2020 has been a difficult and tumultuous year for everybody involved in women’s football, whether it be leagues’ ending prematurely, some not restarting, or others still struggling to get underway at all. Even for those lucky enough to be playing games, most are walking out in front of empty stadiums as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a negative effect on sport and society around the world.
Some have been caught in the midst of the chaos more than others, with England midfielder Jade Moore one who has had her year consistently disrupted by the pandemic on a domestic and international basis.
Coming to America?
The 29-year-old all-action midfielder sought a new challenge at the beginning of the year, joining National Women’s Soccer League side Orlando Pride from FA Women’s Super League club Reading just before the pandemic took hold of the sporting calendar, and it’s a move Moore is still waiting to complete with the NWSL season affected more than most.
“I knew my contract with Reading was coming to a head,” said Moore. “I’d not had much chat from Reading regarding a new contract pre-making this decision. I think that helped me sort of say, ‘Okay, well, I need to have a look at what’s next.’
“It was probably always on my radar moving on. I’d been there three years and had quite a few injuries. I think three years is an ample amount of time to be at a club and see whether you just stay there or not.”
Pride manager Marc Skinner was more than familiar with the quality and attributes Moore could bring to his team as he looked to turn the side’s fortunes around after a difficult first season in the NWSL for him personally, but Moore still had a loyalty to the Royals when the Pride first came calling late last year.
“Orlando actually started open conversations around Christmas time,” she recalled. “They actually wanted me to go out post-World Cup last year, but it didn’t sit right with me having not played enough games for Reading. I felt like I needed to give them a little bit of my playing time given the injuries I’d had.
“I was just like, ‘This is not the right time.’ Christmas came around and the dialogue opened up again, they were keen to get me over there. It was either I go in June or July when my contract ran down or Orlando paid me out of my contract. I was pretty open at that point to anything happening. I left it for the clubs to decide and they came to an agreement to release me from my contract and sign there and then.”
Moore was adamant she wanted to visit the club she was leaving her life behind to get an idea of what she was signing up to.
In February, she spent three days in Orlando experiencing what her new lifestyle would become, but she is yet to return to the United States or Orlando, with the COVID-19 pandemic putting a hold on the NWSL season, more so for the Pride.
With a Challenge Cup tournament agreed to take place during the summer as a compromise, every club was set to take part until several Pride players tested positive COVID-19 days before they should have been flying to Utah for the tournament, leaving them no choice but to withdraw and Moore stuck back home in England with no games to play.
“It was bizarre, to say the least,” Moore admitted. “I was at home knowing any day I could get a call saying I need to go and get my visa sorted. I’d moved back up home when the season ended so I was kind of taking it day by day at that point because I still needed to get my visa signed off.
“When COVID hit, it was like, everything’s closed, so I was dealing with my own issues. The consulates had closed so I couldn’t get my visa which meant I couldn’t get out to Orlando. Finally, I got my visa interview and had it signed off. It went all the way to the White House for a legal document to be signed to allow certain people to travel into the country — it was a big palaver!”
Moore was set to fly out on the Friday to finally join her new teammates, but on the Wednesday evening she got the notice that Orlando was pulling out of the tournament.
“I actually think going through it where I was, I was in the best place. I was at home, I was safe. I had structure and routine training on my own, nothing changed too drastically. If I’d flown out two or three days before I’d have been in the midst of the chaos that unfolded.”
Moore was left in limbo alongside every other player in the FA Women’s Super League, including many of her England teammates.
With the FA WSL season also brought to a premature close, Moore couldn’t even finish her domestic season as the U.K. went into lockdown to halt the spread of the virus.
While it was a difficult time mentally for many to cope with their day-to-day routine being halted, Moore was able to put a more philosophical spin on the months she was left without being to kick a ball about every day.
“I just kept saying if it’s the right thing for me to get out there, it will be the best thing for me. But if I have to stay at home, that will be the best situation to stay safe, get over a few niggles, and see family. I lived by that motto of whatever will be, will be.
