FOOTBALL mad Gemma Bonner’s upbringing was synonymous with Leeds United.
Dad John was already a lifelong Leeds fan and the Moortown youngster then caught the bug herself aged seven, stepping out in the full Whites kit at a Leeds United trials day.
It led to the next chapter of Bonner’s life – becoming a Leeds United Ladies player – but ultimately it will be in the Chelsea blue that Leeds-born Bonner steps out come the start of next month’s inaugural women’s Super League.
The dream scenario had been to represent the Whites – now forced into lower league football – but one day the former United darling might just be back.
Bonner, 19, was one of several Leeds United Ladies players left with little option but to move on following the withdrawal of funding from former partner Leeds Met University.
That financial withdrawal forced the then-named Leeds Carnegie Ladies to withdraw their application to join the eagerly awaited new Super League and drop to the division below, but for shining talents like Bonner plying her trade in a lower tier was not an option, no matter how much it hurt.
With aspirations of playing for England, for Bonner, regular football in the new top division was a must and the talented teenager was unsurprisingly snapped up after Christmas by Chelsea Ladies.
Another new chapter beckons for the Leeds Met University student down in London but her passion and love for Leeds remains, Bonner admitting the enforced demise of the Whites women’s squad was incredibly hard to take.
“We had such a good squad at Leeds last year,” said Bonner. “We won the League Cup final and we had a great manager in Rick Passmoor, pictured inset, who I’d known since I had been there when I was seven. He’s done a lot to help me along the way.
“It would have been good to have played for Leeds in the Super League but hopefully if they can get in there in a few years who knows, I might come back! Everyone was really gutted about what happened at Leeds. We had everything, the team was there, we had been together a good few years so obviously what happened was a big blow.
“Everyone has moved on now but Leeds are still going so that’s good.”
Still going and certainly still successful, the Whites currently sit third in the Women’s Premier League table behind Sunderland and Nottingham Forest.
But the Women’s Super League is simply the place to be now. The competition is set to begin with night games on Thursday, April 14 when Grainger’s new Chelsea side will take on Arsenal.
Birmingham, Bristol, Doncaster, Everton, Liverpool and Lincoln also feature in the new elite league and Bonner cannot wait to get cracking, after a less than satisfactory start last weekend.
“I signed for Chelsea just after Christmas – just after I’d finished playing for Leeds and we had our first game on Sunday,” said Bonner. “But unfortunately we lost – in the FA Cup.
“But it’s been good, we’ve got a good bunch of girls there and I think as we gradually start training and playing more together that things can only get better really when the season starts. The Super League starts next month and the first game is Arsenal and I’m just glad it’s coming around really, I’ve been waiting too long!
“Last year it was put back a year and I’ll just be glad to get underway really.”
On the face it, representing Chelsea would also appear to present a logistical nightmare with Bonner studying in Leeds but even that is sorted – thanks to the flexibility of her university and her hugely supporting dad John!
Lifts to and from Leeds and London have been commonplace recently but while Bonner plans on moving to the capital to co-incide with the start of the Super League season, her sports science studies at Leeds will not be affected.
“I’ve just been travelling at the minute and my dad has been helping with that,” she said. “Hopefully I can move down for when the season gets into full swing.
“I’m at Leeds Met Uni in my first year doing sports performance but the course is quite good as it’s quite flexible which allows me to travel. I can pretty much do the work from distance because I’ve got my exams and by the time Super League starts I’ll have finished uni nearly.”
Bonner, who currently still lives at home with mum Anne and dad John, also admits she has much to thank her father for – not least a refusal to show any animosity on moving to United’s arch rivals Chelsea!
“He’s just really supported me,” said Bonner, who will turn 20 in July. “Since I’ve started playing he comes along to pretty much every game. Whether it’s home or away or a different country, he’s always there. When he found out about Chelsea he just wanted me to do what was best for me really.
“I knew straight away I wanted to go so he just said he would support me and help with the driving and travelling and stuff. But we had a little bit of a joke about it as well!”
Twelve years on from beginning the game, Bonner still remembers first pulling on that Leeds kit as a seven-year-old girl.
A former pupil of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Primary School, Bonner recalls: “I was at a Leeds United fun day or something and I think it was Rick (Passmoor) who was actually there.
“We have a joke about it now that he remembers me being there when I was seven in my full Leeds kit! That’s how it started really.”
The start of what looks destined to be a glittering career with Bonner still only 19 and having been part of the England under-19s side that back in 2009 won the European Championships.
Bonner also helped England under-17s to the semi-finals of the U-17s World Cup but says away from it all she is just like any other girl.
Asked about any spare time, hobbies and interests she laughed: “I’m pretty much just training every day! “Other than that I just like going out with friends really, shopping, just girly things!”
But despite her move to women’s football’s big time Bonner still very much remembering her upbringing.
She added: “Although I’ve decided to join the Women’s Super League at Chelsea, I’ve got a lot to thank Leeds United for. They’ve provided me with fantastic training opportunities and have supported me every step of the way.”