Paige Bailey-Gayle signed for Leicester City from Arsenal in June 2019 and has established herself as a talented player everywhere that she has played. Now, she is taking that talent to the world stage after making her senior debut for Jamaica when she was just 19 years old.
The now 20-year-old forward was involved in nine goals in the Championship last season. She scored six of those and assisted the other three. Then, after 18 appearances, her season came to an abrubt end due to injury.
Despite missing the remainder of the 2020/21 season, Bailey-Gayle made a comeback like no other, which landed her a call up to the Jamaican national team.
The start of a new journey with Jamaica
With both sets of her grandparents being from Jamaica, Bailey-Gayle knew that she qualified for the team. Growing up, she played for England youth teams from the age of 17 until 19. But this year, she made the decision to play for Jamaica.
“At the time of my debut for Jamaica I was 19,” she told Her Football Hub. “The thought of playing for the senior England squad seemed like it would be really hard. You’ve got players like Lauren Hemp, Chloe Kelly, and Beth Mead all playing in the same position as me, and they’re all still very young and doing so well.
“So I thought, Jamaica is my home country and it’s given me great honour to represent them. So now I’m in the process of getting all of the documents needed so that I can play in competitions & attend camps in the future.”
When asked what her initial reaction was to being called up, Bailey-Gayle laughed. She then went on to explain that she actually missed the call because she was asleep due to the time difference.
“When I woke up, it hit me. All I could think was ‘Oh my God, I’ve just been called up to Jamaica, there’s no way this has happened’.
“I felt so bad for missing the call, but he called me back the next day and said they had been watching what I was doing and wanted for me to come to camp to see how I’d fit in. The first person that I told was my mum. I called her and she was so excited.”
Making a comeback from injury
During the 2020/21 season, Bailey-Gayle’s time was unfortunately cut short due to an MCL rupture. The injury saw her miss the remainder of Leicester’s title-winning season, but the forward came back to join the Foxes in their debut WSL season while also making her international debut.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had an injury that long or that severe, so it was a bit hard to deal with at the time,” she explained. “What got to me the most about it was that even though the girls [at Leicester City] were so close to clinching the title and getting the job done, I couldn’t help them. But you need to put things into perspective.
“The comeback is always better than the setback. So I told myself that I needed to come back flying and to get my position and shirt back. Then to come back and get called up to play for a national team is even better.”
Learning at camp around familiar faces
Several players who attended Jamaica’s camp also compete in the WSL, with eight being of English origin. Bailey-Gayle explained that every player comes from a different club and background, whether they play in the United States, the UK or Europe.
She added that the players that she looked up to during camp were Manchester City’s Bunny Shaw and Chelsea’s Drew Spence.
“Bunny and I play in similar positions. She’s been at several clubs that are high up and now she’s at Man City so she obviously knows what she’s doing. She’s a household name and a global name.
“Another player I’d say I looked up to was Drew Spence. She’s been there, done it with Chelsea, having played in the Champions League and all that. Just being around different players from different teams with different experiences, you can learn from all of it. It was a good learning curve for me to be at camp with them.”
Stepping onto the pitch in Miami
Jamaica were among some of the fan favourites during the 2019 World Cup and will begin their CONCACAF Women’s Championship qualification rounds in February.
Bailey-Gayle stepped onto the pitch in Miami to make her debut in a goalless draw against Costa Rica.
“Stepping onto the pitch, I was really nervous,” she reflected. “When I saw fans in the stadium, that’s when it felt real. It all felt right.
“The way that I played expressed the way that I was feeling in the moment. I played well and I played freely. I felt so happy and knew that I was in a good place. It was really good to play against an opposition that I’ve never really played against before with a different style of football. There were so many positives for all of us at camp and during the game.
“With the struggles that my family went through, it makes me so proud to be representing the country that they were brought up in and love.
“When I told my family I was going to a Jamaica camp, they were ecstatic. Obviously in the past they were happy when I was selected for England, but I think this just means a bit more for them. It’s hard to put it into words. But I think the word ‘proud’ really captures it. It’s just a massive honour to be playing with that badge on my chest.”
Looking at the remainder of the season with Leicester
Leicester City currently sit 12th in the WSL with their next fixture away to Arsenal at Meadow Park.
Each week, the Foxes push to gain points and move up in the table. Bailey-Gayle is ready to make herself a household name while doing so.
“I’m still quite young and trying to find my feet in the league. Hopefully soon my name will be around the world, but right now I’m just focusing on trying to find my feet and do my best every week to help the team as well as myself. That’s my main goal right now.
“It’s hard because of the results we’ve had but we see that we’re getting better and better and putting out performances. We’re just ready and pushing to get our first points of the season.
“Our main motivation is that we are going to get these points and it’s only a matter of time. We’re building momentum and as soon as we get the points we just need to keep that momentum going.”