobody can ever take that away from us. I think at the time we didn’t realise that it was so hard to get to that point. Once we lifted that trophy, we probably thought that we’d do it the year after too. But just to get to the final in the first place is an achievement. To win it was something else. I hope that the Club can do that many times in the future but it’s an extremely hard thing to do and at the time we maybe didn’t realise that.
Let’s talk a bit about the quadruple-winning campaign of 2007. When Faye White retired, she said that was probably the best team she ever played in. Is that something that you'd agree with?
Yeah, probably. When I first came in to the Club, we had fantastic players then but the profile of the game was different, so they’re not as well known. I was lucky enough to play in some great teams. It’s probably wrong to name names because I think so much of everybody I’ve played with but the ones that come to mind are Angela Banks, Marieanne Spacey and Kirsty Pealling. I should really thank Kirsty because when I was scoring 30 goals a season, it was mostly because of her crosses from the right wing. She was one of the unsung heroes, to a certain extent.
It wasn’t about trophies, it was about winning every game we played and we accumulated trophies along the wayJayne Ludlow
Going back to the 2007 side, we had the likes of Lianne Sanderson, Julie Fleeting and Katie Chapman - in fact I can still name the whole squad now. Everybody in that squad happened to be a great player and the unity we had in that team was great. The majority of us had been together for five years.
Emma Hayes was our new coach at the time and she came in with an unbelievable amount of conditioning in training, which she’d learnt from the United States. She made training a really competitive environment and I thrived on that. In every single session, we knew we had to work as hard as possible for her in every session. But it was enjoyable and by the end of the season, we had reaped the rewards for it.
I’ve always been struck by how strong a bond the more experienced members of the squad seem to have. Is that true, and if so how much more enjoyable has that relationship made your time at Arsenal?
We’re an extended family. We’ve grown up together, so you’re going to have that relationship. There are ups and downs and sometimes we fall out with each other but at the end of it all, those players are more like sisters than friends. When games get tough, you know that you can turn around and rely on them.
Whenever we step on the pitch, we want the team to do well collectively, irrespective of who gets the glory. I think that when you get older, you become less selfish as a player. In the last three years, people have assumed that we would crash and burn because we’ve got a lot of players that are aged 30 or over. What people don’t realise unless they’ve been in that environment is that those players become less selfish. They want the youngsters to develop and grow. I think that’s benefitted the kids coming through now.
Let's go right back to the start. Do you remember how you signed for the Club? How did the move come about?
I should thank Sian Williams for that. She was our captain at the time and was coaching with Wales. I was at Southampton and came up to London to do my physio degree at King’s College.
I was in my first year of that but played in Southampton because I had an offer from Vanessa Rainbyrd, who was their manager at the time - she helped me out immensely. I was lucky because we played in the same league as Arsenal and I scored a goal and did okay when we played them. I seem to recall kicking a few of them too!
Vic Akers spoke to Sian and asked if I could come and train with Arsenal and I’ve enjoyed it ever since. I didn’t know what to expect when I first turned up. I had heard a lot about the great players at the Club and from minute one I thought that it was the environment I wanted to be in.
What aspects of that environment specifically suited you and your game?
Competitiveness. We had the likes of Kirsty, Sian, Angela and Kelly Few, as well as many more. We used to train in the ball court at the JVC Centre in Highbury. It was like an indoor court with concrete walls but despite that, they’d be smashing each other.
I’ve always been competitive and have made the most of my limited technically ability, to a certain extent. Those sessions were everything I’d look forward to in the week. People would be furious with each other if they lost a training match and I loved that, because I thought that they were winners.
Though I’d had so much fun in the teams I’d played in prior to joining Arsenal, like at Barry Town, where I was taught how much fun the game could be, and at Southampton, where it was competitive, but it was another step up coming to Arsenal. We just wanted to be the best at whatever Fred Donnelly put on for us.
