Exclusive Interview: Kent Football United’s Dan Carlton

Former Yeovil Town and Brighton & Hove Albion player, Dan Carlton, is now playing with fourth-tier side, Kent Football United. I have been fortunate enough to spend some time to catch up with Dan and find out how she is getting on after suffering a serious injury and how she’s been forced to explore a crowdfunder to accelerate her recovery and continue her career.

Could you tell us a little bit about yourself? 
I’m from Sittingbourne in Kent, as well as football my passion is fitness and helping people in that industry. I am a fitness instructor and strength and conditioning coach. Which unfortunately has been put on hold right now, due to this injury and secondly Covid.

I normally play CDM, but I can play and have played Centre half, number eight and ten.

I was bought up supporting Manchester United, but right now England have got some of the best coaches in the world, and for me, I like watching a lot of different teams as it’s progressed so much.

Who was your biggest footballing inspiration while growing up? 
Growing up I was always watching dad play, and my grandad would always take me over park whenever possible and play so I was around football from a very early age- I didn’t really have a lot of women coaching me growing up. A coach called Tina Mapes helped me, so I guess I would say I looked up to her when I first started at the Gillingham academy.

Growing up I always watched Paul Scholes, Steven Gerard, Frank Lampard I always loved how they played and dictated play and controlled the game. That’s how I wanted to be as a player. If I’m being honest I never really watched the female game back then as it wasn’t as developed as it is now.

Could you tell me about your experience at youth football?
Youth football for me was a bit different as I came into the game a bit later than everyone else, I played for Gillingham youth for a one season before moving onto Charlton U14s, the girls I grew up with playing were there so I wanted to be there too. A highlight for me there at that level was going to Arizona and playing in the tournament there for two weeks. Both under 14s and 16s won. Casey Stoney and Keith bonus was our managers at the time.

A lot of the girls learnt a lot from Casey growing up there, she’s was really motivated, and a true professional even back then, her and Keith worked off each other. She was still playing at the time. When I moved up to u16s I think it was about six games in and I was being put on the bench for the first team. I really enjoyed my time there and was very lucky to be involved in that club when things were good there.

Growing up I always played centre mid sometimes centre half and very rarely even left-back. At the time there weren’t too many left-footed players about, which I liked that also. If I’m being honest football then was fun and it was a good environment to be around, the only lowlight I can think off was when Charlton folded and unfortunately had to restart everything over. It was sad for the women’s game.

How important was your time at Brighton & Hove Albion in your development? 
When I moved to Brighton & Hove Albion from Gillingham I was carrying a pretty bad injury, but I was lucky to have the medical team to be able to do my rehab for a good 7/8 months. When I came back I was in the best shape I’ve been in, James Marrs was the manager at the time, he developed and helped me massively, as a coach he is one of the best around. He got the best out of me, yes we had ups and downs but it’s how football is. I’m massively grateful to him and how he helped me in the game, and I’ve always said if there was an opportunity to work with him again I would take it.

I think going to Brighton was always going to be tough as they had a team already but I knew the club had massive potential to do well with the players James bought in and it showed over those seasons he was in charge for. It progressed massively.

In 2016 you signed for then WSL side Yeovil Town. At the time Jamie Sherwood “She is a good honest professional, she will bring a great attitude to training and games, she’s a winner and that’s what we want.” A glowing review from one of the most well-respected managers in women’s football. What influence did Jamie have on your game?
Jamie contacted me about coming to the club, at the time I didn’t really know much about him or Yeovil Town and all that I did know was only through word of mouth. As a player, I always given my all in training and games but that’s what I’m about.

I’m glad he spoke so highly of me. He and Michelle did a lot as a pair and worked well with each other. Mentally he was very good before games he would always have a story to tell. He created a good side that year so something he can look back on and be happy about. The football world is a very strange place. Definitely has its good moments but also has its low moments too. One that should have ended better that’s for sure but football is football and not everything is how it seems behind the scenes.

Photo: Sheena Booker

You were part of the famous Yeovil Town side that won the WSL2, securing promotion to the WSL on goal difference over Bristol City. What is your most cherished memory from that season?
I think this has to be one of the best days of my life, in football, those opportunities don’t come around often. I was very lucky to be a part of such a good group of girls and that team at the time and the coaching staff. Also having my Family in the crowd to see that happen, and my other half, this for me was pretty special as they are the ones that made it all happen for me really.

When the whistle went against London Bees I think I just cried as I knew we were one step closer, yes, we were promoted but we wanted more, and so did I. I wanted to win the league, we had come so far, I shouldn’t have played that game, my back was in a spasm for that whole week and I think the adrenaline got me through that 90 minutes. There were so many emotions and nerves on the last game of the season, and I think the best thing about this day was walking out to the fans at Huish Park. It still gives me goosebumps, I don’t think you find a set of fans that are better than those ones.

