Long before the world heard the news of “the illness of the teenage goalkeeper”, I had heard plenty about “my friend from work, Jordan”. In fact, for an entire year before her death, Jordan’s name regularly infused conversations in my house. My close friend Emily worked with Jordan at a local Hotel Diner and often spoke of her. Knowing we had a shared interest in football, I felt a pang of fondness toward Jordan. To this day I am regretful that I was never able to meet her, I am sure we would have had plenty to talk about.
With the permission of her family – Mum, Michelle, Dad, Rob, brother, Luke and sister-in-law, Molly – Emily and I sat down together to speak about Jordan.
Emily begins slowly, stirring resting memories that are seemingly reluctant to be disturbed, the good and the bad. Yet I would like to be very clear, this was not a sombre affair. Anything but. Emily speaks about Jordan with such affection, a warmth so genuine that with every word uttered it feels as if I am truly seeing her.
“She loved The Lion King and One Direction” is one of the first things Emily says and just like that eighteen-year-old Jordan is with us. The typical teenager with a love for music, Disney and Netflix. “She liked just normal things. We would go round and just watch films, right up until the end.”
A flash backwards and Emily quickly notes that she had not known Jordan for very long. “I think it was just over a year”, yet the impression Jordan has left upon her is striking. A memory of a recently bereaved Emily catches me, she is shakenly asking no one in particular, “I’ve never had anything like this, what do I do?” A stark reminder that time and the people we wish to spend it with do not always go hand in hand.
As we continue, what started as a trickle soon became a downpour. We find ourselves in an intimate occasion in which a person opens themselves up without fear of repercussion as Emily begins to describe Jordan with a fluid vivacity. It becomes difficult to not consider that she has unwittingly been waiting to speak so frankly for quite some time.
What forms is a vibrant picture of a selfless individual, one that was willing to go above and beyond to make the lives easier of those around her. “She was one of those people who never wanted to let anyone down. She was always trying to do more, always offering to cover people’s shifts and things like that. I used to say to her, ‘Jordan, it’s fine, you don’t have to cover the shifts if it’s too much.’ But that was just it, it was never too much.”
Earlier than expected, we find ourselves speaking about football. “She was very good. I’ll admit I don’t know a lot about football, but even I know she was really good at what she did. There was this one save she made that everyone went mad about. People still talk about it now.” Emily is referring to the 2018 Kent Reliance Women’s Cup final. After drawing 1-1, the match that ended up going to penalties and Jordan’s spectacular footed save meant Kent Football United lifted the silverware.
Jordan’s football career was an illustrious one and one that undoubtedly would have continued up the pyramid. The Dawes family detail Jordan’s extensive career, one that began like many others. Jordan started out playing for a boys team, Titan Tigers, as well as playing for her primary and secondary schools respectively. Jordan’s Mum, Michelle, goes on to explain that she also played for Kent Schools FA, Orpington District, Charlton Athletic, Gillingham and Kent Football United.
Furthering Emily’s declaration of Jordan’s skill as a goalkeeper, Michelle explains that Jordan was in the application process for a scholarship in America, “it looked like she was getting a full scholarship”. Upon asking Michelle what Jordan’s footballing aspirations were, she sincerely replied, “she wanted to go all the way.”
Jordan’s former coach, Charlton Athletic and Northern Ireland midfielder Ciara Watling, graciously expresses her admiration of Jordan’s dedication to her sport. “Jordan was an amazing goalkeeper, she had it all! She has been with Gillingham and Charlton, but when I met her, she was playing for a local team, Kent Football United. Her dream was to go to America and play out there which sadly she didn’t get to do, but I know she would’ve succeeded out there and I have no doubt she would’ve come back and played at a high level over here, easily in the Championship.”
“She was a very shy girl at first”, Ciara adds, “but she soon came out of her shell and brought a bit of sass with her, always working hard with her goalkeeper coach Neale at APD as well. I loved working with Jordan and the team, the girls were a real unique bunch and made me laugh all day every day.”
Jordan was an avid Manchester United fan and was ecstatic to learn they were forming a women’s team. The news was made even sweeter when it was announced goalkeeper Siobhan Chamberlain would be joining, and that former defender, Casey Stoney, would be taking the helm. Michelle reveals that Chamberlain and Stoney were two of Jordan’s footballing heroes, along with United keeper, David De Gea. After informing Michelle of Manchester United’s success in the WSL, I asked how Jordan may have reacted to this. “J would love it!” A response that fetches a smile.
