Nicolle Begovic on her dressage dreams and a fairytale romance with Chelsea's Asmir Begovic
IF THERE is such a thing as a typical football wag then Nicolle Begovic is not it.
The 29-year-old is the wife of Chelsea and Bosnian international goalkeeper Asmir Begovic. She is also a serious sportswoman in her own right.
She has the looks and well-groomed appearance that people would expect from the other half of a Premier League player, but combines them with an accountancy degree and a level-headed attitude.
Opening the door to the couple’s smart detached home, located in Staffordshire rather than the Cheshire footballer belt, she is casually smart in jeans and a shirt from Denstone boutique Twine.
The riding boots in the hallway and equestrian ornaments in the sitting room hint at her own sporting passion.
“I was born in Tennessee,” she says in an unmistakably Transatlantic drawl. “My mother is British and my father from the US. He was in the Army so we did a lot of travelling around.
“I mostly lived between Tennessee and Florida for the first 10 years of my life, before we relocated to the UK in 1997.”
She grew up with dual US and British nationality, and recently added citizenship of her husband’s native Bosnia to the list too.
She met Asmir while she was studying accountancy at Southampton University, on what she says was a rare night out.
“I’ve always been a bookworm. Anything less than an A grade was never good enough for me at school. I was always reaching for perfection.
“So university for me was all about working, studying and being really focused. Going out wasn't a regular thing on my agenda.
“My friends were going out in Portsmouth one Friday evening and I decided not to go with them. But my step-dad talked me into it and said that I needed to have some fun.
“As it happens, if I hadn't gone out that evening I wouldn't have met Asmir.”
As a footballer Asmir usually stayed at home on Friday evenings, but was enjoying a rare weekend off and evening out.
“We weren’t in the nicest of bars at the time and a fight broke out among some of the locals in the dance floor area.
“My friends and I were trying to move away from it when I felt an arm around my waist and somebody pulled me out of danger’s way.
“It was clearly a tall gentleman and when I turned around it was 6ft7-tall Asmir.
“He asked me if I was ok and said he had really wanted to talk to me, and the fight had given him a great excuse to do it.
“Asmir spent a lot of his childhood in Canada and still has a very North American accent, and was surprised to hear my accent.
“We got talking about where we grew up and found out we had a lot in common.”
Asmir was 19 years old at the time and the reserve goalkeeper for Portsmouth Football Club.
“To be honest I didn’t know who he was,” says Nicolle. “And then when he told me I didn’t believe him at first and had to check on the internet when I went home.
“If anything I was disappointed when he said he was a footballer because I assumed that must mean he wouldn’t be intelligent or must be a ladies man.
“But then I got to know him and found out that he’s an intelligent and very humble man.
“I remember saying to me friends ‘why does he have to be footballer?’ and now I’m so glad that I didn’t let that put me off.”
Asmir was the perfect gentleman and sent Nicolle home in a taxi that evening, and she admits that she was already smitten.
“I crept upstairs when I got home and told my mum that I may have met my future husband,” she says.
Nicolle and Asmir have been a couple ever since.
Forget the image of footballers in flash sports cars, Asmir couldn’t drive when they met so Nicolle would drive him to matches and practice sessions in between her studies. He was living in digs and she was still at home with her parents.
“We would go to the cinema or out for meals. All the usual things that young couples do.”
They were separated several times when Asmir was loaned out to other football clubs, but their relationship remained strong and they eventually moved in together.
They married at the Langham Hotel in London.
Their daughter, Taylor, was born in 2009 and was just six months old when her dad was sold to Stoke City.
“Taylor was born prematurely and was only just home from an extended stay in hospital when Asmir was sold, five minutes before midnight on transfer deadline day. I’ll never forget that feeling.
“Asmir literally had to pack his bag that night and leave the next morning. I was a new mother at home and my husband needed to go and live somewhere else.
“My job then was to pack up our life and move us up to Staffordshire to be with him.”
Taylor recently celebrated her fifth birthday, and the whole Begovic family have settled well into Staffordshire life.
“Our hearts are in this area as well as our home now,” says Nicolle. “I have family here now, both of our careers are here and our daughter is growing up here.
“It isn’t just a place that we happen to be in the interim, I think we will always have a piece of ourselves in Staffordshire.
“If we don’t have to relocate to a new city then we will endeavour not to. I’m happy here, our daughter is happy here and Asmir has simple pleasures in life. He likes coming home and picking our daughter up from school, having dinner with me in the evening. That’s what’s important to us.”
Since arriving in the county Nicolle has renewed her childhood interest in horse riding, and discovered a burgeoning talent for dressage.
