As Ellie Mason rifled home her first goal in a Lewes shirt, the mood inside the Dripping Pan was decidedly heart-warming.
Mason had run the length of the pitch from full-back to put the Rooks 2-0 up against Sunderland in an FA Women’s Championship clash.
But while the goal itself was a fine individual effort, nothing could’ve prepared Mason for the reaction that ensued. Teammates swarmed her, coaches praised her and the crowd were audibly ecstatic.
Because, Mason’s goal was not just her first for the club, in her very first game –– it also came after a gruelling 11 months out with injury.
Speaking to GiveMeSport Women, Mason revealed the mental struggle of dealing with such a setback, the ways in which Lewes provided support and how she has now gone on to make her international debut.
Mason’s injury occurred while playing for fellow Championship side London City Lionesses last year. It did not stem from a rough challenge, but rather from a fairly innocuous moment, where she simply kicked the ball.
“It wasn’t a tackle or anything, I literally just toe punted the ball away,” she stressed. “There was no contact. It was a really tough time and once I found out I needed surgery, it was obviously gutting and my heart sunk.”
The results of Mason’s MRI scan showed that she’d face a long spell on the sidelines. There was a hole in the bone of her knee, and the surgery required is typically reserved for people far older than the defender, who is still just 26 years of age.
“It was a very, very tough time. I’ve never been through anything like that and it would’ve been tough for my friends and family as well because I had to rely on them for everything.
“It wasn’t like an ACL [anterior-cruciate-ligament] or ligament tear –– it was a very complicated surgery that you don’t necessarily have until you’re about 40 or 50 years old. So it was definitely very difficult.”
Even after the successful surgery, Mason found the recovery period extremely challenging. She could not bear weight on her knee for six weeks and was on crutches the entire time.
The defender is particularly grateful to Lewes for their support during this period. After being released by London City, the club chose to sign Mason and have helped her navigate the weary recovery process.
“I was very grateful they [Lewes] took me on and I’m very happy to be here. There’s been so much good support around me and it’s got me to where I am today, which is fit and back playing, so that’s a really good thing.”
Despite the severity of the injury, Mason is now playing pain-free and has enjoyed a remarkable start to 2022.
Her debut against Sunderland was due to come from the bench, but COVID enforced absences meant she ended up starting the game.
And as debuts go, this was right up there with the very best. Mason finished with seven interceptions, one key pass, one goal and won Player of the Match. By the end, the 26-year-old admitted the overwhelming feelings were of pride, elation and relief, all rolled into one.
“It was the most nervous I’ve ever been, so it was very emotional. Putting everything together, like what I’ve been through and then scoring on my debut, it was just such an amazing feeling.”
The reaction from supporters and her peers was also a special time for the Lewes star. Mason admitted to watching back the clip of her scoring over and over, just to relive the moment.
“I always look back at it and the girls are just absolutely buzzing for me and that means a lot We’re a really tight-knit group and we’re like a family. They’re always aware of everyone’s situations and they’re always there to help you.”
Having enjoyed a remarkable debut for the club, Mason also made her international debut for Gibraltar this year. Her grandad is from the country and they had long shown interest in the defender. However, her injury prevented her from making an appearance sooner.
“Luckily this time I was fit and able to go, so it’s great to have an international under my belt, and looking at my career, this is just topping it off for me. So I’m really grateful for the opportunity.”
Mason is keen to help Gibraltar grow as a team and believes she can be a role model for others in the side. A narrow 1-0 defeat to the Faroe Islands recently showed signs that the squad is improving, and the 26-year-old believes there are positives to take.
“My levels and style don’t drop and I think if anything, that actually boosts the team a little bit. The country’s only going to get better as the years go on and the more training sessions and more camps there are, the better it will be.”
For now, though, Mason’s focus is on Lewes and finishing the rest of the season strongly. The team are in seventh as it stands, but sit just six points off her former side London City in second.
“You can’t really look at the league in much detail at the minute, because it’s very close. The standard has got a lot higher and more clubs are going full-time. So these next few weeks are going to be interesting. We have to keep the results coming.”
All images provided by James Boyes