First kick to National Team: Carrie Jones’ epic journey from her nan’s farm to the Wales Women’s team
Carrie Jones was on her nan’s farm when she was first passed a ball by her football-mad cousin.
What happened next is the stuff of fairytale.
That first football experience captivated her and she’s since dedicated her life to the game and won her first senior Wales cap at the age of 15.
At the age of seven, Carrie convinced her parents to take her to a girls’ only turn-up-and play session in her native Newtown.
From there, her progress has been swift and now the Newtown High School pupil is a role model for every excited girl who turns up for their first Fun Football or Huddle session.
And, football coaches, across Wales, will point to the Carrie Jones story as a benchmark of what is possible.CLICK HERE TO SEE THE LATEST WALES WOMEN'S SQUAD FOR THEIR MATCH IN BELARUS
Carrie’s first club was Newtown Whitestars, where she thrived in the girls’ team before making the bold move to join Berriew boys, which she points to as the pivotal moment in her football story.
The coach who welcomed her to Berriew, near Welshpool, was Paul Inns.
He said: "It was clear from coaching Carrie at an early age that she had a special talent.
"Her balance was outstanding. She had fantastic speed of ball control - often leaving opponents trailing in her wake - and even at a young age, her mature attitude, and willingness to learn, made her stand out.
"Giving Carrie the opportunity to play with boys, up to and including U16, meant that she was constantly being challenged in every match, and every training session.
"Physically, she understood that she needed to be stronger in the tackle, and when protecting the ball.
"The speed of the boys game helped her to develop her technical skills, in terms of control, pressing and moving the ball quickly.
"I have no doubt that playing with boys helped her development immensely and began to equip her for the challenges she faced when playing at national level."
Carrie later moved back to Newtown Whitestars, where she flourished equally among her fellow females.
At the age of 12, she was called-up for the Central Wales Performance Centre, for whom she shone in a match against South Wales at Cardiff University in May 2016.
Watching that day was Girls’ National U15 Manager Matthew Clement, who years earlier had organised that turn-up-and-play session at Newtown, as part of his plan to get more girls playing football in Central Wales.
He said: “What stood out that day was Carrie’s ability to manipulate the ball and change direction to beat a player. She was so brave and she always wanted to be on the ball.
“I noticed her fantastic game intelligence and ability to find the solution to most problems that players cause her.”
In February 2017, despite playing a year young, Carrie was a star player in Clement’s Wales U15 team, scoring on her Dragon Park debut, in a 2-0 win against Brittany.
Within weeks, she was making history.
From an attacking midfield position, Carrie was the tournament’s top scorer as Wales won the Bob Docherty Cup (U15 annual home nations’ tournament) for the first time in Dublin.
A year on, Carrie captained Wales U15 against England and Scotland at St George’s Park before having the honour of leading her country at the 2018 Bob Docherty Cup in Belfast.
At that point, she said: “Playing with the boys at Berriew was a good physical challenge. That’s probably how I got here now. I played for the boys’ academy and that was a big challenge as well. The most important thing that has got me to this point is my coaches from grassroots. They developed me as a player and as a person.”
As Wales captain, she realised her role in encouraging girls to fall in love with football the way she did.
She visited her former primary school and the fluent Welsh speaker took part in a session at the Urdd Eisteddfod in Builth Wales.
She continues to attend girls’ football festivals at Berriew FC, to support her former club and pass on words of wisdom to the girls who are starting out. She’s even taking time out of her busy schedule to attend the next women & girls’ football festival there on Sunday, October 13.
Clement, who oversaw every step of her journey along the FAW Trust pathway, from performance centre to regional to U15 international, said: “Carrie is a real role model.
“What sets her apart is her desire to want to be the best player she can.
“Her attitude to learn and develop has been infectious. She’s one of those players who coaches learn off.
“She has a great skill of finding solutions to problems during games. Any young girl who wants to improve could learn from Carrie.”
“She is also a key testament to how important a seamless player pathway is and the support that coaches have given her throughout her journey.”
Since graduating from the FAW Trust development pathway, Carrie’s quick-fire journey has continued apace.
She stepped-up to Wales U17 level, where she was a key part of the team that qualified for the elite rounds in Serbia, and joined Cardiff City Ladies before getting the call from National Women’s Senior Team Manager Jayne Ludlow.
On the day she called Carrie up for the Euro 2021 qualifier in the Faroe Islands, Ludlow insisted she had complete trust in the talented teenager, saying: “We have high hopes for her in the future." And she was true to her word.
While Carrie’s friends were preparing for a return to school, she was traveling to Torshavn with the Wales senior squad.
Having been named as a substitute for the Euro 2021 qualifier, the 15-year-old was given her chance to show the world what she could do in the 82nd minute, when she replaced Cardiff City Ladies team-mate Emma Jones, playing her part in a stunning 6-0 win.
That eight minutes also gave the 15-year-old the unique honour of winning a senior international cap before being eligible to represent her club.
Four days later, the day before her 16th birthday, in fact, she missed the first day of school because she was in Wales’ squad for the 2-2 draw with Northern Ireland in Newport.
The next night, Carrie played her part in another landmark moment, making her Cardiff City Ladies debut in the 1-0 win over Keynsham Town Ladies. She lined-up with two of her former Wales U15 team mates, Morgan Rogers and Hayley Hoare.
The following day she was back in in Newtown telling her school friends about her stunning summer.
But the excitement didn’t stop there. A week later, Carrie was celebrating her first senior goal, scoring the second as Cardiff City beat Chichester 2-0 in the FA Women's National Southern Premier League.
Amid this whirlwind journey, grounded Carrie attributes much of her success to her parents, Joyce and Andrew, who have driven her on the four-hour round-trips to training, two or three times a week, since she was 12 and helped her juggle all that with her school work.
She said: “Mum and dad are the taxi drivers.
"It's hard on them, and I've got a brother and a sister (Ioan, 10 and Maia 18), so it's hard to give their time to them as well as well as pleasing me with the football.
“It's a huge commitment."
But delighted mum Joyce said: “She's earned it all herself.
“The key factor has been Carrie's own hard work, commitment and determination to achieve her dream of playing for Wales...and her love for football..she just loves the game and the ball...and still tries to megs me in the kitchen!
“She has always thrived on a challenge and has been competitive from an early age, whether it be for football, athletics , in school or trying to make the best welsh cakes.
“Another key factor has been her coaches.
“From Ashley Williams, her first Whitestars coach who encouraged her from 7 years old , Rhys Stephens, the 5x60 officer at Ysgol Uwchradd Caereinion, and Paul Inns, at Berriew FC.
“And, as she’s moved up through the performance centre, regionals and national team under Matt Clement and Kat Lovett and now in the senior national set-up with Jayne Ludlow and at Cardiff City Ladies with Lauren Smith and James Thomas.
“The support and advice for Carrie and us has been vital.”
“The more she succeeds, the more it spurs her on, from playing across the age groups and finally achieving her dream at an early age.
“Now she's moved the goalposts and her dream is to play at the highest level and turn professional.”CLICK HERE TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT HOW WE'RE DEVELOPING THE NEXT GENERATION