Comeback kid: The England prodigy who survived sepsis to pursue dreams

“People who know me, know I don’t have small ambitions.” Brooke Aspin, one of England’s youngest prospects, makes no apologies for her bold aspirations.

“My ambitions are to captain England to a World Cup final and win that one day. And also obviously captain Chelsea which is another ambition of mine.”

A teenager who only signed her first professional contract at Chelsea in the summer before returning to her previous club Bristol City on loan, Aspin might have lofty ambitions. Yet she delivers the words with such confidence and assurance for an 18-year-old who has faced more challenges in her short life than anyone should have to experience.

It was only last summer that Aspin’s footballing dreams were firmly on the back burner while her life hung in the balance.

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After captaining England U17s, Brooke Aspin says her career aspirations are to win a World Cup final as Lionesses captain

Less than two weeks after experiencing the ‘goosebumps’ moment of being at Wembley and watching the Lionesses win their first major trophy with their Euros triumph, the central defender was in hospital with a groin injury which turned into intense pain, discomfort and inability to walk.

Multiple blood tests and MRI scans followed in the days after as her condition worsened before she was diagnosed with sepsis, a life-threatening reaction to an infection which kills more people than cancer. Aspin was moved into intensive care.

“I didn’t have a clue [what sepsis was when the doctors told me],” Aspin tells Sky Sports. “I was so zoned out and out of it, that it was more a case of me thinking ‘what else are you going to pile on me now’.

“My mum and dad took it in turns staying on those uncomfortable chairs beside my hospital bed, which probably did their backs in but I’m so thankful that they were there every single minute of it all.

“It was probably tougher for them than it was for me, seeing me go through such a tough time and them sitting watching and unable to do anything about it.”

What is sepsis?

Sepsis is a life-threatening reaction to an infection. It happens when your immune system overreacts to an infection and starts to damage your body’s own tissues and organs. It is sometimes called septicaemia or blood poisoning.

Sepsis is the leading cause of avoidable death in the UK, claiming more lives than breast, bowel and prostate cancer combined.

A 16-minute YouTube video uploaded by Bristol City at the start of the year containing interviews from Aspin and the club’s lead physio Becky Belbin charts the harrowing experience the young defender suffered.

It is an emotional watch but Aspin wants to share her story in order to prevent others going through the distress her and the teenager’s family and friends endured.

“At the start it’s a difficult watch for me [on the YouTube video] but now I accept I did have sepsis,” she said. “I’d like to raise awareness and do what I can to help other people, make sure they know what the symptoms are and that their family and friends don’t end up becoming as ill as me.

“It’s something that is still a touchy subject but it’s something that I feel that I can talk about and I want to spread that awareness with other people.”

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Brooke Aspin describes her battle with sepsis and her desire to raise awareness about its dangers

Aspin spent 22 days in hospital and finally had surgery on her groin injury once she was able to put on weight and her body became stronger.

“I always get told the story of when one of the physios took the players into the gym and explained I was going into surgery and apparently most of them broke down into tears. It’s still a horrible thing to listen to now that your team-mates had to go through that.”

In Aspin’s six months off the pitch in recovery and rehab, Bristol City were flying in the Championship. When she finally made her long-awaited return as a late substitute in a league win over Durham on March 12, there wasn’t a ‘dry eye in the house’ – well apart from one person.

“I’m quite a tough cookie really when it comes to those sorts of things,” Aspin, who joined the Bristol City academy aged 14, said. “I didn’t want to show my emotions but once I got home it was an emotional feeling for me that I actually got back on the pitch and I’ve done what I needed to achieve to play with the girls again.”

With promotion to the WSL secured the following month, Aspin was still savouring the prospect of playing in the top-flight for the first time when another life-changing moment occurred. Chelsea wanted to snap up one of the game’s hottest prospects having recognised the talents of a player who had also captained England U17s.

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Brooke Aspin signed her first professional contract with Chelsea, who she describes as ‘one of the best clubs in the world’ this summer, before going back on loan to Bristol City

Aspin signed her first professional contract in early July, agreeing a four-year deal with the six-time WSL champions before being loaned back to Bristol City for the 2023/24 season.

“I signed my contract at Stamford Bridge,” Aspin said. “I went with my mum, dad and brother, and we did a tour of Stamford Bridge, had the photos etc. That was incredible. We actually stayed at the hotel the night before. I’d never been to Stamford Bridge before so it was something incredible and I kept thinking ‘this is my home stadium now’.

“It was crazy just to think about how I used to play for my town club and then to sign for one of the best clubs in the world.

“My nan is a massive Chelsea supporter. She’s got shirts on the walls and everything, so when I told her that I’d signed a deal with Chelsea she was ecstatic, she was crying, it was amazing.”

What Chelsea said when Aspin signed four-year deal in July 2023

Manager Emma Hayes: “Brooke is a player that we have been tracking for the last three years. She has extensive experience for her age and is a young centre-back that we have very high hopes for in the future.”

General manager Paul Green: “We believe Brooke is the best young centre-back of her age in the country. We look forward to seeing her continue to develop this season in the WSL at Bristol City.”

Although Aspin has one eye on Chelsea’s results this season, her main attention is focused on Bristol City’s challenge of surviving the drop and she has been already been adding further chapters to her incredible comeback story.

When we speak, Aspin is still basking in the glory of scoring her first-ever WSL goal, the winning goal at that as the Robins collected their league victory of the season against West Ham earlier this month.

She admits she wants to contribute more vital goals as they look to move away from the foot of the table, but containing the world-class strikers she is now up against week-in, week-out remains top priority.

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Aspin scored the winning goal as Bristol City picked up their first WSL win of the season

“You’ve got the likes of Bunny Shaw (Man City forward) and Rachel Daly (Aston Villa striker), they’re two completely different players. You’ve got Bunny Shaw who is an absolute unit and is really hard to play against, and then you’ve got Rachel Daly, her movement, you second judge yourself every single time. But for me as a young centre-back that’s absolutely key and helps me learn so much.”

Mentally and physically strong on and off the pitch, Aspin is making progress on the international stage having now moved up from captaining the U17s and playing for the U18s to appear in two friendlies for England U19s in recent months, an experience she cherishes every time she wears the shirt.

“I don’t think people realise how much pride and how much it’s so nice to play for your country and play for the badge, I absolutely love it and to captain the side and walk out in front of my family and friends and my dad,” she said.

“I’ve always wanted to captain England and to do it in front of my dad is a special moment. I always back myself as a leader and hopefully one day I can lead the first team out.”

For a young player who has survived one challenging experience to grab life by the horns, you wouldn’t put it past this ambition-fuelled defender.

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