Interview: Portsmouth’s Jade Widdows

I still remember my first game watching Chichester City, their red-headed forward, Jade Widdows, caught my eye early on. I appreciate a hard worker and someone who is competitive and while they are traits Jade possesses there is much much more to her game than just that. She is an intelligent forward who knows how to put the ball in the back of the net. Jade has since moved on to south coast neighbours, Portsmouth and has had a strong start to the season, scoring for goals in six appearances. I have been fortunate enough to catch up with her.

Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I grew up in a small village, Angmering in West Sussex, and I feel very fortunate to have the upbringing I had. Having plenty of space to roam and explore, I wasn’t deprived in the innocence of my youth. I play as a forward, I support Brighton and Hove Albion, due to my father’s influence! But I have also been a big support of Man Utd.

Who was your biggest footballing inspiration while growing up?
Growing up, I was unaware of any female footballers until I was a teenager, I didn’t even know girls’ teams existed until I had reached the age you could no longer play with the boys! I looked up to David Beckham and Wayne Rooney. My father never let me win at anything, ever! And we still compete over everything today. He’s played a big part in shaping me into the player I am today, we also share the same birthday on 7th August (my shirt number).

Could you tell me about your experience at youth football?
I started off at Rustington Otters boys, moving to Littlehampton Town girls and Brighton an Hove Albion. I then went on to play soccer in South Carolina, in the United States. As a youth player, you often get played in a variety of positions, but I have always found myself settled as a midfielder or forward.

It wouldn’t be football without high’s and lows! I’ve had multiple injuries that have involved surgery, I played against Liverpool in the FA cup with Chichester a couple of seasons ago. But one of my greatest, most treasured memories playing football has always been a tournament at the David Beckham Academy when I was about 12. I remember stepping out to Take That – Greatest Day and I won the player of the tournament award, in that moment I felt on top of the world, I’ll never forget it.

You’re affectionately known as Chucky by your coaches and teammates. Did you want to explain why?
When I was a little dot, creeping my way into women’s football and starting to attend some of the women’s team training sessions, one of the girls called me a “cheeky little Rugrat” and so the with my conspicuous red hair, the connection to Chuckie from the rugrats (not the horror film) was formed!

Jade Widdows in action for Chichester City. Taken by Sheena Booker.
Photo by Sheena Booker

As you write this interview you are currently recovering from an operation. How is your recovery going?
I had a little ankle op to clear up an impingement, I was hoping to have this during the off-season, however like many people, COVID had other plans for me! It’s early days into my recovery, but sofa-so good!

When do you hope to return to competitive action?
I have a great surgeon, Mr Billy Jowett, who will be making all the big decisions about my return to play, which should be in 4-6 weeks. Of course, I also have the support and guidance of our wonderful coaching staff, players and fans who will help me get back to competitive action.

As well as football, you’ve been known to play with a different shaped ball at Havant Rugby Club. What position do you play? Ever tempted to make the switch permanently?
Coming from a rugby-mad family, I have never known any difference and I find happiness just being in that competitive, team environment. I usually play as a fly-half or fullback, rugby has always remained my second choice, even though I find the core values of the game to be far superior to football, certainly in regards to sportsmanship and discipline, I wish these values were more commonplace in football of all levels.

I have experience handling balls of many shapes and sizes, when I come into close contact, there’s no knowing what can happen!

You spent many years at Chichester City, is there one particular highlight during your time at Oakwood?
So many highlights and good friendships made with this team, but we had some great results in our FA Cup run, a penalty shootout to take us through to the next round, that subsequently ended in a 3-0 defeat to Liverpool.

In February 2019 you made the switch to Portsmouth. What were your first impressions of the club?
A professional club with the potential to go to the next level, a great group of players, whom many are familiar to me over the years playing in the South. We all have the same aspirations and they gave me a warm welcome.

Photo by Jordan Hampton

What influence has Portsmouth boss, Jay Sadler, had on your game?
Jay has had such an influence on me as a player, simply having a belief and confidence in me elevated my performances. He’s a manager that if you show your work rate, efforts and desires, especially when it counts, then he can’t ask much more. I step out each game wanting to show that even if my touch isn’t quite on that day, or I’ve missed an opportunity, I can at least give my maximum effort, show my desire to win and make him and the team proud, that’s very important to me.

Portsmouth made national press due to suffering a suffering a host of postponements last season including twelve being down to pitch related issues, one being due to Cardiff City having a high number of international call ups and lower league Warsash Wasps choosing to forfeit a cup tie. How was it for the players, it must have been difficult to stay prepared?
It was extremely difficult on both players, staff and fans. For us, it was very disappointing to sacrifice so much time and effort into training, to play the game we all love and appreciate so much every Sunday. We all felt incredibly under supported at that time, and in all honesty, it took the news for us be heard. It’s another reminder of the inequity within women’s football at this level.

You’ve now moved to a new home ground which you share with Havant & Waterlooville. You’ve just played your second game there, winning 3-0 against Hounslow, how have you been settling into your surroundings?
It’s a fantastic opportunity for us to be able to train and play at the same venue, the place really feels like a home. We’re able to come in early for treatments and catch up with each other, it’s definitely a step in the right direction and what we need to take us to the next level. We are all very appreciative as a squad to be given the opportunity.

Photo: Jordan Hampton

Looking at how open the league is, what is a realistic target for Portsmouth this season?
I want to win the league, with all the differing results each week, the league really is anyone’s for the taking. We’ve dropped some silly points early on, but so have many teams. It’s up to us now, with good application and a desire to fight and win for every game, it’s essential if we want to make that happen.

On Sunday it looked like yourself and Becki Bath are pushing each other for the club’s golden boot trophy. Will you be hoping that while you’re out that Portsmouth win but maybe the goalscoring is shared around a bit so that you don’t get left behind?
Naturally it’s always nice to be scoring goals, it’s rewarding to look at the stats and know you’re contributing to the team positively. I’ve equally got the same amount of assists in matches, which is always pleasing and often requires more work! I hope that Char can come into the team and have a good start, she’s been unlucky with injury at the beginning of the season and it’s a good opportunity to make her mark. KJ is deserving of a few more goals too, and she’ll deliver in the next few games. As for Becki, she’ll keep scoring because that’s what she does best, I wish she would pass me the ball more sometimes but as long as she puts it in the back of the net, I couldn’t care less.

I want the best for the team, because whatever happens we all want the same result and whatever that ends up being, we’ll only achieve it as a TEAM.