Isabel Hodgson found her way into football perhaps somewhat serendipitously.
But reminiscing, Hodgson is more than glad about the sport she discovered all those years ago.
Hodgson explained how she was more interested in playing basketball which never materialised, before falling in love with the game and has not looked back since.
The Adelaide United winger has recorded 33 appearances with two goals across two separate spells with the Club and is eyeing another strong campaign.
“I started playing I think when I was about six,” Hodgson said.
“It was actually at my primary school which was Star of the Sea, and I think the only reason why I played was because I think it was the only sport offered for that age group.
“So I really wanted to play basketball which was weird and then they said I wasn’t allowed to and I played soccer.
“And then I started playing it and I couldn’t get enough of it, so I stuck around. So really it was just because basketball was unavailable, so thankfully it didn’t happen because I’m not very good at basketball.”
At the age of eight, Hodgson went to Western Strikers in what was her first club.
“I played there for a couple of years because I still played for my school and then I would play for Western Strikers,” she said.
“Actually, me and my best friend at the time were the only two girls in the entire club.
“I think around 10 or 11 I decided to move to a girls club just purely because at that age the boys struggled with the concept of passing to the girls.”
By the time Hodgson was 11 she was invited to trial for the under 12 state team and it was there where the thought of one day playing for Adelaide United had some merit.
Hodgson continued to represent her state throughout the various levels and was selected in the NTC program before making her United debut during the 2013/14 season.
“I didn’t play any other club sports, I played a little bit of school sports, but it was mainly soccer, because you trained with your club and you trained with your state team,” she said.
“So pretty much from there I did under 13s, under 14s, under 15s state and then once I was in the NTC that’s when I was kind of like, ‘hang on, this is actually something that I could probably do’.
“Then I started to think, ‘could I actually make the Adelaide United team, could that be something that I get into, could I make the Matildas, where can I actually go with this.”
And her watershed moment arrived as a 17-year-old when she made the Reds squad.
It was a substitute appearance against Western Sydney Wanderers at Marconi Stadium, with Hodgson playing the final 32 minutes in a 1-1 draw.
“It probably wasn’t until year 11, I got signed for United and that’s kind of when a switch flicked and I was like actually this is really what I want to do,” she added.
“And I really want to get good enough where I can play every game for United… So maybe year 11 it clicked in my head that I’ve made this United squad and I’m only 17, so maybe I could actually get somewhere with this.”
After two seasons in the Westfield W-League, Hodgson began weighing up her options to further her development.
The notion of continuing to play while getting an education sounded promising, and a move to the United States followed in 2015.
Hodgson attended East Tennessee State University and would remain in America for the next four years, although returned on two different loan spells with the Reds in the 2015/16 and 2018/19 campaigns.
She was initially hesitant about leaving, but after having long deliberations with her family she was convinced about the idea of challenging herself in a completely new environment.
“I had a year in the W-League, I’ve played every game and I was like what is next for me,” she reflected.
“I was only 18 and I was like I’m starting every game here, how can I keep developing and then I decided I was going to go over to college in America.
“Then that way I could get an education while I was playing at a higher level because for me it was like, ‘I’m only one injury away from not being able to play anymore, what’s my back-up plan?’
“Especially my parents, they were very much, ‘like we really love soccer, but let’s play and maybe get an education so then if anything is to happen you’ve got something in your back pocket ready’.
“I pretty much decided within almost a month that I was going to go and I signed very quickly, because I was very late. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go.
“But one night I had a big chat with my whole family and everyone was like just go, so then I signed the next week and I was on a plane to America three weeks later.”
Looking back, the 24-year-old said she has no regrets, claiming it was an unbelievable experience on a multitude of levels.
“It was honestly the best decision I’ve ever made,” she said.
“The difference in funding that the college system has is just outrageous, like the facilities are at a crazy level.
“You go there and you’re treated like a professional athlete, there’s facilities, there’s medical, there’s everything you need is at your fingertips.
“Even just off the field, I’ve photos of around the world opposite from my family. When I’m awake, they’re asleep so you can’t call your mum to say how do you work the washing machine.
“I think I grew up very quickly, from living at home and going to school every day to living in an apartment with another American.
“I pretty much went from 18 to 25 very quickly, I couldn’t rely on my parents to do things for me or anything like that.”
The intensity and style of football in the United States was noticeably different and built on physical attributes with less emphasis on the technical aspect.
Hodgson believed this particular philosophy certainly improved areas of her own game, though confessed it did take some time to adjust.
“In the States the way colleges kind of make their senior teams is they’re very athletic, they’re very big, they’re very strong and they’re very fast,” she explained.
“So some countries like the small, really skilful players, America really likes athletes.
“When you’re playing in that league you just need to run fast all the time because everyone is moving really quickly.
“So I think that really developed me to be able to play at the W-League level because the W-League is very fast, local league is quite relaxed and a bit more slow paced.
“So I think I went over there and it took me four or five weeks to realise I need to be quite physical in my tackles and very strong and a bit more rowdy on the field.
“I’ve come back as a much stronger, faster and bigger player than I ever was before I left.”
Hodgson has spent the last few years with Adelaide City in the local Women’s National Premier League.
However, following dominant seasons with the Black and Whites, the attacker is keen to try her luck abroad once the Westfield W-League concludes.
“That’s definitely the plan for next year is to try and get overseas,” she said.
“Hopefully it works out, this year with COVID-19 it obviously put a lot of people’s plans on hold and changed a lot of things.
“And a lot of us here weren’t even playing for those couple of months when it was all locked down.
“But that’s the dream to go overseas next year to keep developing and come back and be even better for United.”
Adelaide’s ability to retain the core of the squad heading into the new season, is something that is no doubt advantageous according to Hodgson.
Many key Matildas departed the competition for overseas clubs during the break.
“We do have a core group of us who have kind of been around each other for a while and playing together for a long time,” she continued.
“Like Dylan (Holmes), I was in her under 12 state team together, so we’ve spent years playing with each other.
“And then obviously the last three or four years there’s been a core group of local girls who’ve played together and I think each year we’re getting better and better.
“So I’m really looking forward to this year because a lot of those teams who are usually stacked with Matildas or stacked international players aren’t going to be.
“So it’s going to be similar to how we usually are, is we’re a bunch of locals and we usually bring in a few internationals.
“So the other teams are actually going to have to play their local talent and I think that’s where we have the edge because we’ve already been playing all the other years.
“We have a good core group of people that have been building and building over the years and maybe haven’t been getting the results.
“But I think this year is the year those results come because we’ve been building.”