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Paige Bailey-Gayle: Newcastle United's Reggae Girl

Written by Aaron Hindhaugh

Earning a call-up to represent your country is the highest honour for any footballer, and doing so on the world stage is something even fewer get to experience. But Paige Bailey-Gayle did just that last summer.

Bailey-Gayle has already netted seven times since joining Newcastle United Women in January - just a few months after she was in Australia with the Jamaica national side.

She was part of the first-ever Caribbean team to reach the knockout stage of the FIFA Women's World Cup after Jamaica finished second in their group ahead of Brazil, one of the pre-tournament favourites, last year.

United's number 90 came through the ranks at Arsenal Women and even made her full debut when still a teenager against Manchester City Women, but the 'best decision' she ever made was to represent the Reggae Girlz.

"I saw players above me in the England squad who were doing really well so I was thinking the odds of me playing were slim," Bailey-Gayle told nufc.co.uk as the Magpies prepared for their final home game of the season, against Huddersfield Town Women on Sunday.

"So when the opportunity came up to play for Jamaica I took it straight away and it's the best decision I've ever made. That is the biggest stage for any player, the World Cup, so it was just amazing."

Being chosen to play international football is always a memorable moment for players and is often shared with friends and family; Bailey-Gayle, however, had a different experience.

While playing for Crystal Palace Women, Bailey-Gayle was on her way home from a camp in America when the news dropped about who'd made the Jamaica squad.

"How I received my call up isn't how people think; I didn't get a call from the manager," she explained.

"It was actually an email and I was on my way home from America so I had no service and I was desperately trying to connect to the airport Wi-Fi!

"Then one of my friends told me I was on the list. I was absolutely buzzing when it finally loaded and the first person that I called was my mum.

"It would've been nice to be with the family but I was just so happy to have made the squad. My mum was just screaming on the phone when I told her. I'm not too sure where she was, actually, but she probably embarrassed herself."

Newcastle's in-form striker has always been around world-class players even from a young age, having trained and played alongside the likes of Danielle van de Donk, Vivianne Miedema and Danielle Carter.

However, working with such high-profile players brought about nerves and pressure, something Bailey-Gayle had to deal with before making her debut in November 2018.

Then-Arsenal Women manager Joe Montemurro was impressed by Bailey-Gayle in training and with the Gunners leading against Everton Women, it was time for her to make her mark.

"I was 16 going on 17 playing for Arsenal so you learn a lot, but it was very nerve-wracking," Bailey-Gayle added.

"It came as a shock (making her debut) but I had been training with them for a while and then we played Everton away and Joe told me I was going on.

"I was thinking how I just didn't want to make a mistake because he had the confidence in me so I didn't want to mess up.

"Not too long after that, I made my full debut against Manchester City away because there were a lot of injuries and illnesses in the squad.

"He told me the day before the game. I'll always remember that - I was terrified sat on the bus.

"All the girls were telling me that I was in the starting line-up for a reason and that he's picked you for a reason so be confident in your ability."

Despite obvious success since turning professional, it's not always been easy and straightforward for Bailey-Gayle, who thrives off proving people wrong.

The 22-year-old has come a long way from being kicked about on a boys' team and getting joy from winding them up with her skill and footballing ability.

"I loved playing in a boys' team because they were always bigger, stronger and faster," she admitted. "So you had to learn how to counteract it by being smarter than them - you know, women are smarter!

"As soon as people could see that you could do a few skills, they would be looking to kick you.

"I always found it funny when people tried to kick me and especially when it made the boys mad; when I saw them getting angry I wanted to play more. That's just my mentality."

While Bailey-Gayle is already a fan favourite on Tyneside it could have turned out very differently had the Jamaican gone down a different path that many fans won't know about.

"I used to play cricket as a kid and went on a few training camps and trials with Middlesex but it always clashed with football so I had to pick one," she revealed. 

"I had to pick between football, cricket and athletics. I do like cricket but I can't watch it, I'd always rather play."

Growing up and playing in London allowed Bailey-Gayle to thrive but moving up to the North-East was a shock to the system - and not just because of the weather.

United's striker admitted: "It was a big change coming up here, a bit of a culture shock, because Newcastle isn't as diverse as London.

"I can't complain, except I wish the weather was better. It's too cold, windy and wet - but everyone is really nice around here."

Newcastle United Women's next game is at home to Huddersfield Town Women on Sunday, 14th April. Kick-off at Kingston Park is at 14:00 BST and tickets are on sale here, priced at £5 for adults and £1 for children.

However, prices will increase to £8 for adults and £3 for concessions on the day of the game.


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