The whole day was incredible and one I can be proud of. To say I have a super league medal is something I’ll cherish for a long time. I travelled for a good six hours on each trip to train and play for Yeovil, it wasn’t a short trip for me, I knew what we had was special.

In October 2020, during a match against Enfield FC you took a challenge which led to you requiring emergency treatment which resulted in the diagnosis of a ruptured my ACL along with both sides of your knee. How are things going with the recovery? 
Yes, unfortunately, its every athlete’s worst nightmare, whatever the level is. Recovery for me has been pretty slow and I know I am a bit behind and not really where I should be or want to be, But I am trying to do all the right things with the resources I have. The injury is something that I want to get through and come out stronger and I am still positive that I will. But it has been the hardest time for me because I don’t really have the control I would like. I know it’s a long process but the good days will outweigh the bad when I step on the field again at the end of this.

How has this injury impacted your career and daily life? 
For me personally, it’s impacted me a lot more mentally, every day has been hard since it has happened. For me, the waiting has been the hardest. Being told one thing and then another has been hard too. Firstly, I was told it was a dislocated knee (which I would have taken) but then it got a whole lot worse which has hit me hard and I think that was the worse bit.

Career-wise, it’s going to take a toll, for the first time I’m not at a club that can help or back me in ways I need to get me back on the pitch physically. The coaches there have supported me and are always there if I need them. It has affected me daily. I have to wear a brace when sleeping as it needs to stay on position, when walking I have to wear one too because it gives way a lot.

Exercise wise I can only do upper body really, although I am just sticking to a rehab programme I got from an injury prevention coach I know. I can’t walk far, but I do what I can due to pain and if I’m being honest I don’t really know how much damage is being done. I’ve always been active, but now I can’t it makes you realise what you have.

I am unable to work right now, and I don’t have any hobbies other than sport, gym. Due to Covid and this injury, it’s very hard for me to do what I know and am passionate about.

It must be even more difficult with being unable to see the people that you would normally rely on as your support network.
I never really had a big support network anyway but it’s been hard not seeing people that I do have in football and out of too, and the people I could rely on. Things have happened for me personally over the last 2 years and I haven’t been involved in football much in that time either and this makes you realise who is there and who isn’t. I do miss football a lot and having a routine (training and games) injured or not injured.

This isn’t the first serious injury that you have endured in your football career (I read that you suffered a serious knee injury while at Gillingham). Has your experience in 2014 helped you get through this? 
I did my posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) in 2014 at Gillingham on my right knee but luckily I didn’t need an operation. If it wasn’t for me moving to Brighton and getting a scan straight away I don’t think I would have recovered from it. I am so grateful for what they did for me and for getting me back on the pitch. It took nine months of recovery and it was hard, and mentally draining, but I had good people around me to get me through.

I don’t think anyone can prepare you for an injury, and I don’t think anyone could prepare for this pandemic either. So it has been a lot harder than before for me. Right now, I have no plan, no dates for things to happen etc whereas before I knew what I was doing and when and I was given a rough date of return. But this injury has hit me hard and its a lot worse than before and the only way I can return to football is by having an op and have the best recovery I can get, otherwise I won’t be coming back from this which I don’t want to think about.

So this is when I had to think of making some money to maybe get it done privately. It’s around £17,000 for the op and the rehab which is a lot of money but it's the only way right now to try and get help. I have around six good seasons left in me and I do believe in my ability that I can recover and still play at a high level.

With the NHS being under pressure at the moment you’ve been told that you have a wait of potentially two years which would rob you of two years of your football career.
I understand the NHS are going through the hardest time right now, but I honestly didn’t expect it to be as long as 2 years to wait for one, and then that’s not taking into consideration the recovery period after. It will wipe out nearly three seasons for me. I don’t have that time. So this is when I had to think of making some money to maybe get it done privately. It’s around £17,000 for the op and the rehab which is a lot of money but it’s the only way right now to try and get help.

I have around six good seasons left in me and I do believe in my ability that I can recover and still play at a high level. Being told this news took me back a bit, and am just a bit lost right now with it all and just really gutted and frustrated.

You can donate to Dan’s crowdfunder at… https://www.gofundme.com/f/u6abh6-acl-reconstruction

Have you considered your life after football? Have you considered coaching in some format?
For me, I have never really considered myself as a coach, although I do have my level 2 award. I have coached in the past but I don’t really have the passion as much as I do playing. For me, I would love to go into the fitness side of things, and the strength and conditioning side of things, (injury prevention etc) that’s my passion. Football Fitness is something I look at.

Growing up when playing I would have loved to have the resources that the teams do now. In terms of coaches with better knowledge, better facilities, gym-based programmes etc.  I would like to work with all age groups, both girls and boys, men and women.