For the Chelsea FC Women's team, the start of the 2019 Barclays Women's Super League is set to be something special, with their opening fixture against Tottenham Hotspur to be played at Stamford Bridge, building on the momentum for the women’s game from this summer’s World Cup.

Ahead of this momentous occasion, we caught up with several of the Chelsea players including Maren Mjelde, who is fully fit after a challenging 2018 campaign. With a strong World Cup performance behind her, the Norwegian sat down with us to talk all about her journey in the game as well as the tantalising prospect of that first match of the season…

What goes though your head when you think about walking out at Stamford Bridge?

I feel really excited. I’ve visited Stamford Bridge watching games with my family before I moved to London, and I’ve obviously been a lot of times now as I’m a Chelsea player. It looks so cool when the men walk out there and there’s just a special atmosphere at the stadium and now we get the chance to do it. It’s going to be a really big moment for all of us. In the summer, we had good crowds for the World Cup, but we’re not used to playing in those big stadiums. We only normally do it in tournaments, not for league games, so it’s going to be a really cool day for us. 

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I just feel so lucky and privileged to be a part of this now; part of this journey that women’s football is going through."

You’ve achieved a lot in your career, but do you see this as another milestone?

Yeah, I just feel so lucky and privileged to be a part of this now; part of this journey that women’s football is going through, because I’ve been playing for many years now and I’ve been in different countries. I was really inspired by what happened in the spring with Barcelona, Atletico, Juventus. They all did the same on their home pitch, so it feels amazing that we can do it also. It’s been something that the girls have been talking about for a while, and now it’s happening, but it’s happening for a reason. Of course the World Cup had a big impact on everything, so it’s really a good step in the right direction. It’s so cool to be a part of it.

Can you tell us about your story from your perspective? How do you describe your journey from where you started as a kid to where you are now?

I come from a football family: I have a brother that plays professionally, my Dad’s always been into football, my Mum loves football and my little brother also. But it was basically my older brother that brought me to his training sessions. My Dad was his coach when we were younger so I was always around them. My brother, he used to put me in goal so that he could have someone to shoot at. I think it was a good thing that I didn’t end top as a goalkeeper! That made me want to be a footballer though. Mostly because of my brother. Then my Dad started up a team for my age when I was six years old. I was playing with the boys from when I was six to 15. When I was nine, I started playing handball also. As I grew up I found it hard to choose between them both. At around 15 I think I was going to choose handball. Everyone was saying that I should go for handball, but then I got selected for the youth national team in Norway for football so that kind of made more sense to choose football. But it was really hard.

I was going to ask if there had been any barriers for you getting into football, but your barriers seem to be more about which sport to choose…

Yeah, that was probably the biggest one for me, but playing only with boys – I was the captain of the boys team from when I was 14 – I remember coming to every game and at first the boys thought that I was the only girl in the team and they started laughing, and they laughed even more when they saw that I was the captain. But I remember one game, the boys came over to me after and they said sorry we laughed at you, because you’re actually a really good player. It’s small things like that that I remember from growing up. Good memories.

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You never want to be injured, but I think I’ve come back as a stronger player."

How has the game changed in the time you’ve been playing? Going from having to play on bad pitches to now playing on practically carpet…

Yeah, it’s a big difference from what I was used to playing on. I played on… not even grass… I don’t know what you call it. It was like sand. That was my home pitch from when I was six to 15. I didn’t even know we had a local women’s team in the top division where I was from. I didn’t really know about them before. I was invited to a training session, and I was surprised by how good they were. But I didn’t know about them because they were not in the media so I didn’t really know much about women’s football before I started myself. It has changed a lot though, there’s a big difference. I’ve been in Germany and women’s football has been big there for a long time. I’ve been in Sweden where they have good traditions as well. But I feel that coming to England, now is when I can really see how big it’s getting, and how it’s growing, and that’s because big clubs such as Chelsea have got women’s teams that are really going for it and wanting to be the best. You see that in so many leagues now.

You were injured for a lot of last season, but there were still a lot of positives. Do you feel stronger from the highs and lows that you’ve had?

Yeah, absolutely. It was a hard year for me personally. Coming from winning the double with Chelsea the year before, but then at the end of that season starting to feel my injury. I didn’t think it was anything serious so I just kept on playing and had my summer holiday and thought it was going to go away, but then I came back and the pain was even worse. I tried for as long as I could to keep playing, from July to September, but it only got worse. Five months on the sidelines was hard for me because that’s the longest I’ve ever been out. It was hard because I didn’t really know when I was going to come back. None of the doctors or physios could tell me when it was going to be OK again.