Fred was a great coach to me. He was like a father figure - he told me off a lot but I learnt so much off him. I remember coming in at half-time in one game where I thought I could play like Pele and he said “Luds, what are you doing? Do what you’re good at - smash people, win the ball, give it to someone who can play and get in the box.” He knew what my strengths were and he made me a better player. I’d be really happy if I could have a similar sort of relationship with players that I coach in the future.
And it was around that time that you were totally at the top of your game. What was it like to win the FA Players’ Player of the Year three times between 2001 and 2004?
It was great and it’s nice to look back on but awards like that are kind of irrelevant in a team sport because without the other 10, there would be no chance of me getting those awards anyway. Angela and Kirsty should have had at least two of those awards off me because they set up pretty much every goal.
In recent years you took on a more disciplined midfield role. Was it difficult to adjust your game from the dynamic box-to-box player that you were?
We all get older and you can’t be the same player that you were when you were a teenager. Formations and team-mates have changed over the years and it took a while to get used to playing in a different role. The coaches really helped me to make the transition.
I have to mention Laura Harvey here because alongside helping me to get my coaching badges, she’s taught me so much about the game and is a fantastic coach. I’ve learnt different bits and pieces from all the coaches I’ve played under. Laura was immense for the last four years. Vic was great too and he’s done so much for womens’ football. We had a great relationship and he was another father figure for me.
When you retired from international football, the Wales boss, Jarmo Matikainen, said that you were the most successful player that Wales has ever had - how frustrating was it not to replicate your success at club level on the international scene?
Now that I’m a bit more mature, I can think about it a bit more logically but back in the day I used to be so jealous when the girls would go to major tournaments.
I wanted to play at that level but unfortunately the organisation of the women’s game in Wales at the time was poor. I think that if you spoke to anybody in the FAW they would admit that.
Now though, it’s totally changed and I’m hoping that over the next 10 years you will see something interested from the Welsh ladies team. I’m involved with the under-16s and under-17s so I can see that the talent is there.
Now that you have hung up your boots, what’s next?
I have a varied involvement in the Club as a whole at the moment. I’ve worked as a physiotherapist in the academy for the last 10 years but over the last four years I’ve taken on the role of coaching them more.
When Laura went to Seattle, I took over the role of director of the Academy, which has allowed me to coach every day. I’ve enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would.
I’ve realised that that’s the next chapter for me. I believe that football is holistic and I think that the more knowledge that I pick up in different areas will only help my players in the future.
I look at the senior team here as my family. I used to step on the field thinking I had to protect them all and make sure nobody bullied usJayne Ludlow
With that in mind, have you thought about becoming a manager?
I love what I do at the moment because I can combine everything. I’m in my ideal role really. I just want to become as educated as possible in different areas of the game and see where the leads to. I can’t be happier than I am right now, helping the under-17 and the under-19 girls to develop.
Arsenal’s first team are about to fly out to the Far East on tour. The Ladies traveled to Japan in 2011 and you ended up on stage singing with a former team-mate turned Japanese popstar! What do you remember about that?
It’s a weird one because away from football, I’m a bit of an introvert. But I’m a bit different when I get into the environment I love. Ishy [Mihoko Ishida] trained with us for about two years and even though the language barrier was an issue, she became part of the family.
She turned into a bit of a popstar and invited us to one of her concerts and got me up on stage with her.
I’m a hopeless singer! Everybody assumes Welsh people can sing but that’s not true. But it was a really funny memory, just like when we went to Turkey and Katie Chapman and me became dancing queens in the middle of nightclubs. Those are the memories that will keep me smiling for years.
There’s no doubt that you will go down in history as an Arsenal Ladies legend. How would you like to be remembered?
I guess as a nice person. I’d like to be remembered as being passionate and fun and someone that the youngsters will refer to as somebody who helped their development when they win trophies in the future.
I look at the senior team here as my family. I used to step on the field thinking I had to protect them all and make sure nobody bullied us. Football has always been fun and I hope I can convey that attitude in the future when I’m coaching.