Natalie Gutteridge is relishing a fresh start after leaving Sunderland Ladies for Durham Women.
It’s a drop from Division One of the Women’s Super League into the second tier, but for the 26-year-old what matters now is getting games.
In her nine years at the club, Gutteridge won plenty of silverware – league titles and the League Cup, where she scored both Sunderland goals in a 2-1 win against Leeds.
But her career stalled after she ruptured her anterior cruciate ligament in February, 2013, and she needed further surgery a year later.
“It has been a very difficult time in terms of the injury,” she said.
“We were very successful under (manager) Mick Mulhern, but then I got the injury. There were a lot of changes in the time I was out (Sunderland AFC took over the club and went semi-pro, and Mulhern was replaced by Carlton Fairweather) and it’s always going to be difficult to force your way into the team after being out for so long – and I did not really have the opportunity to play in any matches.
“When it became obvious that my chances would be limited at Sunderland, the move to Durham was a move that I was really keen to make.
“When you’ve been out for so long with injury, it’s important to have the opportunity to play in matches.”
Gutteridge says she will always look back on her time at Sunderland with great pleasure.
“I had nine fantastic years – winning championships, promotions, league cup finals and reaching the FA Cup final – so I have memories that will stay with me forever.
“The club has a real family mentality and I’ll be leaving behind not only great players, but great people, so it was never going to be an easy decision to make.
“I’ll be supporting the girls by attending as many games as I can and really hope the team can continue their great start to the season.”
Durham boss Lee Sanders has been watching Gutteridge’s situation for some time and will be delighted with his new acquisition.
“I have spoken to Lee a number of times over the last couple of weeks about the ambitions he has for the club,” said Gutteridge.
“Sunderland is obviously a very well developed club with a lot of history. Durham is fairly new in comparison, but they’re starting to build a really good side. I was really flattered by the interest shown in me and I hope to be able to repay Lee for the faith he has shown in me.
“I’ve recently started working as a physiotherapist, so working full-time and having to fit training around this, in addition to a lot of travelling can be quite difficult at times. But the time is right for a new challenge and it’s one that I’m really looking forward to.”
There are a couple of familiar faces at Durham with former Sunderland players Helen Alderson and Rachel Lee already there.
“I spok to Helen, who was really positive about the club since she joined at the beginning of the season, after being in a similar position to myself,” added Gutteridge.
“She is a really good character, so has made the move much easier and helped me settle in.
“I hope to be able to contribute to an exciting young side. Hopefully we can have a good second half of the season by picking up as many points as possible and move up the table.”
As for her time at Sunderland, Natalie said she was grateful for a lot of help.
“I can’t thank our strength and conditioning coach Julie Twaddle enough for all she has done for me, to help me get back playing again,” she said. “I would never have got back to where I am without her.
“I’m really grateful to Mick Mulhern for all he’s done, initially signing me and for all the success at Sunderland playing for him.
“And also to the people who helped run the club for so many years, including the former chairman Maurice Alderson and the committee, including Susan Bannon. There was always a lot of hard work done behind the scenes and the players were always very grateful for that.”
Gutteridge’s first league game for Durham is at Reading on Saturday.