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.”

 

 

Asmir Begovic inducted into Guinness Book of Records for long-distance goal

Asmir Begovic is today being inducted into the Guinness Book of World Records for scoring the longest goal ever in a competitive football match.

The Stoke keeper's strike from just outside his own six-yard box against Southampton at the Britannia Stadium last November is included in the new 2015 edition of the famous book.

The wind-assisted effort has been officially recorded at 91.9m, 301ft 6in or 100.5yds and the 27-year old was presented with his certificate before jetting off on international duty.

He said: "I feel amazing to be honoured in this way and as a goalkeeper I didn't expect this to happen, not for this type of record anyway. I will take it though, and enjoy it.

"I really do appreciate this award, and the certificate will certainly take pride of place on the wall at home."

Begovic's Bosnia take on Liechtenstein at home in a friendly today (4pm) before a European Championship qualifier against Cyprus next Tuesday.

Asmir Begovic: ‘We lost to an own goal and a goal by Messi – it wasn’t too bad’

The Bosnia and Stoke City goalkeeper, who has a way of encountering senseless violence and coming out on top, will cherish his memories of the World Cup in Brazil

 

Whether it was the outbreak of the Balkan war that prompted his family to flee Bosnia and Herzegovina in the early 1990s or the Portsmouth bar brawl that forced the American stranger he would later marry into his arms for the first time, conflict has left some indelible punctuation marks on the life story of Asmir Begovic. It is an intriguing tale, the most recent chapter of which unfolded in Brazil, where the 27-year-old played in goal for the country of his birth as they contested their first major international football tournament.

Pitted against ArgentinaNigeria and Iran in the group stages, they acquitted themselves reasonably well in the face of some rotten luck: an own goal in the opening minutes of their opener against the eventual finalists and an Edin Dzeko strike incorrectly ruled out for offside against Nigeria. Despite going out at the group stages, the Bosnians at least scored their first goals and recorded their inaugural win at a World Cup. A lot done, more to do; it was an experience to cherish for the Stoke City goalkeeper.

“It was special, a memory I’ll have for the rest of my career and the rest of my life,” says Begovic, upon being asked to describe the feeling of lining up opposite the players of Argentina before his side’s opening match at the Maracanã. “Even the night before, getting to train there was a very special occasion in a very special place in footballing terms. Being there was a dream coming true. You’re kind of living in that moment and it’s a moment you kind of wish could last forever, but it’s only for a short time.”

It might not have happened. Born in the municipality of Trebinje, around 30 kilometres from the Croatian city of Dubrovnik, Begovic was four when his family left the Balkans at the outbreak of a bloody ethnic war that soundtracked international news bulletins of the day with gun and mortar fire. They found sanctuary with family in the German town of Kirchhausen before moving to Edmonton in Canada six years later.

It was there Begovic made a name for himself as a goalkeeper, having inherited the gene from his father, a representative of Yugoslavia through the under-age ranks. His son would do the same for Canada, going so far as to sit on the bench for the senior side, coming within a managerial whim of ruling himself out of contention for the country of his birth.

“It was a big process and a long process,” Begovic says of the motivation behind his decision to declare eventually for Bosnia and Herzegovina. “I relished the opportunities I had to play for the Canadian national team and obviously always in the back of my mind I was thinking about Bosnia and what that would mean and how great it would be, but you could never guarantee a call-up and you never knew what the situation was.”

At the time he was with Portsmouth, who farmed him out on loan to clubs including Macclesfield, Bournemouth, Yeovil and Ipswich. He established himself in the first team shortly before moving on to Stoke in the wake of Portsmouth’s financial disintegration.

“If I’d been capped for Canada, I would have been capped and that would have been the situation and something I couldn’t change,” says Begovic. “So when I did receive the call-up for Bosnia, I made the long, hard decision and thought about it and for many different reasons felt that was the best thing.”

Personal or professional reasons? “Both,” he says. “Obviously from a family standpoint, it being the country of my birth means a lot to me and to my family being able to watch these games. Me representing them was a huge thing. But probably more importantly, it’s the football side of things. Getting to play European qualifiers, World Cup qualifiers each and every year ... with so many games at a high level, I thought it would make me better as a player and I thought it would give me a chance to go to a major tournament with the country I want to represent. So it was a definitely a big decision, but I think it was the right decision and I’ve never had any regrets about it.”

