Danielle Carter is reflecting on the two knee injuries that ended her 11 years at Arsenal. “It was life-changing,” the Brighton forward says. “Life-changing in the sense it almost halted my career progression but also life-changing in the sense it made me dig deep within to develop mental strength.”
Carter ruptured an anterior cruciate ligament in the final game of the 2017-18 season and returned 10 months later only to rupture it again in a friendly with Bayern Munich in July 2019.
“The second one, that’s a completely different life-changing experience,” she says. “I had to dig even deeper, deeper than I’d been before. Regardless of what happens going forward those injuries are a massive part of my life. I’ve got the scars all over my legs to remind me daily, so I’ll never be able to forget it.”
Those scars are more than physical. Carter was moved on by Arsenal before she could make a second return to competitive action and signed for Reading just over a year ago. She had joined Arsenal in sixth form, having outgrown the Leyton Orient centre of excellence. The Arsenal manager, Vic Akers, had wanted her sooner but her mum could not get her there so she had to wait until she was old enough to get public transport or drive.
“I can’t say that was in my hands,” she says of her departure from Arsenal. “Ultimately I probably wouldn’t have left. I wouldn’t leave the team that I support and that I see and saw as home. So it was difficult for me to move on.”
But move she did. At Reading last season she made 21 league appearances, four more than her Arsenal peak in the 2017-18 campaign, and scored three times. Reading struggled for consistency and finished in seventh, but for Carter the season went well.
“The year’s targets were pretty much to get fit, get back in routine and come out unscathed,” she says. “So ultimately, for me, last season was a massive success.” Her target now is to “definitely bury those injuries and to really crack on”.
Carter is the first player Brighton have paid a fee for. She joined after speaking to the manager, Hope Powell, and having been impressed by the club’s ambitions. “The new training ground that we’ve moved into is second to none, in my opinion,” Carter says. “That’ll be massive in terms of our development as a team. There’ll be no excuses. There’s no way that we can cut corners or say that we haven’t got access to state of the art of anything. It’s a real turning point for women’s football and for Brighton, for the shared belief across the club.”
Carter agrees that Brighton have flown under the radar despite a solid sixth-place finish last season and have perhaps been underestimated this season. “It’s seen as a small club, for whatever reason, but if the players that Brighton have bought in, including myself, can kick on then I don’t see why we can’t emulate and better last season.”
Brighton have two wins from two and are top of the WSL table, ahead of also unbeaten Arsenal, Manchester United and Tottenham. The season is young but the team have impressed with a 2-0 defeat of West Ham followed by a 5-0 win against Birmingham in which the 28-year-old scored.
Does she ever hesitate going into a challenge now? “You do contact training six months into your rehab,” she says. “So as soon as you’ve done that first contact session and you get hit, then you get back up and you’re fine, that’s when the fear or the anxiety is relieved. So it’s way before you get involved in matches again. Then generally you don’t think about it. You can’t think about it. If you think about it, it’s going to hinder your performance.”
She feels more needs to be done to support injured players. “In the WSL we’re more fortunate than other female players because we sort of do get that support, whether it’s through the men’s insurance, or the men’s teams. We’re covered a lot better than Championship players, who are only a step below us, but there’s been incidents which have been well documented that show they don’t get the help they should get as athletes.
“They’ve got to wait for the NHS and, no disrespect to the NHS, but in terms of starting your recovery and your rehab as soon as possible we know the NHS is under enormous pressure and it’s going to be delayed … There’s a lot more that can be done.”
The injuries helped Carter to realise what she wants to do when playing is no longer an option. She did broadcast work and got an MBA in being CEO of a Sports Organisation from the University of Salford, and sees her future in the boardroom. “If I wasn’t injured I probably wouldn’t be sitting here with an MBA,” she says.
The biggest ambition? “Hope’s got her own shower in her office,” she says with a laugh. “That is now what I aspire to have. I’ve never seen that before. When I get a senior role at a club I’m asking for a shower at the office. People want to play at Wembley, I want a shower.”