“Nothing happened, Florida was in a really bad state, so I knew I was healthier and safe being at home. Orlando was really thorough. The sport scientist worked wonders at sending over programs, making sure if I did get the call I’d be in the right condition to go out and play a completely different level of football. I think the challenge of knowing I was going to come up against something I’d never done before was keeping me motivated.”
As the months moved on, life in England was able to return to some sort of normality, but there were still questions over what football would look like if and when it came back.
Gradually, plans and protocols were put in place for not only the return of domestic competitions but also the completion of the 2019/20 Champions League, with a full week of games scheduled in northern Spain to complete the quarterfinals, semifinals, and to crown a winner.
Moore didn’t know it at the time, but her next game, seven months on from her last match in the FA Cup with Reading, would be a Champions League quarterfinal for Atlético Madrid against rivals Barcelona.
The story of how Moore ended up signing for Atlético ties in with what a crazy year it had already been for the midfielder by the time the deal was signed and confirmed.
“Yeah, this one’s an interesting one, to be honest with you,” she laughed. “I touched base with my agent pretty much when the whole COVID situation happened with Orlando. I knew nothing else was going to happen in the USA and with the lack of game time for me over the past few years, going on loan was going to be the best option.
“I knew I had to get minutes. I knew I couldn’t go 10 or 11 months potentially without playing a game and then go back to the NWSL where the league is very physically demanding.”
While several top NWSL players headed for England, including U.S. Women’s National Team stars Tobin Heath, Christen Press, Rose Lavelle, Sam Mewis, and Alex Morgan, plus returning players such as Rachel Daly and Jess Fishlock, Moore was dead set on still pursuing a new adventure after deciding to move her life and career to the U.S.
“My agent asked where, when, who, what will tick the box? I just said, ‘Anywhere but England.’ That is literally what I said. If England was the only option then we’d sit down and speak about that, but I wanted to go and explore different avenues because I needed a new challenge. The reason I didn’t sign for anyone in England was because I didn’t want to be in England anymore. I needed a fresh start.
“I hadn’t heard a lot. A few things had rumbled around but the loan thing was putting a lot of people off. Nobody really wants a player for just a few months.”
Her next move would ultimately end in her joining Atlético, but that’s not to say it was necessarily something she saw coming.
“At that point, my mum, step dad, partner were like, ‘Let’s go on holiday, what have we got to lose?’” She stops to laugh briefly, before adding, “We booked a holiday on the Tuesday, flew to Spain on the Saturday evening, and that’s when the U.K. then put the quarantine in place for coming back from Spain.
“We literally landed for a two-week holiday and that’s when Boris [Johnson, Prime Minister of the U.K.] said we’d have to quarantine. I was like, ‘Brilliant.’ I didn’t know what it meant for football, I spoke to my agent and just said we’d cross that bridge when we come to it. I spent the two weeks enjoying my holiday and then the Tuesday before I was meant to fly home, I got a message saying, ‘Atlético are interested, what are your thoughts?’”
Moore would never return from her impromptu holiday to Spain; instead of a plane home she was on a train to Madrid with only her holiday gear. No football kit, no boots, but plenty of sun cream and other amenities!
“I was like, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’ There was no point going home to quarantine. I left it to the club and the agent, and on the Saturday I got the train with nothing but my holiday clothes in a bag.
“I went on holiday and haven’t been home since. We left on July 25th and I’ve been here two months now. You can’t write it. I had no boots, no shin pads, everything had to get sent out, I had to start from scratch.”
Thrown Into the Trenches
There was at least one familiar face waiting in Madrid for Moore in the shape of England teammate Toni Duggan, who was about to embark on her fourth year in Spain and her second in Madrid after switching from Barcelona a year earlier.
But despite being good friends, Moore left any conversation with Duggan about joining her at Atlético until the last minute.
“I didn’t want my decision to be altered due to someone else’s experience, if that makes sense? I’d have gone there if Toni wasn’t there. I didn’t pick up the phone to her until it was near enough a done deal and ask had I made the right decision?” she laughed.
“I knew I needed to go and play football. The competition, the competitiveness of the league, that was another tick in the box, but I knew I just needed a fresh challenge, so luckily everything worked out.”
The surprises, both good and bad, didn’t end there. Atlético’s first competitive game would be a Champions League quarterfinal against Barcelona, a winner-takes-all one-off match for a spot to face Wolfsburg in the semifinals.
