Jade Bell races onto a through ball, beats a defender for pace, takes a touch and fires into the bottom corner of the net. The goal is the Cobblers’ seventh in a 7-3 home win over Leek Town in the FA Women’s National League Division One Midlands but, in truth, we could have been watching any from a selection of similar strikes from throughout her brilliant career.
It’s been a year this week since Bell arrived at the Cobblers and there’s hardly been a moment where she’s not looked the best player on the pitch. With some of the company she keeps from the Cobblers side and some of the opposition facing up to her and NTFC Women as they rose to the fourth tier of the game, it’s quite the compliment but entirely true.
Jade’s fascinating story has taken her from Huntingdon to Texas and back to England with the one constant thread throughout – goals.
“My football career started at my local football club, Ramsey Colts,” says Jade, “My older brother, Adam, used to play for them so I would go along to all of this training sessions and games to support him. With that, I found my love for football. As soon as I was old enough, around 6 years old, I joined the club myself.”
“At the time, there was no such thing as girls football so when I started, I was playing with boys; for many years, I was the only girl playing in the whole club. A friend of mine joined a little later, but only then, it made two of us. Some would see that as an obstacle, but for me and at that time, it was completely normal. I honestly believe that my experience in boys football helped shaped the player that I have become. Besides being the only girl, the boys and the club were great and they all supported me. Actually, of all of us in that team when I first joined, I am probably one of a very few who are still playing!”
As with any sportsperson, Jade relied on endless support from family and friends who helped shape her journey.
“Without them (her family), I wouldn’t have been able to have the career that I have had so far and even now, my family fully support my decisions and my career,” she says.
“Until I was old enough to drive, I was relying on them to take me to training and matches. As I got older, the travel distance and commitments became more demanding but there has never been a time that I missed a session because they wouldn’t/couldn’t take me. I am sure at the time I didn’t realise their commitment to my love for football, but looking back, and seeing it with the young athletes I now coach, our families make huge sacrifices in helping us reach our dreams.“
“Now that I am older, my family still play a big role in my journey, but my time at Strive Performance has allowed me to take another step. I have grown in confidence massive amounts over the last few years both physically and mentally and that has absolutely been down to the Strive Performance approach to life and sport performance.”
Strive Performance are movement and sport performance experts developing strength, power and speed and every time you watch Jade in action you can see the fruits of that partnership translate onto the pitch.
Despite being local, though, this isn’t a story of a player just doing the rounds on the Northamptonshire and Cambridgeshire circuits. After early days learning in boys’ teams, Jade took a decision that would change everything and help her to grow into the player we see before us.
“I have had a lot of experiences in football starting off, like I have mentioned, with boys at Ramsey Colts,” she says.
“I loved my time there but after u12s, girls were no longer able to play with boys (very young compared to now). From there, I joined Peterborough Diamonds as my grassroots club while also playing for Cambridge United Centre of Excellence. I was with Cambridge United at u12s and u16s, and played my u14s age group year with Rushed and Diamonds Centre of Excellence.“
“When I turned 16 and headed into women’s football, I signed for, dare I say it, Peterborough Ladies. My further education took me to Huntingdon Regional College where I continued my education while also playing football. During that time, I was also selected to be a part of the England Colleges squad which was an incredible experience in itself.“
“At 18, I headed off to America on a football scholarship and stayed there for six and a half years. Upon my return, I had a season with Cambridge United before moving to MK Dons during the covid season. From there, I went to London Bees and in November 2022 made the move to Northampton.“
The experience in America is one she would urge anyone to try, if given the chance. As women’s football grew to a stage that matched, if not overcame, the popularity of men’s football and the national side began dominating on the world stage, Jade’s move came at exactly the right time.
She explains, “My time in America was awesome! The most professional and structured environment I have been in playing football and I would encourage anyone considering it to give it a go. I attended Texas A&M University – Commerce which was a Division II school at the time (it is now Division I). I was on a four year scholarship but suffered a serious injury in my second year which made me miss the entire season.”
“Not many people know it now, but I broke my tibia and fibula and dislocated my ankle. It required surgery and a lengthy return to play process. Despite that, I grew so much as a person and a during that time and although it was tough to go through, I wouldn’t go back and change it. Two of the three seasons I had after that out there were the best of any. I was captain of the team for my final two years and we went on to win two back to back conference tournaments. Memories that I will remember forever.”
“With my injury, it meant getting an extra season in college football which allowed me to stay and complete my Master’s degree. After college football, I spent two seasons with FC Dallas in the WPSL summer league and also spent a summer training with Houston Dash in the NWSL. Experiences that will last a lifetime!”
The move to return to these shores came not as a long and anguished thought process but as a feeling that the time was right and so, in 2017, Jade came back to England to stay.
“I am not sure it was a decision to return to the UK but maybe a feeling,” she says
“When I graduated from college, I was staying with a host family in Dallas through playing with FC Dallas and after a lengthy period waiting for a year working visa, I began working as a personal trainer. I was due to return home for Christmas anyway in 2017 as I always had done, but had left my role as a personal trainer and was due to start a coaching role in Boston, Massachusetts in the January when I returned.”
