Danielle Carter is a player who has risen to the top of the game through setbacks. A journey that has hit hurdles including back to back ACL injuries, her belief and determination are the weapons in her armoury that have proved resilient. Now leading the line at Reading and hungry to get involved in the England set up once more, this is a striker who personifies the fight needed to make it in the game. Exploring the adventure through her words, we get to know this charismatic player.

Leaving Arsenal, after giving so much to the club, how were the emotions when that time at the club came to an end?

It was a shock to the system. It wasn’t what I expected, especially after the injuries that I had. It was a hard pill to swallow. It took me a while to get over that news and move on from Arsenal. It’s football, it happens, but that was a massive part of my life.

You’ll always have the memories and so many achievements - what moments stand out most for you?

Definitely the first FA Cup win at Wembley. That was the first time we had played the final at Wembley so to beat Chelsea who are our rivals, at Wembley, in the FA Cup. That’s a girls dream. It’s a great memory to have and I’m proud of that.

This new chapter with Reading. How would you describe this challenge?

It’s a personal challenge for myself. I’ve effectively been out of the game for two seasons now with injury. So I need to prove to myself that I’ve recovered. Physically, mentally and emotionally, it’s a challenge for me to kind of get back in the routine of things. Get back to playing regularly, get back to the pressure of performing. I’ve put a lot of pressure on myself to get back to the level that I know I can be at on the pitch. It’s interesting - most of all I’m happy to be fit again and to be enjoying playing football.

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How would you describe the new era for your life in general, have you found this a healthy chance to look at your aspirations?

Leaving Arsenal was massive for me in that it was all I’ve known. To move to any team it was going to be a new start and a new chapter. Especially on the back of being out for so long - wherever I went it was going to be a challenge for me to get back to enjoying football and for me to get back to that routine. I’m only looking at the positives from it.

It’s been a mad few months - the world is relatively upside down. Has a new club given you a good distraction from everything that’s going on?

I’d say so, yeah. It’s been a crazy year for everyone. I think it’s just good for us as footballers that we can carry on training and to be able to still play matches. That is a good distraction from what is going on in the world but either way, I don’t think you can ignore it. It’s serious business. We’ve all still got to be smart around what we’re doing. We all have to sacrifice those things like going out so that we can all help each other and for us it means we can carry on playing.

Not too far from London too - away from on the pitch life - can you describe London and what it means to you?

London is home to me. Born and bred. It’ll always be home to me. Whether I’m playing football or not, I’ll always be a London girl. London is home for me in every sense of the word, it’s what I’m about and it means so much to me.

You travelled all over the capital on route to becoming a professional player - what do you think of when you think of the graft you’ve gone through to get to where you are?

Any job you do, there’s always a grind that goes with it. There’s always sacrifices involved in progressing in life. My rehab alone has been the toughest part of my career so far. I wouldn’t wish that on anybody. It’s all part of the process. I just hope and pray that there are better times for me ahead now.

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Can you set the scene for what it was like for you growing up - did a career in football seem something achievable or realistic?

It’s always been a hobby. I can’t say that as a kid I ever thought I would be able to do it professionally. I’m just thankful for the players before me who have set the foundations and built the path for players like me to be able to play the game professionally. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to turn it into a career. It always felt like something I was going to have to do on the side. Not really knowing what else I was going to do professionally, just like anyone when they’re younger, the world was wide open. I’ve always loved football but didn’t truly believe I’d be able to become professional because the game was just so different back then. It always felt like it would have to be work then football as something else I did alongside that.

The game has been shifting so much with so much growing coverage for the sport - what’s it like through your eyes? How much has it changed and what still needs to be addressed?

A lot has changed. It’s changed massively and all for the better. I’d say there’s a lot more that can be done but setting the scene from when I started, we were training in the evenings, two-three times a week after work. It’s changed massively. The professional aspect is incredible now but I’d say that outside the top three of Arsenal, Man City and Chelsea, there’s quite a disparity in terms of pay and media exposure. The top three clubs are miles ahead of everybody else when it comes to the backing they receive. The scale of their men’s teams helps and it raises their profiles but it does mean that it’s not a level playing field. In terms of the women’s game as a whole, it’s definitely come on leaps and bounds. It’s a completely different proposition to the one I started playing in and that’s all for the better.

