Lewes FC keeper Tatiana Saunders on going from Wall Street to women’s football

Tatiana Saunders

The final day of last season’s Women’s Championship is one Tatiana Saunders will never forget. 

Lewes Women were playing Liverpool at home in a match that had little riding on it. Liverpool were already champions, while the Rooks were on course to comfortably finish mid-table. 

With the score locked at 1-1 after 70 minutes, Lewes won a free-kick deep in their own half. Saunders, playing in goal, was tasked with taking the set piece. At first, she feared she’d put too much on the ball and expected to see it comfortably cleared away. Moments later, the Lewes keeper watched the ball sail over all bodies and into the back of the net –– sending a dripping pan crowd of some 2,500 into raptures. 

“It was an unbelievable moment,” Saunders told GiveMeSport Women. “It’s so funny because the week before, I was talking to one of the staff members and I said if I scored a goal I’d do the aeroplane. Then when I scored, I was in such shock, I just stood there and put my arms up and everyone just ran towards me.” 

It’s a goal that will no doubt go down in Lewes FC folklore. In truth, it’s still a moment she’s at a loss for words to process. But, despite the feelings of pure elation, Saunders equally feels for Liverpool keeper Charlotte Clarke, who was cruelly stunned by the unfortunate bounce that took the ball over her head. 

“I know high balls are so difficult for female goalkeepers and looking at my own journey as a keeper and how much I struggled with them, I feel for her so much,” she stressed. 

It’s always easy to blame the goalkeeper. You can make 1000 saves and then make one mistake and everyone blames you. I think what defines us as keepers is not necessarily the mistakes, but how to rebound from them.

Saunders is fortunate to be part of a great community at Lewes. The club prides itself on being progressive and is the only club in the world to pay both it’s men and women’s teams equally. 

“To have a club that says ‘we value you, and we support you just as much as the men’s team’ is remarkable and incredible. 

“And it’s not just equal pay –– they’ve completely eliminated all gender disparities. So we have the same media, the same pitch, equal budget. What they [the men] get, we [also] get.

“I think that also shows how much the men’s team support us. Against Liverpool, we had the entire men’s team there cheering for us, and they actually stayed after and handed out awards with us.”

Tatiana Saunders

The keeper has found a home at Lewes, but her journey to becoming a professional footballer is a fascinating story. 

Saunders grew up in New York, but ended up playing for England under-17s and under-19s –– travelling back and forth between the US and the UK. 

Turning pro had been her dream “ever since [she] was a little girl”, but for some time, it was studying that took priority.

From 2011 to 2015, Saunders attended Dartmouth College –– one of the USA’s leading universities. There she played for the Dartmouth Big Green women’s soccer team, but her main focus was elsewhere.

“When I got to university, I was forced to focus on my academics,” she revealed. “I kind of had to change my priorities because I couldn’t afford to just focus on football anymore. So I focused more on academics as it’s quite rigorous there [at Dartmouth]. 

Tatiana Saunders

After graduating from Dartmouth, Saunders was faced with a dilemma. Pursue the dream of playing football for a living, or try her hand at a different career. The goalkeeper opted for the latter –– earning a job on Wall Street where she worked in finance for almost three years. 

Though Saunders doesn’t regret her decision to take this route, she eventually realised just how much she missed playing football. 

“I missed playing and I saw all the girls who I’d grown up with at England playing at World Cups and things like that. I was 24 at the time, and it was a now or never decision, so I was just like, ‘I’m gonna go for it.’” 

It was a huge risk at the time, but one that has no doubt paid off. Since choosing to commit to a career in football Saunders has played in Iceland, England and for the French club side Thonon Evian. 

While playing for Evian, the 28-year-old even had the chance to play against Lyon –– perhaps the greatest women’s domestic team ever, who have now won a record eight Champions League titles. 

Evian were never expected to win the game, especially with Lyon fielding world renowned stars including Lucy Bronze and Wendie Renard, but Saunders nonetheless performed heroically –– saving a penalty and limiting the French giants to just two goals. 

“The guy who was our head of performance joked with me before the match saying, ‘you should just turn the goals the other way around.’

“Everyone who supported the club was there. We had all of our normal fans and I was fortunate also that my dad was on a business trip in Geneva at the time.”

Ultimately, despite a number of memorable moments already in her career, Saunders still dreams of playing in the Women’s Super League one day. 

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Indeed, there is every chance this could be as early as next year if Lewes can build on last season’s performance. The team finished eighth but were only a couple of wins away from challenging the top three. 

Nonetheless, Saunders knows that the life of a footballer can only go on for so long and to her that means relishing every moment. 

“Yes, I’m competitive. Yes, I want to win, but at the same time, I’m going to enjoy it and just see where life takes me.”

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