Moore would end up starting the game, her first minutes of any sort in six months, with only a few days of training behind her due to her new club also being adversely affected by the pandemic, but it was a game she admits she wasn’t expecting to be involved in.
“I was like, ‘Oh, Champions League, that will be nice to see the team and get a feel for it,’ thinking I wouldn’t be playing. I literally got to the club on the Tuesday, trained Wednesday, and then everything got put on hold again because of COVID. The next time I trained was the Monday after, so I trained for four days only before the game on the Friday.”
No sooner had Moore arrived, five Atlético players tested positive for COVID-19. Silvia Meseguer, Deyna Castellanos, Laia Aleixandri, Charlyn Corral, and Leicy Santos would all miss the quarterfinal, leaving Atlético with a huge task and Moore thrown into the starting eleven with options thin on the ground.
After seeing both her new clubs adversely affected by the pandemic, Moore must surely have felt like someone owed her a bit of luck?
“I did. I knew the girls would be like, ‘It’s your fault, you’re the common denominator,” she laughed. “Nothing this year has been anything I expected, so I have a completely open mind right now. Luckily, right now, things have worked out. I just hope in February if we sit down and have another conversation, I’m in Florida and everything’s back to normal.”
Atlético would put up a resilient fight but ultimately go out to their fellow Spaniards, but the domestic season is finally set to get underway this weekend after long negotiations with the Royal Spanish Football Federation, with Moore’s side facing Espanyol.
Priorities Still in Place
With a loan deal only until the start of next year, Moore is more than set on starting next year in Orlando rather than Madrid, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t excited about another new challenge, even if it’s not the one she expected.
“I couldn’t probably have asked for a better stepping stone. Going to Florida, the weather will be very different, and even in Spain the weather, obviously, is a lot better than England, so I can adapt to that.
“But then I’ve got such a stark contrast in the style of play. In England, it’s competitive, it’s spicy, it’s technical in some elements but very physical in others. I come here to Spain and it’s very much technical football. It’s the best of both worlds going to America because I’ve played some physical football and I’ll have played some technical football, if that makes any sort of sense!”
She also has Duggan to teach her some of the local language. “She’s good actually, you know. She doesn’t believe herself but she’s been here four years now! The girls here though say they can’t understand anything either of us say.”
If having her domestic year disrupted wasn’t enough, Moore, along with Duggan, wasn’t able to return to England last month for a first national team camp since the SheBelieves Cup at the start of March.
With quarantine rules still in place, head coach Phil Neville was unable to select players playing abroad, knowing their quarantine period would only end by the time the camp was over.
Moore admits it’s been a frustrating time as her injuries have seen her miss several camps, but isn’t letting England become her number one priority as she strives to just get back on the pitch and play some football.
“They’ve kept us in the loop with everything,” she said. “What’s going on? When’s it happening? We have a camp this month with a game and hopefully something before the end of the year too. It’s an Olympic year and for me, I want to get back there and trying to get a bit of a foothold in the squad again.
“For me, England’s not a priority, but it is a priority too. I want to get back playing first and foremost and hopefully England comes with that. They’re on the same level, priority-wise. It’s difficult because everything that’s gone, I’ve played one game since March and then not played again for the last six weeks since the Barcelona game. Consistency is a big word I’ve thrown around for a few years now because I don’t feel I’ve had it — that’s something I’ve been chasing.”
The reality of the current situation hasn’t changed Moore’s view of what she wants to achieve, but it has given her perspective on how much she can plan out what may or may not happen over the coming 12 months.
“Everything’s locking back down in England. If that happens in Spain, will the games stop again? If you start thinking too much, you don’t even get to next year. For me, it’s just about basically staying present, staying fit, enjoying my football again — that’s one of my biggest things.
“I want to win, to be at a team that’s successful. Orlando had a bad season but where they want to go and their potential is a fresh challenge and something they’re more than capable of achieving. Atlético here is a different challenge but something very similar. I haven’t done a lot of reflection, I’ve jumped in two feet, but I’m actually in a really good position, I’m happy with where I am.”