Frauen | 22/04/2022

FC goalkeeper

Pauline Nelles: From sand pitches to the Sun Devils

As Pauline Nelles stood on a football pitch for the first time, there was a long way ahead of her before winning the European Championship and being offered a college scholarship. The 20-year-old goalkeeper has experienced a lot despite being so young. In the coming summer, an exciting new opportunity awaits.

The majority of goalkeepers talk about a coincidence, the injury to a team-mate or that it runs in the family, when it comes to becoming a goalkeeper. For Pauline, the reasons were much more pragmatic: “There were two reasons as to why I became a goalkeeper. The first: I was the only girl at TuS Pützchen 05 and, at that point, there was no other goalkeeper in the team. The second reason was that I didn’t want to run that much back then,” she laughs. Her grandfather, Robert Nelles, brought her up around football. There was no specific team that sparked his interested but he love football. It was football in their back garden that started off her career.

“I didn’t even play that well. My main concern was building sandcastles,” laughed Nelles, describing the game and tournament where she was then scouted by 1. FC Köln. Despite the modest evaluation of her performance at TuS Pützchen 05, it was enough to receive an invitation to a trial. In summer 2010, Paule, as she has been coined by her team-mates, decided to join FC. In the past 12 years, there have been ups and downs, but she will take plenty of experience from that.

“Something that was really special was my Bundesliga debut against Frankfurt.” At that point in time, she was just 17. Her competitive debut took place a year earlier in the DFB-Pokal. “I won’t forget that in a hurry,” she remembers. “Every Bundesliga match I’ve played means something to me. It is fantastic to be able to play in one of the best leagues in the world. The fact that I can end my time here by staying up makes me very, very proud.” She also looks back fondly on her time with the under-17s, as they were crowned West German champions twice in a row. “Many people say that a team is like a family and I think that is often exaggerated. But for us, that was exactly how it was. We understood each other blindly, both on and off the pitch. We always had fun with one another. That was one of the reasons why we were so successful.”

Not long before her first Bundesliga game, Pauline experienced another high point in her still young career. After a solid tournament with the Germany under-17 national side, she stood in the spotlight. The European Championship final in 2019 went to penalties. Germany and the Netherlands both scored with their first two spot-kicks. Nelles then took centre stage. She saved four penalties in a row and was the shoot-out hero. A feat that has yet to be repeated in a women’s European Championship final. “I would personally say that it was lucky. Obviously you try to work out what way they’re going to shoot. But I think it was luck.”

Pauline’s talents aren’t just restricted to those on the pitch. “During lockdown, I set my self the target of learning something new every day.” Despite a few failed attempts, she can now solve a rubix cube in under 30 seconds and can play the piano. The latter gives her the chance to forget everything else and relax: “It is the perfect activity to balance out my stressful day after school and football. My favourite pianist is Ludovico Einaudi. He does a lot with very little.”

School has almost come to a close for Pauline and she is on the verge of finishing her A-Levels. “It’s all gone quite quickly in the end but I’m looking forward to the new adventure.” However, she won’t get too much of a break from education. She will study teaching in Arizona. “I want to be a teacher, where the students look forward to their lessons.” For Pauline Nelles, Phoenix and Arizona State University are on the horizon this summer. The idea came up in a conversation with Luis Urbig, the brother of FC-shotstopper Jonas. Families Nelles and Urbig have known each other for a while. “I first spoke to Luis Urbig about the topic as I started to think about what I wanted to do in the new season.”

The idea of going to the USA, however, wasn’t something she immediately shared with her parents. It then came up at dinner. “I want to see and experience something new but continue to play football and study. The scholarship in the USA is the perfect way to combine both. My parents were really happy when I told them the news,” said Nelles. In the USA, she will play for the “Sun Devils”. The women’s team play in the PAC-12, the top league in America for colleges. The level of seriousness at which football is played there is something that Pauline quickly recognised: “ASU have incredible facilities and made their interest in me very clear. From the beginning of the discussions with the coaches and those at the University, I felt a level of trust straight away. It is a reassuring feeling, especially when you don’t come from that country.”

For the 20-year-old, the chance was too good to say no. Not just because of the sporting prospect and perspective. Pauline sees the opportunity to get to know new people, new cultures and new ways of life as a deciding factor. As someone who has such a warm and sincere personality, it was a special break for her: “The team in Arizona is very international and I’m looking forward to seeing some new faces and getting to experience the American lifestyle.” Pauline Nelles’ focus remains on the most important things, to begin with: “My initial thoughts are with the new way of life and a new language. That comes before what happens on the pitch. We have a different way of playing here in Europe. I don’t just want to show my quality when it comes to shotstopping but also what I can do with the ball at my feet. I want to build on my good performances here and work hard to earn my chance.”

Until then, there are a few important weeks to come before she leaves. “I am concentrating on my final few exams in school and obviously on our final fixtures in the Regionalliga.” Pauline Nelles can look back on her time at FC with pride and look forward with excitement at a new and interesting once-in-a-lifetime chance in the USA. “It is what it is,” she says and is looking forward to soon learning and experiencing something new every day in the USA.

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