“The feeling when I thought, ‘Oh, I might not be able to play’… That’s one of the worst feelings ever.”
Laura Blindkilde Brown remembers vividly the moment she found out she might have to stop chasing her dream of being a professional footballer.
After tests on the midfielder's noticeably fast heartbeat, she was diagnosed with a condition called supraventricular tachycardia, and was told that she may have to have a pacemaker fitted. If so, it would stop her enjoying the game she fell in love with as a young girl, influenced by her football-mad brothers and her dad, a coach.
Fortunately, it wouldn’t come to that. Blindkilde Brown would need heart surgery, but that it was keyhole surgery meant her recovery was much quicker and, ultimately, meant she could return to the pitch, too.
Fast-forward a few years and that setback has been part of the journey that has forged one of the most exciting young players in England, one set to star for the Young Lionesses at this month’s Women’s Under-19 European Championship after making her mark on Aston Villa’s first team this past season.
It was a whirlwind of a campaign for the 18-year-old. After signing her first professional contract last September, she scored her first senior goal in December, signed a contract extension after Christmas that will take her to the summer of 2025, and was named the club’s Young Player of the Season.
"Laura’s been fantastic in training and in games," Villa head coach Carla Ward said after her strike against Sunderland late last year. "We've had a lot of enquiries about her going on loan. We've considered it, but what she's doing out there is giving us a headache.
“She's been sensational and she'll get better and better."
Check out football's best wonderkids with NXGN:
It’s no wonder Ward has been impressed. When Blindkilde Brown gets on the ball, she makes things happen. She has that ability to control a game from a deeper role or, when pushed further forward, contribute with goals or assists that are decisive for her team.
“I want to be more of an impact player,” the England youth international, who is also eligible for Denmark through her mother, tells GOAL. “As much as I want to assist, I also want to score goals and help the team win.”
With that desire to be a gamechanger, it’s no surprise to hear who the player is that she’d “want to be like”, then. “I've always liked watching Kevin De Bruyne play,” she adds. “The way he assists but also scores… I just think he's such a good player.”
It was with Villa that Blindkilde Brown started the path that has got her to this point. Spotted at school by a coach who worked for the club, she was soon on trial with the U9s and, despite believing that no one “expected” her to get in, she did.
“[The coach] just thought I had something and decided to take me on,” she remembers. He was right – and now, 10 years later, the first team is reaping the rewards.
After a brief stint with city rivals Birmingham, where she made her senior debut at the age of 16, Blindkilde Brown excelled with the Villa academy upon her return to earn opportunities under Ward.
It has been surreal to get those chances, too. She has played alongside England icon Jill Scott, a player she used to watch growing up, and against someone she has “always looked up to”, too, in Arsenal midfielder Kim Little.
“To have more regular game time and just play against some of the best players, it's helped me a lot,” she explains. “I think it's helped tactically more than anything, and to have players alongside me who are giving me information.
“This year, my out of possession [work] has probably [developed the most] because some of the teams we played against, they've had so much of the ball and it's so tactically different than it was at the academy. You have to read people's movements.”
It’s not only Villa that are benefiting from Blindkilde Brown’s continued improvement. Brought into a youth team camp by England when she was just 13, the midfielder has been a fixture ever since and starred earlier this year as the U19s qualified for the summer’s Euros.
“Once you're just standing there wearing an England shirt, it's really surreal,” she says, recalling her first game for the country. “To think this is what you've done... You've got yourself there… It's crazy.”
It’s something she and her whole family is proud of – even if many of them would like her to be wearing a different shirt during the international breaks.
Denmark’s Football Association has been in touch about her representing the country she visits every year before summer and every other year at Christmas - but the teenager’s ambition is to play for England at senior level.
She has made a change to represent that side of her family, though, switching the name on the back of her shirt from ‘Brown’ to ‘Blindkilde’.
“I like the name a lot,” she laughs. “But also my Danish family don't get to see me play football a lot, not as much my English family do, so almost having it on the back of my shirt was something that they could have as part of me in football as well.”
With Denmark not at the U19 Euros this month, at least there will be no split loyalties in the family as the Young Lionesses aim to do what the seniors are also targeting next month and triumph.
“We want to be one of the first age groups that's actually won the Euros,” Blindkilde Brown says, ending the conversation with GOAL by outlining the short and long-term goals she has.
Playing in the Champions League is one for further down the line, as well as being a full international. With the ability this 18-year-old has, it’s all possible.