I won Wayne Rooney's Street Striker to kickstart pro career but I had to relearn to walk after rare illness | The Sun

ASHLEIGH GODDARD overcame strong competition to win Wayne Rooney's Street Striker in 2009.

The Londoner won Series Two of the iconic Sky One show, which was watched by 600,000 people each week, before earning a scholarship to play at an American college.

After four years at DePaul University in Chicago, including two as captain, she returned to Europe and launched her pro career with Danish side FC Nordsjaelland.

Following a stint with Cypriot team Apollon, who she helped qualify for the Champions League, Goddard returned to these shores with Crystal Palace in 2019.

The Eagles had ambitions to be promoted to the Women's Super League, but a freak incident left things hanging in the balance for Goddard.

Explaining the incident that changed her life, she told the BBC: "I went to receive the ball from a throw-in and I think her forearm hit me in the back of the head or the neck and I was unconscious for a few seconds."

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Persistent headaches followed and in January 2020, Goddard went to hospital for a scan.

It was then revealed that she had a brain arteriovenous malformation – which affects the blood vessels connecting arteries to veins.

That March Goddard was told she'd need surgery, as her initial issue had developed into a terrifying brain aneurysm.

On the stark nature of her situation, she later revealed: "They said it would burst at some point in my lifetime.

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"They couldn't say if it would be tomorrow or in 20 years, but that I needed treatment. They said it would be either fatal or that it would cause a life-changing disability."

Goddard eventually went under the knife to solve the issue in 2021… only to suffer another life-altering complication.

She continued: "I woke up and I couldn't move my left side, I was paralysed.

It was the worst thing other than dying that could have happened

"I couldn't talk, my face had dropped, my arm couldn't do the most basic of movements. They told me something was wrong but I would have never guessed a stroke.

"It was the worst thing other than dying that could have happened."

Incredibly, despite having to relearn how to walk following her stroke, Goddard managed to return to action for London Bees just six months later.

On what came next, she added: "I had to learn to walk again, I had to learn how to use a knife and fork again and when it came to football I had to learn it all again.

"I did thousands of reps of each type of pass and each touch and eventually things just started to get easier."

Goddard, 31, has continued to inspire with her recovery, and joined AFC Wimbledon in the summer.

She had previously trained with the Dons as she stepped up her rehabilitation, and was delighted to be able to return.

Upon sealing her move, she said: "When I first visited, everyone was so nice and supportive of me and what had happened, and that really stuck with me.

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“It was a no-brainer for me that I wanted to come back here and give a good season. There’s only one aim, and that’s promotion!"

Boss Kevin Foster then said of her: "Not only will she bring quality on the pitch, but her character is one of the best you will see in football."

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