BIG INTERVIEW: Lancaster youngster Aimee Hodgson making a breakthrough at Blackburn Rovers
For a split second, Aimee Hodgson thought one of the burning ambitions of her burgeoning football career was going to elude her.
The young attacker from Lancaster has enjoyed an unexpected but meteoric rise in the sport this season after making her debut for Blackburn Rovers in the FA Women’s Championship.
Plucked by boss Gemma Donnelly out of the development squad into the first-team set-up last summer at the age of 17, Hodgson may have been forgiven for thinking that her role would be a peripheral one at such a tender age.
Handing her experience by working and training alongside the first-team regulars seemed a smart move with one eye on the future by Donnelly.
However, the Rovers boss had identified the Lancaster Grammar School pupil has somebody with the talent and ability to benefit the first team in the short-term.
Handed an appearance against Leicester City as a substitute, Hodgson went on to make her full debut against Charlton Athletic.
Although the match ended in a 1-0 defeat for Rovers, the Lancashire lass received the player-of-the-match plaudits.
From that moment she never looked back, going on to become a key figure for Rovers, who play in the second tier of the English game – one step below the Women’s Super League.
Despite a catalogue of fine performances, Hodgson – who is equally adept on the wing or behind the main striker – was missing one important thing in her record of achievement.
Walking out for the final game of the season at home to Sheffield United, Hodgson was well aware that she had yet to open her goalscoring account at senior level.
But all that was about to change against the Blades when she connected sweetly with a first-time shot – or so she thought.
About to wheel away in delight, there was suddenly a look of horror on her face as she watched the piledriver cannon against the underside of the crossbar, bounce down and away to safety.
A momentary period of confusion was soon replaced by a frantic flag-waving referee’s assistant who much to Hodgson’s relief was eager to signal that the ball had crossed the goalline.
“I didn’t know whether it had gone in or not,” said Hodgson.
“It hit the crossbar and bounced out, but when it was ruled to have crossed the line it felt good and I remember feeling relieved.”
Hodgson admits she is looking to improve her goals return as well as many other different facets of her game when the new campaign gets under way.
But having only just turned 18-years-old, she can’t grumble too much about her rate of progress over the past 12 months, especially as she spent the majority of the previous year injured.
“It took me a while to get used to the level, but the more I have got used to it, the better I have become,” she said.
“Scoring in the last game of the season was a great relief and good for my confidence.
“But playing for the senior team was not really part of the original plan but obviously I must have impressed.
“It’s been good to show my worth across the year after being out for a long period when I was with the development squad.”
In terms of the season as a whole, Rovers struggled to a certain degree, finishing third from bottom in the 12-club division. But they still managed to pick up results in half their games in a division packed full of big clubs such as Liverpool, Durham and Crystal Palace.
Hodgson is keen to continue her own personal development as well as helping Rovers push on next season.
“We had a good run up until Christmas,” she said.
“I think we went five games unbeaten but then we had a few out because of coronavirus and that really hit us hard and upset the flow of things.
“Tactically we tried to change a few things which did not quite work and I don’t think we won another game after Christmas, which is not great but we are hoping to improve upon that next season.”
Hodgson – who describes herself as a skilful and creative player with the ability to find space – has already caught the attention of the national selectors.
She has been called up into a few England youth camps although they were subsequently cancelled because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Hopefully I can keep my form up with Blackburn and get called up again for England – see if I can perform at that level,” she said.
“I was called up into the England Under-18s and my ambition is to play for the full national team and if I am good enough, play in a World Cup in the future.
“That is a big step up, though, and I just want to concentrate on doing well for Blackburn.”
Currently studying for A-Levels in biology, chemistry and maths, Hodgson plans to take a gap year from her studies to focus on her football career.
In the medium term, she quite fancies the idea of moving to America on a football scholarship.
The women’s game Stateside is huge and that could lead to opportunities for her.
“My aim is to go to America where I can balance my football with my studies,” she said. “But I want to take the gap year to see how far I can progress in the women’s Championship.”