Having plied her trade in England for the past seven years, footballer Trudi Harbinson is back home, and after a year out of the game she’s hoping to win back her international place.
Trudi, 23, took a step back from her football career, which had seen her signed by Arsenal as a 15-year-old, after she lost her father and grandfather within a short period of time.
Having come back to her home in Lurgan, Trudi, who had spells with Portsmouth, Chelsea, Reading and Man City, has signed a contract with Crusaders and has her sights set on getting back into the Northern Ireland set up.
She said: “I’ve just signed for Crusaders. The goal is to win the league for Crusaders and for me personally to get back in the Northern Ireland team. That means working hard and getting myself back to the top of my game.”
She continued: “I went over to Arsenal when I was 15. Because I was 15 I couldn’t move over there. I went on tour to Denmark for two years in a row for a tournament and also played for them in a tournament in Norway.
“At 16 I didn’t know what I was going to do. I was offered scholarships to go to America. I took a year out to decide.
“I moved to England when I got into Portsmouth Academy and from there I got scouted and transferred to Chelsea Academy.”
Trudi progressed to the first team at Chelsea and also enjoyed a loan spell at Reading before signing for Manchester City.
It was during her time at the Etihad that tragedy struck: “I lost my dad and granddad in a very short space of time and decided to take some time away from the game,” said Trudi.
She went on to recall her highlights from her time in England: “At Chelsea was probably my best time.
“ Our academy won the treble and didn’t get beaten all year. I progressed through the reserves and into the first team.
“Casey Stoney was on Chelsea Ladies first team and was my manager at the academy.”
She added: “When I was at Chelsea we trained in the same place as the men’s team - Cobham. You would bump into them, but you couldn’t talk to them.
“I remember at Chelsea we were in a cup final and (Didier)Drogba came in and wished us all the best before the game.”
Recalling her early career Trudi said: “I was supporting Arsenal since I was able to kick a ball.
“The buzz I got from pulling on an Arsenal shirt was unreal.
“At school I played every sport. I started playing football through PAKT. Dessie Magennis was my coach.
“I played for the boys team at King’s Park from P4.
“I was also captain of the hockey team, but I decided to focus on football.
“I played for Lurgan Town Boys from eight until 15.”
She went on: “There’s a massive difference between women’s football in England and in Northern Ireland. That was part of the reason why I left in the first place.
“Now that I’m back I can see that things are going in the right direction here.
“Men’s teams are taking a lot more to do with female teams.”
Trudi played for Northern Ireland when she was 12, was made captain for her first game, then went on to win her first senior cap at the age of 15.
A right footed, right winger, Trudi has played for Crusaders Ladies before as well as Glenavon and Cliftonville Ladies.
She said: “As a winger I love to put in crosses. I prefer to set them up though I do score a few as well. I’ve hit 20 goals in a season.
“Probably the best goal I scored was for Northern Ireland in the Carrick Tournament. I lobbed the keeper from the halfway line with my left foot.”
When asked if she thought there was a possibility of mixed football teams, Trudi said: “I think the most you’ll have is a female manager. I don’t think they’ll ever start playing together because of the strength factor. There’s not much difference in skill, but the pace and power is the big difference.
“I would prefer the boy’s game. I prefer the faster pace. That’s why I loved playing for Lurgan Town Boys.”