EXCLUSIVE: Maisie Symonds battles through life-threatening illness to resume football career and pursue England U23 dream

Maisie Symonds can remember dragging herself to Wembley to watch England win the Euros. The Brighton midfielder, who had represented the U19s at a European Championship two months earlier, was suffering with what she thought was a bad cold.

‘I was adamant that I was going to the final,’ Symonds tells Mail Sport. ‘I was with my friends and they were saying ‘come on, you’ve got to come’ sort of thing. 

‘I remember I had a double espresso shot, I had a turmeric shot and was just getting the painkillers down.

‘Then we went to the game, celebrated together and the next day it just all hit me.’

Symonds managed to fly with Brighton to their pre-season tour in Germany, but after being unable to get out of bed, was sent back to England and immediately admitted to hospital. The midfielder was diagnosed with glandular fever and Hepatitis, but there were further complications.

Brighton midfielder suffered a life-threatening illness involving glandular fever 

Maisie Symonds (hidden) of Brighton & Hove Albion celebrates with teammates after scoring their side's first goal during a WSL match against Leicester

Maisie Symonds (hidden) of Brighton & Hove Albion celebrates with teammates after scoring their side’s first goal during a WSL match against Leicester

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‘I got so ill, to the point where my spleen ruptured, which is the organ that fights off illnesses,’ Symonds says. ‘That was the real problem. I had to stay in hospital for three weeks because they weren’t sure whether I should have surgery to have it removed.

‘They decided not to, but that meant they had to monitor me because if it did tear more then they would have had to take it out straight away.’

Glandular fever is a fatigue-based illness, which meant returning to football was far from straight forward.

‘It was really difficult and when I spoke to the doctors they were saying ‘it’s going to be a good six months before you can even train again.’

‘When I was that ill, I wasn’t even thinking about training again. It was just ‘get me out of hospital’. I just wanted to go home, I wanted to be comfy and do normal things again.

‘I was in a lot of pain. I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t get out of bed. It was the pain under my ribs, even talking was hard. My mum would come in and try and make me laugh and I would say ‘don’t, it’s so painful to laugh!’ Even sneezing would hurt.

‘When I started training again, I wasn’t allowed to do contact until the scar on my spleen had gone down to a certain size.

‘Every week I was having ultrasound scans. That process was really hard, just waiting to get back into contact football. Then when I came back I ruptured a ligament in my ankle because my body wasn’t back up to speed.’

'I was adamant that I was going to the final,' Symonds tells Mail Sport. 'I was with my friends and they were saying 'come on, you've got to come' sort of thing

‘I was adamant that I was going to the final,’ Symonds tells Mail Sport. ‘I was with my friends and they were saying ‘come on, you’ve got to come’ sort of thing

Even when Symonds was ready to go back into contact training, the after effects of her illness would leave her exhausted.

‘That’s when I could see how far away and out of shape I was. It was pretty horrible because I would be tired after three passes. I was like ‘oh my god, this is how far away I am from being able to run 90 minutes on the weekend’. That was when it really hit me.’

Symonds’ eventual return to action coincided with Brighton’s appointment of manager Mel Phillips in April. The midfielder had a month to impress before her contract was set to expire.

‘Mel coming in at the very end of last year, she hadn’t seen me play before because I’d been out for a whole year so it was actually high pressure for me coming back into training because I only had a month or so to impress her and get her to want to keep me.

‘I didn’t even think about that at the time, I was just enjoying being back on the pitch and playing again. It wasn’t long before Mel told me she believed in me and the club offered me a new contract. The club has really supported me. Back then, I was nowhere near my best, nowhere near my fittest, but they put a lot of faith and trust in me. Hopefully I can pay them back for that.’

Phillips is not the only manager who has shown faith in Symonds. Former England boss Hope Powell handed the midfielder her professional debut in 2021 after signing her from Chelsea.

‘Hope was a different type of coach to what I had been used to. It was a little bit of a shock to the system because, at Chelsea, I’d always played in very in-possession teams.

‘Coming to Brighton it was kind of the opposite. It was a lot of running and doing the hard work. Hope was quite old school in that way. In the beginning it was a lot of tough love but she always reminded me that she believed in me and she had a lot of faith in me.’

Brighton, who take on Manchester United this Sunday, are an ambitious club with aims of progressing up the WSL table. Phillips’ side have their own building and elite training facilities on the same site as Roberto De Zerbi’s team.

Enoch Mwepu, Victoria Williams, Steven Alzate and Maisie Symonds at the American Express Community Stadium in Brighton

Enoch Mwepu, Victoria Williams, Steven Alzate and Maisie Symonds at the American Express Community Stadium in Brighton

Former England boss Hope Powell handed the midfielder her professional debut in 2021 after signing her from Chelsea

Former England boss Hope Powell handed the midfielder her professional debut in 2021 after signing her from Chelsea

‘I always think there’s no excuse for me not to do well there because there’s everything you could want. ‘There’s top class coaches, players, facilities. It’s down to me and the players to perform and use it to the best of our abilities. Our club’s ambition is to push to be a top four team. I want us to be a force in the WSL.’

Just over a year on from her illness, Symonds’ aim is to become a regular starter for Brighton and to push into England’s U23 side, with a view to making the first team.

‘I’m just trying to really enjoy football and being fit and strong again. I want to get a good season under my belt and try to push to be in the starting XI and push myself to play for England and get back into that fold.

‘It’s over a year now since [her illness] but I do finally feel like I’m getting there, I finally feel like I’m getting back to my best.’

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