Begovic describes his time in Brazil as “a fantastic experience” and chalks up the misfortunes that did his team out of a place in the second round as “those little fine margins that can cost you in a tournament”. He’s not making excuses, mind. “To be brutally honest, I think we are a better team than Nigeria, but on the night we didn’t show it,” he admits of Bosnia’s 1-0 reverse against the African side in Cuiabá. “We didn’t play to our capabilities, Nigeria exploited some of our weaknesses and did a good job of making us pay for any mistakes that we made.”

Of the suggestion that Bosnia should have done better in their opener against out-of-sorts Argentina despite conceding an early own goal, he is surprisingly sanguine. “We tried to make it happen and I think we pushed Argentina to the limit,” he says. “I think those are the positives from the whole tournament that we can take: being able to say that we performed on the world’s biggest stage against one of the best teams in the world. It’s something we need to build on.”

Ambushed by the random introduction to our chat of a photo of Lionel Messi scoring Argentina’s winner against him and asked if the sight of it makes him feel happy or sad, Begovic laughs. “You know what, I’m going to keep seeing myself getting scored on by Messi, so I guess that could be a good thing,” he says. “At the end of the day, we lost against Argentina to an own goal and a special goal by Lionel Messi, so it wasn’t too bad.”

Despite the career high of representing Bosnia in front of proud friends and family, Begovic is looking forward to returning to his comparatively mundane day job, although persistent links with high-profile clubs prompt the question of whether he’ll begin the season as a Stoke player. “As far as I know, yes, because I haven’t been told otherwise,” he says. “That’s where my focus is and that’s where I’ll go back for pre-season. That’s the way the situation stands at the moment.”

And in the event of a bigger, more successful club attempting to turn his head, would he be tempted to leave the Britannia Stadium? “It’s no secret that, like any player, I would like to play at the highest level possible,” says Begovic. “I want to push myself and achieve things in my career and win trophies.

“But at the moment I’m with a club that’s moving forward, that’s got a very good manager and a very good chairman. I am happy to be part of helping them push forward to see what kind of things we can achieve. But I also understand that football is a business, so things happen. If things are right for both sides, then things could change very quickly. But my focus is on where my contract is and that’s where I see my immediate future until I get told otherwise.”

For the time being, Begovic seems content with life in Staffordshire, where he is happily settled with his wife, Nicolle, and daughter, Taylor. Mrs Begovic is an accomplished horsewoman with lofty sporting ambitions of her own: she has realistic hopes of some day competing in dressage at the Olympics. Asked to confirm if it is true that the couple met during a good old-fashioned pub punch-up in Portsmouth, Begovic nods.

“Yeah, you know what, you can’t make these things up sometimes,” he laughs. “We were in a little pub or bar that was nothing special and I’d noticed her earlier as I walked in with my friends. As we were getting a little closer to get to each other, a bit of a brawl broke out between people who were getting drunk and getting at it, so she just kind of fell into my arms and I protected her a little bit and did the macho man thing. It was a pretty cool moment and one we’ve never looked back from.” It was not the first time in life Begovic encountered senseless violence, only to make the best of it.

Asmir Begovic set to kick-off husband and wife sporting double at the World Cup

By Andrew Baldock

Asmir Begovic will complete the first half of what could be a remarkable husband and wife sporting double this weekend when he lines up for Bosnia in their World Cup opener against Argentina.

Cheering on the Stoke City goalkeeper in Rio de Janeiro's imposing Maracana Stadium will be his wife Nicolle and daughter Taylor.

And if Nicolle has her way, then Asmir will one day be returning the compliment - at a future Olympic Games.

A rapid return to Rio for the 2016 Olympics is unlikely, but such is her drive and determination to make it as an international dressage rider - she is training full-time with multiple British Olympian Richard Davison - that Tokyo 2020 cannot be discounted.

And Nicolle readily admits that her professional footballer husband's influence in terms of achieving sporting success has proved a driving force.

'I want to go to the very top. I have always dreamed big, and that is what you need to push you to get there,' she said.

Asmir Begovic for Bosnia playing in a pre-World Cup friendly against Mexico in Chicago

'I am really lucky that my husband also has incredible ambitions within his career, so he has never questioned my commitment, my aspirations or my goals. He has always been behind me 100 per cent.

