The 34-year old remains a pivotal figure in Gemma Grainger's plans ahead of the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup qualifying campaign that begins later this month, but her story could have been very different if her determination to succeed had not been strong enough to get her through the first step of her professional journey to the very top of the women's game.
An emerging talent in the ranks of Cardiff City Ladies, the teenage Fishlock attracted international attention and having captained the U19 team, she made her senior debut for Cymru against Switzerland in 2006. However, it was a match against the Netherlands that would prove crucial in her career path. The Dutch assistant coach that day would take charge of AZ Alkmaar, and impressed by Fishlock's potential, offered her a first professional contract and with it she become the first foreign player to join the Vrouwen Eredivisie. She initially struggled to adapt to a different country, language and culture, but soon settled into her new environment despite the initial homesickness and self-doubt, and went on to claim two consecutive league titles as her confidence soared.
“It was something I had to do,” Fishlock to explained to Owain Tudur Jones as part of a FAW series of interviews in 2019. “When I was growing up, women's football was nothing so I had to leave. So when I had the chance to leave and go to Holland to play, which was my first professional situation, I went in two weeks. You have to have those moments when everything comes together. They played a completely different way of football. Everything I knew about football I had to rip up, throw it in the bin and start again. The things I was taught then have made me the player I am now.”
“The ultimate goal was America,” Fishlock added when reflecting on her career. “When I was growing up that what everyone was talking about in terms of playing women's football at the highest-level. That was the dream.” Since then, Fishlock has played professional football all over the world, representing clubs in England, Australia, France, America, Scotland and Germany. Despite her club career taking her to three different continents, she has remained committed to her country and became the first-ever Cymru centurion back in 2017. Fishlock has now made more appearances for Cymru than any other individual, and remains determined to achieve her international ambition by qualifying for the finals of a major tournament.
An inspiration to any youngster that harbours a dream of making it in the professional game, Fishlock has also proved to be a role model off the field as a LGBT ambassador, and she was awarded the MBE in 2018 for her services to football and to the LGBT community. “I would never have thought for a second that this would be my life,” she explained. “I knew I wanted to be a professional footballer, and play football for a living. I believed in myself to get there, but I didn't know that this would be my life and the choices that I made.” The decision to remain in the Netherlands and see the tough times through with AZ Alkmaar is testament to Fishlock's character, and it formed the basis for a career that has delivered domestic and European success, while establishing herself as one of the all-time Cymru legends.
Jess Fishlock and her Cymru teammates kick off their FIFA Women's World Cup Qualifying campaign against Kazakhstan on 17 September at Parc Y Scarlets in Llanelli. For tickets, please visit FAW.Cymru/Tickets.