You have to be mentally strong in this game. How would you assess your headspace after all you’ve been through - coming back from injury, new club, Covid calling off football - how do you feel?

There’s been a lot of change in a short space of time, over the last few months. I can look back and say that I’ve personally overcome quite a lot. Sometimes I still need to pinch myself to remind myself all the setbacks I have overcome and not put so much pressure on myself. Me being me though, I want to be incredibly successful in all that I do. In terms of head space, I like to think that I am strong and the things I have overcome throughout my career, as well as the last few months has challenged and push me even further to become even stronger than before.

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How much stronger are you after a long term injury - that must have been a real fight or flight moment almost?

100% - the first one, I can definitely say it was all fight. I’ve never wanted to come back as much as I did in that moment. I knew I had so much to prove in knowing what level of player I can be. I wasn’t finished at that moment. Everything felt to me like unfinished business so it was all about fighting to get back at that time. The second one, I faced a lot of doubt in myself. That one was a case of looking at the rehab journey having been through it before. Once you’ve experienced it, you know what lies ahead when it happens again. That gave me doubt about the journey when that happened. It was pretty much back to back from my first injury. I remember saying to myself, “I can’t go through that again, I can’t go through the rehab again, it’s too much and I don’t know what I’m going to do”. Huge credit to the Arsenal physio, Rose and one of the coaches, Fran in particular. They really got me through the rehab of my second ACL injury. I just wish I had the opportunity to finish off the business I had with Arsenal after they put so much time in getting me fit again. I knew and still know that I have a lot left in me, still to give.

Do you feel that your role has changed in that you can now mentor other players coming through? Do you thrive in that environment?

I’d say that I’ve always tried to help those players around me, even before my injuries. I feel that now, I can be a lot more relatable and I can sympathise with the players who may also be going through injuries now. I feel that I’ve always had those traits that look to help the younger players feel welcome in the group. It’s just elevated even more now as I have more varied experiences. I just use them to help everyone around me.

You’ve been exploring the media world more and more, how have you found the journey of presenting and has that opened your eyes to other opportunities?

I’d say so. After my first injury, I wasn’t all that bothered - my focus was on getting back. All I wanted to do was the rehab and get back. When the second one happened, it was a case of taking a step back. I wanted to test the waters to see if it was something I would enjoy or not. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by it all. It’s been fun and I enjoy it and I think I’d like to do more and more. You just learn as you go and whether that’s games or events, I think it’s an enjoyable thing to explore.

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How would you describe yourself with that in mind, are you someone who goes looking for new experiences?

Yeah, I’d say that I’ve always been that person who realises that football is short lived. My mum has always told me that I’ll always need a back up, always need a plan B, because you never know what could happen. I think that’s even more important than ever now with the injuries I’ve had. I can see how quick this game can be taken away from you in no time. I’ve always looked to experiment and explore other fields. It opens your eyes to new things and you find out about yourself too. You also have to think about what it is you’re going to do when you hang up your boots. The media stuff I’ve been doing recently has been proof of that. I didn’t know what I was going into but now I enjoy it and have had good feedback from it. It could be an option for the future...

How do you want to be known in the world of football, what role do you think you can play in addressing equality in the game?

I’d like to be known and have a legacy in the game. I’d like to break down barriers and break down the doors in the game that have perhaps been up longer than they should have been. Long term, I’d like to implement change by having a senior leadership role. I’m still studying and I was part of the FA Youth Council for a few years - so I’ve got those experiences and that background to know what’s going on and how much needs to happen for change to take place. Whether it’s alongside playing or once I’ve finished, I’d like to go down that route so that I can keep knocking down doors and making the game better for everyone who wants to be involved in it.

What one thing would you like to achieve in the game on a personal level over the next season?

On a personal level, I’d like to finish the season fit and healthy. I think that would then give me the confidence in myself to get back playing, get back scoring and reach the levels I know I have in me. I’m still hopeful to be involved in England again. I know my performances have to earn that right. Personally, this year I just need to get my confidence back up, have a strong run of games, build those fitness levels, bring my touch up to scratch and then hopefully by this time next year I can be knocking on the England door again. 

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Photography by James Hendley
Styling by Jessica Daolio

Special thanks to LABOUTIK
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