FIRE & SPICE
David Fearnhead speaks to Natasha Flint and Saffron Jordan, the record-breaking duo whose goals have seen Blackburn Rovers Ladies reach new heights. Images courtesy of Blackburn Rovers
It’s been the most remarkable season for Blackburn Rovers Ladies in what has been the most remarkable period in their history. Winning the National League Northern Division Championship is nothing new, they’ve done that for the past three seasons. They also successfully defended both the league and county cup titles. However, beating National Southern Division Champions Coventry landed them a full quartet of trophies and with it came the news they would be playing their football in the second tier next season.
To say they dominated their league is an understatement. They won 23 of their 24 matches and finished 21 points ahead of their nearest rivals. One statistic tells the story of why – they had a goal difference of +97. Scoring five with no reply in a match was not uncommon, neither was scoring nine, and against Bradford they racked up double figures. Just as Shearer and Sutton had landed Blackburn the Premier League title in 1995, the Ladies have their own ‘dynamic duo’ in Natasha Flint and Saffron Jordan.
“We work so well together,” says Saffron (number 9). “Probably half my goals I’ve scored because of her and half her goals she’s scored because of me. We’re both from Salford, so maybe that’s why we play so well together. In a way she makes me better, and I make her better.”
Their histories are similar in that both are products of Manchester United’s School of Excellence and both moved to rivals Manchester City, as United have only recently formed a Women’s team.
“I started with United when I was around five years old,” says Tasha (number 10), who spent a decade there, playing mostly against boys. “It wasn’t so much that the boys had a problem with it, but the parents did. I don’t really know why.”
At 24, Saffron is the older of the pair by two years and the first to move to City, before taking up the offer of a chance to play in America. “I was the youngest player at City, I left just before they got their Women’s Super League licence. I’d had an offer to play in America. I was 19 and wanted to experience all that stuff.”
After three years in Florida it was Rovers’ Captain and former City team mate Lynda ‘Shep’ Shepherd who opened up the possibility of a return to English football with Blackburn in 2015. “I wanted to play football in England again, and I wanted to get minutes. If I went to a WSL side it would be all about who is playing internationals and I’d have to work my way up. I still play because it’s fun and want to express myself.”
Tasha joined Blackburn in 2017. “I’d spent two and half years at City. It was a completely different level. It was a full-time job. You were contracted and playing with a lot of big players. It made me improve a lot.”
It also came with a tremendous amount of pressure as the teenager was vying for a place with much senior players. Moves to Notts County and Sheffield United didn’t help as she was further estranged from home. She might have ended up as one of those casualties so often seen in the men’s game, the unnaturally gifted youngster who never got to reach their potential.
“The reason I stepped down two leagues is that I saw a lot of potential in Blackburn to get into the leagues above. It’s also not far from me,” she says.
Both girls work alongside playing their football, Saffron in the Research Department of Salford Critical Care and Tasha as a lab technician.
Holding down a job and training leaves little time for much else. In the women’s game only the top tier is fully professional and even for most of those, the money doesn’t compare to what they would earn in full time employment.
Some have questioned why two players of such ability were playing in football’s third tier. “I think that’s true for a lot of the girls at Blackburn, that we’re too good for that league,” says Saffron. “I think we’ve shown that by winning it three times, but I won’t say, ‘I’m too good’. I’m happy I stuck with Blackburn through these three years because it makes getting to the Championship even better.”
“My aim is to get back into the WSL, but I can only do that if I’m enjoying my football,” says Tasha, who is probably the most naturally gifted women’s footballer not playing professional football in this country. Although it’s not a statement which sits easy with her. “I’ve just always felt natural with the ball. I don’t like to say I’ve got natural gift because I’m not that kind of person.”
“I know it’s a weird way to say it but Tasha plays like a boy. She’s got the technique of a boy and the attitude of a boy. She strikes the ball like a man,” says Saffron.
Already an England Under 23 player, talk of Natasha Flint playing in a senior England shirt is never far away, but she remains philosophical. “I think my time will come. I know it will be a lot easier for me if I was to quit my job, but I’ve worked hard for that. I messed around in school, so to get the job I’ve got is not something I take for granted.”
The step up to the Championship will be an interesting one for Blackburn. Gemma Donnelly has never coached with a part time attitude. They will be playing at a level many believe is fair for the talent they possess.
“Quality wise I think we are up there,” says Saffron, who finished the year as the National League’s top scorer.
Tasha agrees: “Blackburn is top notch, the training is high intensity. Coming to Blackburn was a great move for me – 100 per cent.”