“I wasn’t born into an equestrian family, but horses have always been a huge part of my life,” she says.
“Some people are dog people, some people are people people and I’m a horse person. That’s just who I am.
“As soon as I was old enough I asked for riding lessons. Then when we moved to the UK I was mesmerised by dressage. I just couldn’t take my eyes off what I was seeing.
“I’d go from yard to yard to get experience and would ride any horse they’d give me.
“Eventually my family got enough money together to buy me my first horse when I was 16.
“But then when university came along I realised that if I was going to be committed to a career I needed to give that my full attention, so I reluctantly sold my horse.”
When the family arrived in Staffordshire and Nicolle was looking for a way to establish herself in the area and make new friends, horse riding was her natural first choice.
“I’d always wanted my own career and independence and felt strongly that being a housewife wasn’t for me.
“We’d been here for about six months, I didn’t know anybody and Asmir was the only person I’d have an adult conversation with most days.
“He came home from training one day and I headed straight off in the car to a saddlery, as I just wanted to be around horse things. I got talking to the shop owner, she told me about a dressage yard in the area and my mind was made up.”
Nicolle’s dressage has reached the point where she is aiming to compete in the 2016 or, more realistically she says, 2020 Olympics.
She is being mentored by four-times Olympic dressage rider Richard Davison, and rides from his Uttoxeter yard.
However being a footballer’s wife nearly denied her the opportunity rather than opening doors.
“A dressage judge I met contacted Richard Davison on my behalf, but when he heard I was married to a footballer he said he wasn’t interested, that he didn’t need footballer’s wives and all the baggage.
“I then called him myself and told him who I was and he told me to call him back after the Olympics. So I kept persevering.
“Eventually he agreed to meet myself and Asmir and after about an hour and a half he put his hands up and said he had been completely wrong about us, that he had expected us to be a certain type of people and that he was impressed with Asmir’s normality.”
But Nicolle wasn’t to be handed the opportunity on a plate. She was asked to school her horse at a yard in Denstone, near Richard’s own base, before working up to joining his yard.
He also helped her to shop for her current horse, Foxy, who she eventually bought from Germany after scouring several countries.
“I want to achieve in my own sport what Asmir has in his,” she says. “I know that sounds ambitious, but I’m serious about what I’m doing.
“I’ve been competing in the UK so far, and in 2015 I’m going to be making my European debut.
“The Olympics are a realistic goal for me. Rio 2016 is a possibility, but Tokyo 2020 is more likely.”
Training is a full time job for Nicolle.
“I’m there seven days a week and if I’m not riding I’m watching what’s going on around me because I’m surrounded by riders of such a high standard.
“It isn’t easy having two professional athletes under one roof. We’re constantly juggling our schedules. We have to be very organised and have a great team around us.
“I’m sure going to the spa and having lunch would be far easier, but because of my commitment to horses I rarely do those sorts of things.
“My friendships tend to be with the girls at the yard because that’s where I am most days.
“I do have to make an effort to get my roots and nails done though, because I need to look well presented for my sport and as Asmir’s wife.”
She says she enjoys breaking the definition of a football wag.
“We are all women with our own passions, likes and interests. I particularly enjoy it when people meet me and then go on to say they were surprised.
“I was with Asmir from the very beginning, so nobody can say I got together with him for the wrong reasons.
“There was no guarantee of where his career was going. But we have been very fortunate and we really appreciate it.”
Nicolle wasn’t really a football fan before she met Asmir, but now attends as many Stoke City and Bosnia matches as she can in between her dressage commitments.She also writes an award-winning column, Dressage Dreams and a Goal-keeper’s Regime, for the programme sold at Stoke City home games.
Taylor joins her at the matches, dressed in her Stoke shirt.
“It’s all very normal for her. She thinks that all daddies play football. Stoke is all she’s ever known and I think that if we ever had to take her away from it she’d be devastated. She’s a Stokie through and through.”
The latest string to the couple’s bow is The Asmir Begovic Foundation, a charity set up to help youngsters in both the local area and Asmir’s native Bosnia.
A gala night raised £50,000 and further fund-raising events are in the offing.
“I like the idea of getting the Stoke City wives and girlfriends trekking up Kilimanjaro, doing something that people really wouldn’t expect us to do for a good cause.”
Looking to the future the couple are both aiming to be the best they can be at their individual sports, and they hope to keep Staffordshire as their home.
“It feels very natural to be here now,” adds Nicolle. “I can’t see us living anywhere else.
“I’m very much a rural girl and the lifestyle suits us well. It’s an amazing part of the country. It’s so beautiful.”