Gabby George fighting fit a year on from her ACL injury
Twelve months out injured took its toll on Gabby George… but with the help of cousin Jesse Lingard she is fit, firing and full of belief to get Everton in the Champions League (and she’s targeting England recognition too!)
- Gabby George returned to training this month after a year on the sidelines
- The Everton defender ruptured her anterior cruciate ligament in February
- George’s cousin Jesse Lingard has supported her throughout the process
- The centre back could return to action for the Toffees in the coming weeks
After 12 months of being sidelined with an anterior cruciate ligament injury, what was it like for Gabby George when she returned to training last month? ‘I felt a bit drunk!’ the Everton defender laughed. ‘Everything was like a blur, my speech and vision. It had been nearly a year since I’d been training.’
Toffees boss Willie Kirk recently said his players had ‘felt the full force of Gabby George once again’. The centre-back admitted she had perhaps been a little too eager to get back into things.
‘I was in the session as a non-contact player and gave away the ball and my first instinct was to go and get it back so I went through the back of Elise Hughes and she was like “oh my god!”. I thought “oh, I don’t think I should have been doing that” – never mind!’
Everton defender Gabby George is back in training after recovering from an ACL injury
George was taken off the pitch on a stretcher in Everton’s final game before the first lockdown, a 5-0 FA Cup victory over Bristol City in February 2020.
‘I did say at the time “if I’m getting stretchered off the pitch I hope it is bad!”
‘When I first went down I felt my knee but then the pain went somewhere else and I thought I might be alright. I broke down when I found out it was my ACL.’
Dealing with a serious injury is hard enough, never mind dealing with a serious injury during a pandemic. But Everton ensured the road to recovery was not a lonely one. The club provided her with a Wattbike and other pieces of equipment while staff and players offered emotional support.
The centre back went through rehab during lockdown but is now eager to get back playing
‘The club have been outstanding with me,’ George said. ‘They got me the equipment I needed to do everything I did at home. I went into the operation in the best condition, there’s not much more we could have done in a global pandemic.
‘I was in contact with Willie frequently, even Savar (Ismailov), Aaron the general manager and the staff that I’ve been with 24/7 who are probably fed up of seeing my face!’
George also mentions the support of her parents but admits they didn’t really understand the extent of the injury. Luckily, there is one member of her family who does – her cousin Jesse Lingard.
‘On his Manchester United debut, I think it was against Swansea, he went down with a knee injury,’ George said. ‘I think he touched a lot more ligaments than me and he was in a brace for six months.
‘He’s been through the same thing. Six months in the men’s game is a long time so he made sure I was mentally okay and kept checking up on me.
‘I send him clips when I reach a new PB in the gym. We try and compete against each other and see who can lift more, obviously he’s winning but I’m trying to get there. He’s been really supportive with my injury and has made sure I’m okay.
George and cousin Jesse Lingard, who has been supportive throughout her recovery
‘He understands it on a different level to my family, not many of them have played professional football for a club as big as United or their country. It’s good to have someone there who understands and gets everything I’m going through.’
The women’s 2019-20 season was curtailed but the FA Cup continued into the current campaign. The Toffees produced one of the shocks of the competition by knocking out Chelsea and they then beat Birmingham to book their place in the final on November 1. George was the team’s biggest supporter in the stands but missing out on the club’s first Wembley appearance was understandably difficult.
‘Before the Wembley game I was messaging my mum and I think it was probably one of the hardest times of the whole process. We didn’t have room-mates because you weren’t allowed to share.
‘Before we left I read what Izzy Christiansen said (in an interview with Sportsmail) and I think that hit home most but I never wanted the girls to see how it affected me because they’d done everything they could to make sure I was part of it. I kept a smile the whole way through the rehab.
‘I went through a stage where it was a bit of a dip. Mentally it’s one of the toughest things I’ve had to face. I think I’ve been through everything you could imagine.’
Everton were narrowly beaten by Manchester City in extra-time but making the final highlighted how far the club have come since Kirk was appointed in 2018. The Scot took over a side that was bottom of the WSL after they had been awarded top-flight status the year before. The Toffees now sit fifth in the league and have ambitions of playing in Europe.
The 23-year-old has seen the progression of the Toffees following their relegation in 2014
‘I’ve seen the progression of the club, now Willie has come in and has said openly that Champions League football is the goal for this club. We got relegated in my first season so to go from that to stepping up to saying we want to go to the Champions League is something I’ve wanted from day one.’
George signed her first contract with Everton on her 17th birthday and became their first full-time professional in 2017, the same year the club was awarded top flight status following their relegation in 2014 and the women’s side are now based at Finch Farm alongside Carlo Ancelotti’s team.
‘When I first signed we trained at a few different places and we trained in the evening,’ George explained. ‘I was getting home at 11pm, going to college the next day and doing the same over and over again. Now it’s my full-time job and I can just concentrate on becoming a better player.’
Getting back into the Everton team is George’s first concern, and she was back on the bench for the first time last weekend, but the defender hopes to follow in her cousin’s footsteps by representing England at a major tournament. The women’s Euros take place next summer and it would mark four years since cousin Jesse starred for Gareth Southgate’s side in the World Cup in Russia.
‘Anyone who has played for England at youth level, the goal is always to go on and play for the seniors. I’m lucky enough to have two caps already and obviously I’d love to have more.’
George signed her first professional deal in 2017 and Everton now train full-time at Finch Farm
While the majority of lockdown has been focused on rehab and recovery, was there time for George to learn anything new or binge-watch a few Netflix series?
‘Actually, I did a sports business course with the PFA and my level one bookkeeping accountancy course which was also with the PFA.
‘I thought I needed to keep my mind on other things and not just football, football, football. It could have taken me into a dark place so I was doing a lot of education… oh and I got two puppies!’
George has been kept busy off the pitch but she is edging closer than ever to a return to first-team action. ‘Every tackle that I have made in training, every block, all the girls have been cheering me on! Being back in the matchday squad was the biggest step I have made so far. I can’t wait to come back because I know I’m going to be a better player.’
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