Mansfield Woodhouse footballer Jo Potter is back home from England’s glorious FIFA Women’s World Cup medal-winning trip to Canada and still pinching herself.
Potter (30) thought her international days were long behind her after seven years away from the England set-up.
But a string of superb performances for Birmingham City Ladies saw her recalled by coach Mark Sampson for a friendly against Sweden last August, and suddenly she found herself on the plane to Canada for a tournament that ended in a magnificent bronze medal for the Lionesses and tremendous media exposure.
“You go through all the emotions possible during the six or seven weeks you are together,” she said. “And coming home with a medal tops everything and you finish on a high.
“Personally, just being back in the squad after such a long time was amazing. And to be a part of the World Cup squad was ever better.
“Getting the phone call from Mark was surreal after such a long time out of the set-up and the programme. To be back with the girls and share these memories is amazing.”
England were beaten 2-1 by holders Japan in the semi-final after Notts County’s Laura Bassett scored a heartbreaking stoppage time own goal. But they roared back to beat Germany in the bronze medal play-off with a 1-0 extra-time penalty success.
Potter played her part as a substitute against Columbia and then the full 90 minutes against Germany as well as being a senior figure around the dressing room.
“The belief we had was the reason was got so far,” she said. “Mark instilled in us a belief and confidence that you could see in our performances and everything we did like press conferences. You could see the togetherness. Everyone played a massive part.
“It was unreal to get on the pitch against Columbia and Germany. I think 22 of the squad got on the pitch, so it shows the belief that Mark had in every single player and how strong a squad he had chosen. That is great to see going forwards.”
Potter added that the bad luck they had against Japan provided the spur to beat the Germans.
“The own goal was unfortunate,” she said. “It was one of those things that, if it happened a thousand times, that outcome wouldn’t happen again. It was a fluky thing.
“If you look at it, they had one shot on target which was the penalty, and that should have only been a free kick as the foul was outside the box. Yet we hit the bar three times!
“But the positive thing going into the Germany game was that we felt we should have come away with something and that helped us win the medal. It was the next best thing and I am so happy we managed to achieve it.
Getting the phone call from Mark was surreal after such a long time out of the set-up
“Being a senior player was a big part of my trip and it was nice I could offer the experience I have to the younger players and help get them to fulfil their potential on an international stage, which most of them did. I think they have definitely put themselves on the map.”
She added: “I don’t think we were actually aware how much media coverage there had been while we were out there. It’s only now we are home we have seen it on the television and in the newspapers and seen how big it’s been. It’s nice to see we are going in the right direction.
“We have to capitalise now and grow the game. It helps with the league being through the summer which gives families with young children the chance to come and see football. It’s a great atmosphere for families.
“Obviously I play for Birmingham. But there are sides locally like Notts County and Doncaster Belles that people can travel to. My mum still travels from Mansfield to watch me wherever I play.”
The Lionesses returned home to a ‘sexism storm’ when a tweet from the official FA Twitter account that read: “Our Lionnesses go back to being mothers, partners and daughters today, but they have taken on another title – heroes.” was condemned by many as belittling women’s football.
Within an hour the controversial tweet appeared to have been deleted.
However, Potter felt the reaction was harsh and said: “I think it was a little bit misinterpreted. I don’t think it was meant as it probably came across to the world.
“I think people realise there are mums in the squad and people are coming back as family members. I think it was a bit of realism and they really wanted to get across to the country that we are not these superstars like the men come home as.
“We have to go back to our jobs and our clubs and our families. They were just trying to put that across.”
There is little time to put the feet up after the long haul home from Canada with the players back in club action this weekend in the Women’s Super League.
“There’s not much rest for the wicked,” she smiled. “I have a couple of days off then we are back in action on Sunday with a trip to Manchester City, which is a massive game.”