I still feel it sometimes now and it was over a year ago. But I set a goal, and I had the World Cup in my head. The World Cup was my biggest goal when I was training, because I didn’t know if I was going to come back and play anything for Chelsea. At the same time I needed to come back and play games for Chelsea to be at my best for the World Cup. So my goal was to play in the Champions League. That was what I was aiming for and that was in March. I got two games before I played the quarter final against PSG. I think I had been preparing for that for so long. I couldn’t train so much with the team, but I did a lot of work with a mental coach, and that was helping me a lot. She’s Norwegian but lives in London and she’s been helping me a lot with how I could be my best when I finally came back.

I’ve had a lot of good support in general. I think when I was able to play again I forgot about those five months, because the work that I did was worth it. You never want to be injured, but I think I’ve come back as a stronger player.

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It’s just like you’re in this bubble together with your teammates for six weeks, then suddenly it’s just not there anymore. It took me a while to get over it."

Do you now feel that you’re in a position to help other people who may find themselves in a similar situation?

Yeah, because now I know how it is for the girls that are in the physio room everyday having treatment. I didn’t know so much about how they felt before because I haven’t been in that situation. But now I know how it is. You feel really lonely, because you see your teammates go out and train everyday, having fun together, and then you’re in the gym doing your own work. I think now I’m a bit more aware of what the girls are going through and I can help others. 

What was the whole World Cup experience like?

It was really good for all of us. We’ve had a journey with Norway for the last two years. Being knocked out in the group stages of the Euros was really hard for us. People always expect big things from Norway because of the traditions we have. So that was a hard Euros for us. But then we changed a few things, we worked really hard, and we went through our qualifiers and won that group against Holland, who actually won the Euros. So I think, especially that day when we won against Holland, we realised that we could actually do well at the World Cup, we just had to believe. 

Is it a strange place mentally after something like that?

Yeah, it is absolutely. The game before the England game, when we played against Australia, having to play 120 minutes, going through a penalty shootout, it was just a lot of emotions. Tired physically and mentally. And then you have to prepare for a new game. And then it suddenly stops. It’s really brutal, because when you’re amongst the eight best teams in the world at the World Cup you actually think that you can go further… It’s just like you’re in this bubble together with your teammates for six weeks, then suddenly it’s just not there anymore. It took me a while to get over it and I think I had three weeks off where I could just relax and see friends and family and just not think about football. I’m over it now and it was good coming back to Chelsea.

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I said that I wanted to win something soon, because I felt like I was a winner but I’d never won anything."

Was there a point after that three weeks when something switched and you thought actually, I’m hungry again?

Yeah, that happened the second week I think, because then I felt rested and I wanted to go to training again, I wanted to win. You get that feeling back where you want to win a game again. Coming back to Chelsea everyone's coming back with different experiences and I’m so happy that at least some of the girls came home with a medal. That’s cool. You want your teammates to succeed, of course. If you don’t succeed yourself, you want them to succeed.

How much would you say you live to win?

It actually gets stronger and stronger every year. Before I came to Chelsea I hadn’t really won anything. But that was one of the things that me and Emma [Hayes] was talking about before I signed for Chelsea. I said that I want to win something soon, because I feel like I am a winner but I’ve never won anything. It felt really weird. That is hard also, always end up losing. I was in the Euros and lost the final, the league back home I’ve finished second. Every league I’ve been in I’ve come second! So then coming to Chelsea and winning something straight away, then you feel like OK, I am a winner. I remember playing in the FA Cup final and I didn’t feel well at all because I was almost so afraid of losing; I didn’t want to lose again. Everyone was reminding me before the game that I’d never won anything. So even though we all played really well and I played well myself, I didn’t feel well because I was really nervous. But now I’ve gone through that and we won, and it’s just given me an even better feeling. Especially being out injured and not being able to participate in training. I think that’s one of the things that’s made me stronger now. I have more hunger to win. 

How about taking that will to win into the match at Stamford Bridge? You know what it takes to win now…

Exactly, I’m over that barrier now I feel. It is about enjoying the moment really because this is going to be a big moment for us. At the same time it’s going to be a football match of 90 minutes and football is what we do best so we just have to keep that in mind, and that’s what I do when I go to every game really. 

Photography by Madison Phipps for SoccerBible.