Paige Satchell has always been right at the top of my ‘players I’d love to interview’ list. Anyone who follows me on social media, reads my blog posts, or has stood next to me at games where she’s in action would probably be well aware that I’m a bit of a fan. This is partly due to the fact that I’m always fond of good players originally from my home WaiBOP region and partly because, as a lightning quick winger, she’s so spectacular to watch. If you haven’t seen her play, think pocket sized version of Mohammed Salah!
At just 20 years old, she’s already been to two age-group World Cups and an Olympic Games as well as earning four full international caps including a strong showing as a substitute in New Zealand’s recent home friendly against former World Champions Japan. But what made that latest appearance somewhat remarkable is it marked her international return from a potentially career ending ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) injury.
Given recent events in the realm of New Zealand Football it seems to me that, now more than ever, we need to be telling positive stories about the amazing things our Ferns are achieving so they don’t get completely forgotten about amongst all the testosterone fuelled outrage surrounding the men running our game.
And this seemed like a pretty good place to start my contribution to that cause.
I wanted to explore what it’s like to go through an ACL injury, how you get through the difficult times and how, like Paige seems to have, you can come out the other end of it like nothing even happened!
EG: So, you got injured back in June last year playing for Three Kings United, can you tell me what happened?
PS: It happened so fast it’s hard to judge what actually happened. All I remember was dribbling with the ball and taking a player on and then, I don’t know if it was a tackle that pushed me to one side or if I just stepped funny and kind of landed on my left knee, and I felt like a hyper extension kind of sensation. I just felt a pop really. And then I just kind of landed on the ground. I looked down, at first I thought I had dislocated my kneecap but everything looked normal so I was like ‘that’s probably not a good sign’ because it probably would have been better to dislocate my kneecap! But yeah, I kind of knew straight away that something wasn’t quite right and I was like ‘argh, I’m not going back on, I need to take a rest!’ But yeah, it was pretty crazy how quick it all happened, and how long it would put me out for. It was kind of unreal really. You just never think it’s going to happen to you.
EG: Were you thinking ACL straight away?
PS: Yeah, kind of. I was trying to be positive and I was like ‘no’ maybe it would just be something minor, you know, it just didn’t seem like it took much to do it. So I was like ‘maybe it’s not too bad’ but in the back of my mind I was always kind of thinking ‘argh, I think it’s ACL…’ Just because it’s so common as well… I was hoping for the best, but yeah.
EG: Was it a fast, easy diagnosis? Because I hear a lot of people say it can get misdiagnosed.
PS: For me, it all happened pretty fast. I pretty much contacted my physio straight after it happened and I went around and met with her and she kind of pretty much said straight away that she thought there was ligament damage. Then I went home for a couple of days after that and then I came back to Auckland on the Tuesday following the Sunday game and met with the sport doctor and he pretty much said I had a 99.9% chance of ACL. Then I had to get a scan a couple of days later which kind of confirms it all. But yeah, from seeing the doctor and the physio it was pretty much certain that I had done it so I did have a little bit of time to get my head around things before it was actually properly confirmed.
EG: Being a player who’s quite famous for your pace… I know a few people who said, you know, you won’t be back, that’ll be it. Did that thought cross your mind?
PS: Um, you know the whole journey was kind of a roller coaster of emotions. At some points you’re kind of like, ‘argh, I’m never going to be back to where I was before’ and you kind of get down about it. But I always tried to stay pretty positive and I took every milestone as just a step in the right direction. So sometimes you would have bad days but every step along the way it was just the positives that kept me going. I remember being able to run for the first time and it was such a big thing for me and I was so excited!! But yeah, I’m definitely so excited to be back and I’m pretty much at full fitness now so yeah, it’s pretty unbelievable but I had so much support along the journey.
EG: Was it a fast recovery or was it about on schedule?
PS: I was pretty much right on schedule. I was running quite early at the start. I actually sat my ACL test earlier than expected – I did that just before eight months. But then I took a little bit of time just easing into training, not going in full pace, just to see how it goes and get confidence back as well. I think that was a big thing for me, just knowing that it was secure and that I wasn’t going to hurt it again. Taking my time.
EG: I was going to ask you about that because a lot of people do reinjure them. I think of poor old Sarah McLaughlin, first game back just about, bang, another year out. That must always be in the back of your mind?
PS: For sure, when I first came back it did take a little bit just to get used to it and it was always kind of concerning and I feel for a while I was still being a bit cautious with it because I was just so scared of doing it again. My first actual injury, and it was out for so long, and so I was like ‘I never want to do this again!’ So I was being a bit careful at the start but now that I’ve had some more experience on it I know that it’s fully capable to do the job as it did before. I’m really confident with it now.
EG: It’s back exactly how it was before?
PS: Yeah, I think so. There’s been some times where I’ll do something on the field and I’ll just feel it a little bit and I’ll be like ‘ugh that’s right’, just in the back of my mind, but yeah, I don’t think about it now when I’m playing.
EG: Do you think you’ve lost any pace at all? You still look pretty damn quick to me!
PS: I think it’s come back. I think there might be a little bit still to come but I think it’s pretty much come back to where it was before. When I first started running I was like ‘oh no, it’s not going to come back’ because when you first start you can only go really slow so it was a bit worrying, but I’m pretty confident that full pace is back!
