Northern Ireland and Crusaders Strikers defender Julie Nelson has been awarded a British Empire Medal in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.
Nelson, who became the first senior women’s player to reach the landmark of 100 caps for her country in 2018, has been recognised on the honours list for services to women’s football in Northern Ireland.
The 35-year-old central defender from Larne made her senior debut at the age of 18 in March 2004 when she faced Portugal in the Algarve Cup tournament in Portugal. She also represented her country at underage level – at U15 and U19.
Since earning her 100th cap, in a FIFA Women’s World Cup qualifier against Slovakia in September 2018, she has gone on to make a further 17 appearances for Northern Ireland, with her latest against Scotland Women in a friendly in Belfast yesterday evening, to bring her caps total to 117.
“It’s an incredible honour to be on the Queen’s Birthday Honours List. It’s not something I ever imagined my name would be on. It’s special to be on the list and to be given an honour after so many years of hard work,” said Julie.
“It also shows that women’s football is now on the map in Northern Ireland. Some of the other countries (England, Scotland and Wales) have got recognition in the past so it’s great to see one of our players now getting recognition and hopefully more will get recognition in the future,” she added.
The veteran defender started kicking a ball around with her brother when she was about five or six but only started playing competitively in the Moyle Primary School boys’ team when she was nine or 10 and she then joined Larne-based girls’ side Gilmour Gals when she was 11.
From there it was on to Newtownabbey Strikers (who evolved into Crusaders Strikers) at the age of 15 and she went on to win five league titles with the Strikers between 2002 and 2010.
In 2004 she won a football scholarship to Carson-Newman University in the US state of Tennessee. She played in the States for three autumn/winter/spring seasons before returning home to play for the Strikers each summer.
She ruptured a cruciate ligament in 2005 when earning her fifth cap for Northern Ireland in a friendly against Sweden, however she managed to get over the injury and carve out a great career.
After her successful spell with the Strikers - she played in the UEFA Women’s Cup with Newtownabbey Strikers in 2003 and 2004 and in the UEFA Women’s Champions League (which evolved from UEFA Cup) in 2010 when they had become Crusaders Strikers - she joined Icelandic side IBV in 2011 following a trial.
Julie played in Iceland for two seasons before switching to Everton Ladies (now Everton Women) in FA Women’s Super League 1 for a short spell in 2013.
Next stop was Glasgow and a trophy-laden two seasons with Glasgow City that included two Premier League titles, two Scottish Cups and a League Cup. She also got to play in the UEFA Women’s Champions League again. In her first season, in 2013, the team reached the last 16, while in her second year they made it to the last eight for the first time in their history – and were the first Scottish team to do so.
In 2015 WSL 2 side Durham Ladies (now Durham Women) came calling and Julie played for a season in the North-East of England before returning home in 2016 and re-signing for Crusaders Strikers – and she’s still going strong with the Strikers.