It was almost inevitable that Jayne Ludlow would end up in the world of football as her father had played professionally before coaching a number of Welsh league teams and she followed him wherever he went, football in tow.
But, quite how successful she would be may have been overlooked for a girl from the sleepy coal mining town of Llwynypia in the Rhondda Valley.
Ludlow is quite the unique athlete, given the fact she has competed at international level across a multitude of sports, having represented the Welsh national team in netball and basketball and perhaps most intriguing of all, held the u-17’s British record for the triple jump for a number of years.
Despite her many successes, she would eventually settle on football as her sport of choice and her triumphs would snowball from there. Ludlow initially began playing for Barry Town Ladies, a trek South for the young player given the fact there were no girls teams to play for in the valleys. Soon after she was offered a scholarship to play at the University of Pennsylvania. However, dissatisfied with life in Pennsylvania coupled with her disdain for the quality of football; she soon returned home and set her sights on a big move to Millwall Lionesses, followed by a stint at Southampton Saints Ladies.
But Ludlow would truly find her feet when she joined Arsenal Women at age 21 in the year 2000. Ludlow is said to have modelled her style of play on the Brazilian superstar Pele, with quick direction changes and distracting ball switches. However, she would eventually determine a more Roy Keane-esque style of play with aggressive box to box runs as she truly established herself within the squad. Ludlow made a real entrance in her first year at the club, scoring an impressive 28 goals, and incidentally the team would pick up the domestic treble for the second time at the end of this season, securing the Premier League National Division, the FA Cup and the League Cup.
Ludlow had a brief spell at New York Magic during the English summer break where she scored 3 goals in 6 appearances, but soon returned when the 2005/06 season began again for Arsenal.
Arsenal would go on to win the same treble twice more with Ludlow as captain. In fact, the season of 06/07, was the year the team secured the quadruple by winning the Premier League, FA Cup, Premier League Cup and UEFA Women’s Champions League, which to this day still makes them the only English top flight team to win such an accolade, both female and male. Ludlow was responsible for 24 goals across all 4 of the cup campaigns.
“The year it happened, 2007, was probably our most prolific year and certainly my favourite season as a player. We’d won a domestic quadruple, and then to win the UEFA trophy was an unforgettable feeling. It was massive for the club, and a very proud moment for all the players involved.”
As of today, Ludlow remains Arsenal Women’s top goal scorer with a formidable 211 (roughly 1.68 per game) goals hitting the back of the net during her 13 year career playing for the club. Only Thierry Henry sits ahead of her for most goals in the club’s history having scored 228. Sadly, she was plagued by a number of injuries towards the end of her time with the club and eventually retired in July 2013, having made a phenomenal 356 appearances.
Not satisfied with just a club career, Ludlow was first called up for international duty in 1996 at the tender age of 17, in a fixture against the Republic of Ireland.
“You sit there and you’re in the Arms Park and you go, ‘do you know, it would be a dream to step out on this pitch and play with the Welsh shirt on’.
The fixture ended in defeat for Wales, with the final score being 5-1. Ludlow picked up her 50th cap for the team during an 8-1 triumph over Bulgaria, in which she scored her 18th goal. She officially retired from international duties in 2010, however made a smattering of appearances for the squad in the following two years, making her final appearance in a 2-1 loss to Scotland in the Uefa Euro Championship qualifier.
Former Wales coach Jarmo Matikainen described her as “the most successful player that Wales has ever had” when she finally retired in October 2012. A formidable effort saw her score 19 goals in 61 appearances, with her captaining 38 of those games.
Reading FC Women were crowned champions of the FA Premier League Southern Division at the end of the 2012/13 season which saw them gain promotion to the FA Women’s Super League 2 (now known as the Championship) and with a change in league also saw a change in management, just a month after retiring from playing, in steps Jayne Ludlow assisted by former player Kelly Chambers.
In charge for 22 games, the team had a form of 14 wins, 3 draws and 5 losses. Reading finished in 3rd place at the end of the 13/14 season. Sadly, for Reading, Ludlow made tracks in October of 2013 which saw her depart the club after just one season as she was offered the opportunity to coach the Welsh national team.
Ludlow states herself that only around a quarter of her time is dedicated to the senior team, as she oversees the development of the u-17’s and u-19’s as well. Wales have had a fairly tumultuous time internationally but have indeed seen their best success whilst under Ludlow’s guidance, the team broke into the top 30 FIFA world rankings for the first time and attracted the largest ever crowd attendance of more than 5,000. They were on the brink of their first ever qualification for the Women’s World Cup in 2019 but faced an uphill struggle which required losses from both Belgium and Iceland, which inevitably did not happen.
“…there’s a feeling within Wales, within the female community in Wales, that they want to be top level footballers, and be pros in the future, and if they do that our national team will keep growing.”
Wales were looking to clinch their first success in top flight European football with the arrival of the Euros in the summer of 2021, however with the outbreak of coronavirus halting all sporting activities, they will have to wait another year for the chance. They currently sit 2nd in the table having played 4 games already. Ludlow has stated that finishing top of the group remains firmly in sight, however finishing second would still guarantee automatic qualification alongside current table leaders Norway.
A nod to our very own county ballers, Reading FC team-mates Rachel Rowe, Natasha Harding and Angharad James all feature in Ludlow’s current squad with Harding assuming the role of vice-captain. The trio have netted 17 goals between them.
Achievements and accolades
Whilst playing for Arsenal, she racked up no less than 26 trophies in her 13 year career, whilst also nabbing FA’s Player’s Player of the Year no less than three times, having won the award in 2001, 2003 and 2004. Sadly, less can be said about her time playing for Wales as they were unable to qualify for any tournaments.
2018 was yet another decorative year for Ludlow’s trophy cabinet as she was inducted into the Welsh Sports Hall of Fame Roll of Honour and won the BBC Wales Sports Personality coach of the year. In 2019, she was awarded an MBE for her service’s to women’s football, specifically for her contribution to the sport from grassroots to international level.
Prestigious is not a word to be banded around lightly but where Ludlow is concerned, she remains one of only 7 women in England to hold a UEFA Professional Licence. Away from coaching, Ludlow continues to be a huge advocate within the women’s game, she is currently an ambassador for University South Wales, where she teaches on a number of the sporting programmes as well as playing a crucial role in the university’s initiative to achieve a 25% increase in female sports students by the end of 2020.
Welsh football certainly seems like one of the places to be right now, so they’ll be one to watch in the next 5 years as the women’s game continues to make strides, with Jayne Ludlow one of the many women at the helm of the movement.
Look out for more in depth profiles on the notable women in Berkshire football coming soon.