EG: That’s such good news. Because they are so common these days, a lot of people seem to blame turf, a lot of people seem to blame ‘players are playing too much’. You were playing for Three Kings, you were playing FFDP (Future Ferns Development Programme), you were playing on a lot of turf, do you think any of that was a factor?
PS: I haven’t really thought about that being an issue for me. I don’t know, I just think it was kind of a random thing that can happen to anyone. I wasn’t really putting it down to training too much. You know, I’ve been doing this kind of loading for a few years so I don’t know if that was the difference or… I don’t think really the turf or playing on grass had too much of an impact. I think it was just a thing that happens and it was just kind of unlucky. I feel like it could have been preventable a little bit – maybe if it had been a different game it might not have happened, but these things happen so you’ve just got to roll with it.
EG: You’re not playing club football this year, is that related?
PS: I’m registered with Three Kings this year but I just thought I was going to focus on FFDP this year and I did kind of have a thing going – after injuring it I was kind of like ‘I just want to focus mainly on the Ferns’ and trying to get back into that and just prioritise my football a little bit more. So if it is going to happen again, I just want to make sure that I’m in all the right environments and doing everything I can to prevent it.
EG: How are you finding the FFDP, it had a few detractors when it first started but it seems like people are coming around. Were you always a fan?
PS: Yeah, I’ve always been a fan of FFDP, I love the environment. I just feel – especially playing against the boys – it’s very competitive and it’s always a challenge and the training environment is so good. Top quality trainings all the time. So yeah, I’m really impressed with how it’s all going and I’m really grateful to be in this sort of environment.
EG: Those boys REALLY want to beat you every week, don’t they…
PS: Haha, yeah it’s always a battle with the boys but I love it.
EG: Did you do anything special to stay positive? A lot of players you see with long term injuries get depressed with not being able to do what they love, that must be really hard.
PS: Yeah, it was hard. I used to come down and watch the FFDP girls play their games and that was a bit hard to watch at the start because I was like ‘argh it’s so long until I’m back on the field’. But like I said before, I kind of took every positive step as like a big milestone for me so it just kept me going because I knew I wanted to get back out on the field. I feel like I took it for granted how much I actually loved playing football before I got injured. It was my main goal, I just wanted to be back on that field and that was the drive that kept me going.
EG: Did you talk to any other players who have been through it before?
PS: Yeah, I talked to Jade Parris quite a lot, and Mikayla Wieblitz, Rosie White, Hannah Wilkinson. Yeah, I talked to all those players. Everyone’s got their own journey, everyone is giving you advice, so it was really helpful. And just knowing that all these players have come back from it, it just gave me so much hope. You were like, yeah, I can do the same.
EG: Is that the key message for anyone who might be reading this and going through it themselves, it’s quite common and you will come back from it…
PS: Yeah, and I think a lot of players have come back stronger as well. Like I said before you take for granted how much you love playing football and so when you get back, you’re ready to go, you’re rearing for it so… Yeah, everyone has got their own journeys. It might take some people a shorter period of time or a longer one but I think definitely everyone is capable of coming back and being better and stronger than they were before.
EG: You came on as a sub against Japan, you made a real impact and that must have felt… I mean I hate ‘how did that feel’ questions but that must have been so cool. Biggest crowd ever to watch a women’s football game in New Zealand and you’re there burning people off…
PS: It was pretty unreal, first game back, being in a home environment as well and I had a lot of support. It was super exciting just getting back out on the field, running around, trying to score a goal haha! But yeah, it was pretty surreal.
EG: Was that when you felt like you were back or was it earlier than that?
PS: I think it was a little bit earlier than that. I think even just my first game back for the FFDP was really like ‘OK, yes, I’m fully back now’. And I think the first time I played a full 90 minutes as well, that was a big thing for me, because I knew my fitness and my knee could hold out for anything now. But yeah, it’s always special to come back and play for the Ferns so both moments were pretty amazing.
EG: So what’s next, what are the future goals? Are you hoping to go overseas and play professionally?
PS: Yeah, that’s the goal. I’m going to Germany next month actually to go and check out some pro contracts so hopefully it all works out! And then I’ve got the Under 20 World Cup coming up in August as well. So that’s a big goal of mine, to just get out there and get some good game time on the international stage, and hopefully get out of the pool stage. I think that’s a big goal for a lot of the players in the team. I’m really excited for these upcoming opportunities.
EG: What’s it going to take to get out of the pool stage?
PS: Ah, you know we’ve got a pretty hard pool but I think everyone has to just be on the same page and everyone has to want it. It’s going to be hard coming up against teams like France especially – them playing at home. But I think if we all work together and focus on the game plan then we can compete really well against these teams.
EG: Any clues about where you’re looking in Germany?
PS: Ah, I’ll keep that one under wraps at the moment! But hopefully it can come out soon if I sign somewhere.
EG: Oh well, it was worth a try and that’s fantastic to know anyway! So when are you heading over there?
PS: I’m heading over on the 18th of July so hopefully it all works out. I’m really excited to see what the future holds!
A grassroots sports photography enthusiast based in Auckland, New Zealand, and a fan of the most magnificent football club on earth - A.S. Roma.