THE BIG INTERVIEW: Danielle Gibbons
Peter Shilton’s drive to become one of the greatest goalkeepers the world has ever seen often led him to take drastic measures as a youngster.
Worried that he would not grow tall enough to fulfil his boyhood dream of becoming England’s No.1, Shilton would try to lend nature a helping hand.
It would not be uncommon to walk into the former Southampton and Derby County goalkeeper’s childhood home to find him hanging feet first from his staircase bannister in a desperate attempt to stretch his legs an inch or too longer.
And the teenaged Shilton would also do likewise with his arms, in a bid to extend his reach.
Whether his methods worked or not is open to debate, but Shilton eventually grew to a decent 6ft 1in – perhaps not the biggest for a No.1 but tall enough to make the grade as a keeper in the professional game.
Indeed his height did not get in the way of him representing England a record 125 times – across three World Cups.
Although he retired from international duty at the end of Italia ’90 – more than 20 years ago, Shilton is still a standard bearer for all goalkeepers – both men and women – across the world, including Chorley-based shot stopper Danielle Gibbons.
The 21-year-old, who has represented England at Under-19s and Under-23s level, may not quite use Shilton’s ‘stretching’ exercises to the letter, but she is open to any training exercise which will allow her to improve her ability as a goalkeeper.
Height is a common quandary for women goalkeepers because although they have to keep guard over the same goal dimensions as their male counterparts, they generally do not reach the same physical heights.
At 5ft 10in, Gibbons has been blessed with her physique in relative terms, compared to her contemporaries in the women’s game.
And if you consider that Karen Bardsley, who is England’s current keeper, is only an inch taller than her, and former national No.1 Burnley’s Rachel Brown is just 5ft 7in, then it is clear that Gibbons has no significant disadvantage in that department.
But in a bid to make up for their lack of height, women keepers must be able to jump high – which means plenty of hours in the gym and on the training ground building up their legs muscles.
Gibbons, who is currently signed to Liverpool Ladies FC and was a former junior star at Preston North End, said: “Height is an issue for keepers in the women’s game.
“A lot of the problems with female keepers is that they can’t jump high enough, so it’s all about developing the power in the legs so you can reach shots heading for the top corner.
“If you develop that in your legs then height shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
“Karen Bardsley is really tall, but Rachel Brown is not that tall. I am about 178cm which works out at about 5ft 10in, which is not too bad a height.”
Gibbons has worked at close quarters with Bardsley and Brown in the past – and has even gained tips from Liverpool goalkeeper Brad Jones at the Reds’ Melwood training base. I know Rachel Brown really well,” Gibbons said.
“I have met her a few times at training camps and we once went to Spain training with the senior England team with Karen Bardsley and Siobhan Chamberlain, who plays for Chelsea Ladies.
“It was really good to do that because it pushes you in training seeing the standards that they set.
“Because I am with Liverpool Ladies, a few of us got to train with the men’s team.
“I trained with Brad Jones and Liverpool’s goalkeeping coach John Achterberg.
“To see them train was incredible.”
Gibbons was able to put the lessons she has learned from working with the best during the 27th Summer Universiade, which was held in Kazan, Russia, over the months of July and August this year.
An Olympics-style event for university students covering a whole host of sports, Gibbons – who has just completed a degree in sports science at UCLan – was an integral member of Team GB’s victory in the women’s football competition.
Gibbons said: “We played six games in total – three in the group stages and then a further two to get to the final.
“We played in Kazan where there is a well-known Russian team called Rubin Kazan.”
Their first match of the tournament looked a tricky test against Brazil, but Gibbons kept a clean sheet as the British girls secured a fine 2-0 win.
“Our next game was against Japan and we lost 1-0,” said Gibbons. “Japan were the favourites for the tournament – they have won it in the past.
They have always taken it very seriously and take their strongest national team.
“What they do is get their actual national team players to sign up to some education course so that they become eligible to play.”
Despite that set-back, GB secured their second win of the competition in their next match – thrashing Estonia 5-0 – to finish second in their group.
“Our quarter-final match against Ireland was the easiest of games for me because we won 7-0,” Gibbons said.
“We beat Brazil again in the semi-final 1-0 to reach the final against Mexico.”
Pre-tournament favourites Japan had been surprisingly knocked out by South Africa at the quarter-final stage on penalties and that opened the door for Mexico, who swept the Springboks aside at the last-four stage 4-1.
However, Team GB perhaps left their best performance until last as they were crowned champions thanks to a crushing 6-2 victory over the Mexicans.
Gibbons added: “Mexico were very strong and they were one of the favourites to win the tournament.
“Probably the 6-2 scoreline did not reflect the match.
“We had to come from behind twice and it was neck and neck right up the final few minutes, when we scored three goals.
“To win the gold medal was brilliant.
“The FA haven’t always supported teams in this tournament in the past, but they have really taken it on this year and supported us.
“But the team was brilliant. We had some really world class players in our line-up and when you’ve got players like that, it makes it easy for a goalkeeper.”
The Chorley youngster admits she will treasure the three-and-a-half weeks she stayed in Russia.
She said: “We stayed in Moscow first at a training camp and then we moved to Kazan for the Games.
“We stayed in an Olympics-style village with all the other athletes from all the other sports.
“We went to watch and support a lot of the other GB athletes and they did the same to us.
“It was a great experience and great to win the tournament.
“Just to share it with the people that I did – I wouldn’t change it for the world.
“We were like a family. When you spend three-and-a-half weeks living with the same people – you become really close, which is nice. I have become very good friends with Mary Earps, who plays for Birmingham.”
While Gibbons is in the early stages of her career, her dream is to play for the full England side in the future, as well as playing in a possible future Olympic Games.
At the moment, she is just enjoying being back fit and healthy after being out of the game for 15 months, courtesy of a serious knee ligament injury sustained while playing as an outfield player.
“I tore two ligaments in my knee when I was playing left-wing for a local team just to keep my fitness up,” she said. “I was out for 15 months but it’s worked out for the best because it’s made me focus on other stuff, like my weaknesses.
“I could not do anything so I watched goalkeepers in the Premier League like Joe Hart and I made changes in my playing style to be more like them when I got back fit.”
Gibbons returned to action early this year for Liverpool Reserves and she is targeting a return to the first team.
The women’s summer Super League has just finished, but the winter league is set to get under way at the end of next month. The sport continues to go from strength and strength and Gibbons is on the cusp of enjoying a fine career.
She said: “I began playing football at the age of about eight, I started off playing with my dad at home using the radiator as a goal.
“Then I went to Euxton Girls and then moved to Preston North End. I joined Liverpool three years ago.
“I used to play outfield up until the age of 14 but then I went in goal and have never looked back.”
Gibbons, who has played in European and World Cup competitions for England Under-19s, said it is an interesting time for the game, especially after Hope Powell’s sacking as England’s senior team manager after their dismal performances at the Euros this year.
“Hope’s done brilliantly for England but sometimes a manager reaches a plateau and you need to have a change. I think we will just have to wait and see what happens now.
“A new manager is going to come in, who will change the whole context of the team and may well bring in new players.”