“I booked my flight back for early January but the original date was cancelled because of bad weather in Boston. The flight was rearranged for a few days later. I packed my suitcases and went to bed the night before, only to decide on the day of my flight that I didn’t want to go back. I think had I been going back to Texas, I would have gone, but I wasn’t ready for another big change and also wanted to spend valuable time with my family. My Nan and my parents were only ever getting older, as was my brother and the rest of my family, and I felt it was time to stay at home with them.”
“I get asked a lot whether I miss America and regret my decision. Of course there are aspects of living in America that I miss but there is not one part of me that regrets my decision to stay in England.”
After some time at MK and London Bees on her return, there was one player and friend that would form an important and lasting link and who would end up playing a pivotal role in Jade moving to the Cobblers in November 2022.
“You can thank Zoe Boote for my move to Northampton! And of course Josh and Liam (NTFC Women joint managers) for making the final decision to sign me. I played with Zoe at MK Dons and sometimes in life and teams, you come across people that are very similar to you in terms of your mindset, desire and standards; Zoe was that person. We got on really well at MK Dons and always made sure we were pushing each other and supporting each other on and off the pitch.”
“I left MK Dons to join London Bees in October 2021 and we said we’d stay in contact. Often, we say that but don’t actually action it. We did and we stayed in contact the entire time, ensuring we met up every couple of months to hang out and catch up, while also exchanging messages daily. Zoe moved to Northampton January 2017 and she also knew everything about my football and how I was feeling. Since she joined, she always spoke highly of Northampton and always seemed keen to get me over. When the time was right, Zoe didn’t fail in putting me in contact with Josh and Liam and getting me on board. The rest from there is history.”
That history has seen Jade smash in goal after goal in front of an ever growing army of fans at Harpole, Sixfields and, now, Fernie Fields. If we needed any confirmation of the star that we’d signed, it was handed to us in less than ninety minutes on Jade’s debut.
“Five goals on my debut felt great,” she says, speaking of the haul in NTFC Women’s 13-0 romp over Bugbrooke St. Michaels a year ago.
“I had been training with the team for some time before the signing went through and then I was cup tied for a couple of games too so it felt like a long wait. A wait that was worth it though. Five goals was awesome but it was the feeling of playing football and playing football happy again that I remember. The move meant I joined back forces with a couple of players that I had previously played with in Zoe, Kimo, and Vicky so it was nice to be around familiar faces again and nice to be in an environment that would allow me to be myself, get the best out of my football ability, and therefore thrive in.”
The first season at FA Women’s National League level saw the Cobblers finish in the top half of the table as well as reach the FA Cup Second Round for the first time in our history. The squad, Jade says, is in a great position to improve.
“We’ve got a great squad currently that will only get better with time and development,” she says.
“We now have a better balance between experienced players and young players which allows an environment where we can all learn from each other. While we (as an experienced player) have many lessons that we’ve learnt to pass on, the younger ones are also keeping us on our toes too whereby they are showing us football from a different perspective.”
“We lost a number of key players last season which meant we had to bring in a number of new players this season so with that turnover, it does take some time to mould together again. I think now we have overcome that initially stage of figuring each other out which now sets us up to push forward. If we can keep this group together for another couple of seasons, I have high expectations for us, as I believe the staff and the rest of the group do too.”
The experience garnered from an incredible career is now being built on with that training at Strive Performance and Cobblers fans will be delighted to hear that there’s still much more to come.
“Now that I am training with Strive Performance,” Jade says “I feel that I have still got many more years left in me yet. I actually feel at my fittest and healthiest so long may that continue. Personally, I want to keep scoring goals, assisting goals, and stopping goals from going in. I want to keep working hard and continue to develop my own performance, which in turn, will help the team in a positive way. Ultimately, I want us to keep winning games of football.“
“Aside from performance goals, I want to help to develop the younger generation coming through into women’s football by sharing my experiences with them, coaching them, and being a role model for them in terms of standards and expectations.”
“My job involves strength and conditioning coaching on a one to one and team basis. With that, I want to educate athletes in being their best selves. From looking after their bodies, to keeping injuries to a minimum, and then improving performance, I want to inspire youth athletes to follow their dreams and be the best they can be. I Hope to be able to do that through my own football performances, how I present myself in the football world, and also coaching them as part of my job outside of football. I really do just want to help and inspire as many people as I can!”
Anyone reaping the benefits of Jade’s advice has a mentor that can not only inspire and motivate towards their own dreams but a personality to look up to in life and in sport.
The Cobblers, as we’ve mentioned on the podcast, are lucky to have Jade representing our club as a player and as a person and long may her association with the club continue and those goals flow!
NTFC Women play their home games at Fernie Fields, home of Sileby Rangers Football Club, mainly on Sunday afternoons. Follow them on Instagram or X @ntfcwomen for details of upcoming games and do get on down to see them in action whenever you get the chance!
A big thanks to Jade for taking the time to answer our questions for this feature.
A Cobblers fan all his life, Danny is the most down to earth football supporter from Northampton.
While at university in Southampton, Danny kept up to date with all things NTFC from afar, sharing his thoughts on his ‘A Load Of Cobblers’ online blog.