“She got to meet them”, Emily says as I enlighten her on Stoney’s Red Devils. “She met them and went on the pitch and everything.” Emily is speaking about Manchester United’s game against Charlton in January 2019, in which Jordan led the team out whilst wearing Chamberlain’s shirt.
“She met Olly Murs, Louis Tomlinson sent her a message and she managed to see The Lion King. She had some really lovely things.” Emily says, and the touching tributes that poured in, surface in our minds when the news of Jordan’s diagnosis became public. Yet, I reflect upon hearing this news privately, reliving Emily’s subdued days, the muted conversations when helplessness prevailed.
“She kept coming into work saying she had headaches and that they were getting worse. She had migraines at work”, Emily starts as we begin to speak about Jordan’s last months. She takes me back to 22nd November 2018, the day that began just like any other. “I was at work and my manager came over to me and he asked me to read a text. It was from Jordan’s Mum and it said ‘We’re in the hospital, J’s had a stroke.’”
Emily takes a second, her eyes, for the first time, telling of the pain that is still very real. She goes on to lay out the timeline that followed. “All we could think was, why did this eighteen-year-old active girl have a stroke?” Unfortunately, the answer was nothing anyone could have imagined. Jordan had liver cancer. She was moved to a London hospital where the Dawes’ then learned of the heart-breaking prognosis, the cancer had spread and there was nothing anyone could do.
Just before Christmas, Jordan returned home where the Dawes’, even in their toughest time, on their hardest days, opened their doors to friends and family to visit Jordan as and when they wished. Emily gushes over the Dawes’, “they are the nicest family you’ll ever meet. So lovely, so welcoming, all of them – aunts, cousins, uncles – all of them.”
As she begins to describe Jordan’s Mum, Michelle, an upturned smile begins to take shape. Emily speaks with an overwhelming respect, as only someone who has witnessed a person burden a living nightmare can. “Her Mum did not leave her side. Honestly, she did not leave her at all. Only once did I ever see her [Michelle] cry. She is so strong, she always put on a brave face and never let it show.”
As she continues to talk, Emily begins to laugh. She jovially recalls Jordan insisting on being able to go in the hot tub. “She was adamant she was going in”, she jokes, “Her Mum was doing everything she could to put her off because she’d have to be lifted, but she wasn’t having any of it. She was going in. So, there we all were, standing outside absolutely freezing, it was about January time, and there she was, in the tub having a great time just chilling.”
“And she wanted this pink Nike bag.” She carries on, the memories tumbling out thick and fast now. “It was to hold the medication that was being pumped into her arm. I don’t know what it was about it, but she just kept going on about this bag.”
And there she was. Jordan. The figure that retained that pitchside determination, the girl who’s sense of humour never faltered, who remained her lovable self until the very end.
As our conversation draws to a close, Emily recounts Jordan’s last days. On her final Thursday, Jordan was moved to Ellenor Hospice where she peacefully passed on 22nd February 2019. Jordan’s funeral, or ‘celebration day’, as is the preferred term, was attended by roughly eight hundred people. “It was packed, there were so many people that they were spilling over outside.”
But further than this, Emily explains a particular incident that occurred on this day and has done on every day that represents Jordan since. “It’s so strange”, her eyes widen in disbelief, “on every ‘Jordan day’ there is a rainbow. I kid you not. Every time.” As if confirming this to herself, she shows me a photograph of a rainbow spanning the sky on the day of Jordan’s service.
Emily begins to speak of Jordan’s family once again. “They like to give back” she says, alluding to the Dawes’ eternal gratefulness for the opportunities Jordan was able to have. The Dawes family, and those close to them, continue to organise fundraisers in order to “give back” to the charities that supported them. Their next fundraiser will be a Tough Mudder in September.
It is through these events, these friends and family members that Jordan lives on. Through them she will be forever remembered for everything she was on the pitch and everything she was off of it. For it is clear that Jordan Dawes was someone rather special, someone who brought the sun even when she felt the rain. Just like a rainbow.
With special thanks to The Dawes Family, Emily Collins and Ciara Watling.
Charities: Ellenor Hospice, Clic Sargent, Rays of Sunshine, Emily Ash Trust, Alexandra Sales Trust