Not many footballers can claim to have had the career path that Tatiana Saunders had before taking up professional football. The 25-year-old goalkeeper played for England U19s when she was younger but it would several years after that before the sport became her sole focus again.
“After university I worked on Wall Street for two years. During this time, I still played with New York Athletic Club but because of my work commitment wasn’t able to play professionally,” she says.
“Last summer, I decided to give up my job and pursue my childhood dream of being a professional soccer player.”
The use of the word soccer hints towards Saunders’ upbringing. The goalkeeper’s parents are both English but she has spent most of her life growing up in and around New York after her father’s job at the United Nations say the family relocate to be close to the organisation’s headquarters in the Big Apple.
Growing up, Saunders played for the women’s football club of the historic New York Athletic Club before heading to at Ivy League school Dartmouth College to study. This is where she caught the attention of the England setup.
“Playing for England was an incredible experience and a tremendous honour,” she says. “I was able to travel and play all around the world- sometimes in countries that my classmates at the time hadn’t heard of. It was incredible to play at that level and with such talented players, and represent something much larger than yourself.
“I still keep in touch with some of the girls. My goal is to play for the seniors one day. I think I have developed and grown a lot as a player since my time with the under-19s.”
Some of the goalkeeper’s appearances for England U19s came during their qualifying matches for 2011 Women’s U19 European Championships in Italy and took her to countries such as Moldova and Macedonia. Her teammates during her time in the national setup included Arsenal star Danielle Carter and now established international Nikita Parris.
Like a lot of student athletes, Saunders would have to balance playing football with studying for a degree but for the classroom would be specially important for the goalkeeper after being accepted into such a prestigious college.
“I loved my time at Dartmouth College,” she says. “Being an Ivy league school, I had to learn to prioritise academics as well as soccer. I had never really been seriously challenged in the classroom until I attended Dartmouth.
“I became more accountable and learned to time manage so that I performed well both on the field as well as in the classroom.”
After leaving college, Saunders started her job on Wall Street before longing for a return to the sport she loved. A team in Iceland’s top flight would give her the opportunity she craved.
“FH were looking for a goalkeeper so they reached out to my agent and I went over there for a tryout in January and they liked me and it went from there.”
Saunders joined FH who has been in the top flight of women’s football since their promotion in 2015. The team had finished midtable in the season prior to goalkeeper’s arrival but it was matters off the pitch which really captured the former England youth international’s imagination.
“I loved Iceland. Iceland is an amazing country. It’s so beautiful. Between waterfalls, hikes, black sandy beaches, hot springs there is just so much to see and do.
“Most of the teams are also pretty close together, so we ended up having a close group of players who hung out and went on adventures and such together.”
The 25-year-old goalkeeper went on to make five appearances for FH during the summer but is now on her next adventure, playing in the second tier of French football for Ambilly, who are currently fifth after nine games with five wins.
“The level isn’t as high as Iceland but we definitely have some really talented players. The program is building right now,” says Saunders who decided to take up the offer in France instead of heading home for the off season.
Game time is always valuable and she will get to play against the likes of Marseille and Saint-Étienne in her division but the goalkeeper has her sights set higher than the French second tier.
“I would like to take football as far as I can. I understand that I am at a bit of a disadvantage in that I didn’t play professionally straight out of college.
“But I also believe that in some ways it was advantageous to have taken a break and it helped me focus on what is important and has cemented my love for the game.
“I am very passionate about football and am driven to be the absolute best I can be!”
Some of Saunders’ former England youth teammates are now stars of the women’s game and although the goalkeeper took a break from the game, she is still only 25-years-old and her prime years still lie ahead. She could still yet reunite with her former teammates on the big stage.