Charlotte Potts opens up on her Sunderland return, Stadium of Light excitement and long-term ambitions

Back at the heart of Sunderland's defence, and most importantly, back keeping a clean sheet.

Saturday, 4th September 2021, 11:58 am

That was always going to be one of the biggest positives of Charlotte Potts' first competitive game back at the club, a 1-0 win away at Coventry United.

"I thrive off being organised!" she tells The Echo.

That organisation is going to crucial as the team set out to stabilise in the Women's Championship.

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Sunderland Ladies celebrate. Picture by Chris Fryatt.

To be back at this level is a big moment, for player and club.

Before the pandemic struck, Sunderland Ladies were flying high in the National League North, top of the table by 11 points and with a cup final on the horizon.

After the most challenging of times, things were looking up.

The curtailment of the campaign forced a sudden and difficult appraisal.

Not just from a sporting perspective, but a personal one too.

In the end, Potts opted to move north of the border, agreeing an 18-month contract to join Hibernian women.

"It took a long time to digest, in all honesty," she explains.

"It really hit home eventually and I had to come to terms with making a decision. I really dwelled on that decision.

"I didn't want to move, really.

"Naturally I had to think about my progression with my age, and it wasn't easy.

"Job wise, I'd been trying to start a business and obviously the pandemic hit that as well.

"I personally wasn't in a good place and so moving away is something I had to consider."

That move amidst the ongoing pandemic was a 'testing' one, but from the challenge came a lot of lessons, and a lot of growth.

When Sunderland's promotion was confirmed a year later, it was bittersweet looking on.

The algorithm designed by the FA to judge candidates meant the results from that first curtailed campaign were crucial, and returning to Sunderland and the North East has meant being really able to celebrate that achievement.

"There were rumours going around that Sunderland might be getting promoted and it did trigger some hope," she explains.

"When the news came out that they were promoted, I really, really wanted to celebrate and especially with the girls.

"But I didn't really feel like I could, because I didn't really feel like I was part of that team.

"But signing again, I really felt then like I could celebrate it, and I had to keep reminding myself that I was part of it because I was part of that year when we were doing so well.

"I think I had to be a little bit brave to come back because you're always going to have a lot of opinions, with it being my fifth spell etc.

"But I just thought, you know what you have to suck it up.

"I knew I'd have to get the respect of the girls back and I'd like to think that the standards I bring to training, my workrate and what I can bring on the pitch can get that trust back and I think I'm getting there.

"I've absolutely loved it so far, it's been really fantastic to be back."

In the interim Sunderland's young squad have continued to develop, and Potts says promotion is an absolutely crucial part of that journey.

"I think as a collective things haven't changed too much [since I left]," Potts explains.

"You can see a lot of growth in individuals and obviously now it's about gluing that together as a team.

"We've got a lot of really talented young players and I think they were ready for this next challenge.

"You've got players in the youth lionesses and they needed this experience of a higher level. They need that faster pace of game to progress as individuals and players."

Potts' experience as that group develops is going to be key.

"I've got aspirations to coach myself so when I play, I probably consider myself as a bit of a coach on the pitch," she says.

"I try to organise, take everything Steph and Mel on board and listen intently so I can take a lead on that organisation on the pitch. I do love that side of it."

Potts' return has allowed for a renewed focus on her coaching, at a time when Sunderland are hoping to match the wider growth of the women's game in the region.

"I've been able to put more time into that and I've been working really hard behind the scenes," she explains.

"I've just become an ambassador for Gateshead's foundation, I do a lot of work with Show Racism the Red Card.

"It's really helped me build my reputation for coaching and it's a real sense of fulfillment, knowing that you're helping the next generation.

"It's such a shock when you see how many young girls there are playing football now, even in two or three years it has spiked massively.

"It feels like a really exciting time for the game in the north east and that was one of the main reasons why I was so passionate in wanting to come back.

"The young girls in the north east deserve a team in the Super League, and a full-time platform for their ambitions, their goals and their careers."

For now, the focus is on a the first home game of the campaign on Sunday afternoon, a stern test against Blackburn Rovers.

At the Stadium of Light, too.

Another significant moment, and one where Potts’ experience will again be key.

"It's very, very exciting," she says.

"We haven’t had our fans for a long time and my family haven't been able to see me on the pitch in person since that game against Stoke.

"I remember when we played a couple of years ago against Newcastle, my adrenaline even a few days before was through the roof.

"This time I feel nice and relaxed, staying nice and cool, and really looking forward to it."

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