'He understands what it takes to get to the very top of his sport, so he has backed me the whole way to help me get to the top of mine.

'We are both incredible supporters of each other, although he has had a head-start! He has totally embraced the sport of dressage, especially understanding the business, training and athleticism side of it.'

Begovic, who was born in Tennessee, but moved to Britain aged 10 and has Olympic hopes of representing Bosnia, is currently competing on the British Premier League dressage circuit with her German horse Waldessarini - stable name Foxy.

Richard Davison and Hiscox Artemis at London 2012

And Davison, who rode as an individual at London 2012 and was reserve for the gold medal-winning Great Britain dressage team of Charlotte Dujardin, Laura Tomlinson (formerly Bechtolsheimer) and Carl Hester, has no doubt she possesses sufficient talent to become an international performer.

'I think we are on the brink of something exciting. Nicolle is shaping up really well,' Staffordshire-based Davison said.

'She has started off at Small Tour level, and it's looking good. The plans are big, the plans are Olympics. I am not saying the Rio Olympics - I don't know whether that is going to be too soon or not - but there is definitely an Olympic target.

'She came to me on trial. She has proved herself to me with her commitment and dedication, and I am completely committed behind helping her achieve that big goal.

'From my point of view, Nicolle learns very easily, she takes her training very seriously. We don't mess about or pander to her, she gets stuck in like everyone else.

'It really helps that she is married to a professional sportsman, who is very focused, professional and committed. And with that kind of ethos around the house, it rubs off on Nicolle.

'We've got a very clear plan. We started off with the national shows, and now we have moved to Premier League shows. We have very clear performance goals, which include probably trying to move to smaller international shows later this year.

'Inevitably, there are some administrative challenges in terms of getting a Bosnian equestrian federation affiliated to the Federation Equestre Internationale (world governing body), so there are a few hoops to jump through yet.

'While dressage might look a glamorous sport from the outside, it's not glamorous from the inside. 

You have to roll your sleeves up - there is no special treatment.

'If you want to be a winner, you have to get stuck in and do everything, and that is why I am so impressed with her attitude.'

And Nicolle, who met her future husband while studying accountancy at university, has no intention of letting a golden opportunity slip by.

'It is a very exciting time. I feel like a kid at Christmas,' she added.

The Stoke City goalkeeper moved to Britain aged 10 and has Olympic hopes of representing Bosnia

'It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me to be based with Richard, and I don't intend wasting it. I am an incredibly determined - and slightly stubborn - person.

'Richard is someone I have grown up admiring, and I have got to know people like Charlotte and Carl. 

I love watching them, and I go to as many shows as I can. They are the best places to learn - you have got to immerse yourself in it.

Nicolle and Foxy with trainer Richard Davison and Bolesworth show manager Nina Barbour

'I consider it a full-time occupation. I am there first in the morning, and I will be there last thing at night if that's what it takes. This is what I want to do. I absolutely love it.'

In the the meantime, the World Cup calls.

'Myself and Taylor are flying out to Rio on Friday,' she said. 'We can't wait to be there in the Maracana for Asmir's first game - and it also means I get a preview of Rio before the Olympics.'


Foxy and I 'strutting our stuff' at the Bolesworth Estate

Foxy and I had the pleasure of taking part in the Bolesworth International test event held at the beautiful Bolesworth estate near Chester for their upcoming International show the 12th-15th of June. With the instruction of my trainer, Richard Davison, Foxy and I did a Dressage demo for the sponsors and journalists. It was great getting to ride in their beautiful arena with its very own moat which is a great idea! 



Cafe Brazil TV spot

TV reklama za Café Brazil u kojoj glume Asmir Begović, golman bh. fudbalske reprezentacije, i njegova supruga Nicolle Begović. Reklama je snimana u Stokeu u Velikoj Britaniji.

TV commercials for Café Brazil starring Asmir Begovic, the goalkeeper of the Bosnia & Herzegovina national football team, and his wife, Nicolle Begovic. 

Advertisement was filmed at Stoke in the UK.

Asmir Begovic interview: ‘Sarajevo would be bombarded at certain times of the day. People hid in basements’

Over 20 years ago Begovic and his family were forced to flee Bosnia by the bitter civil war. Now, the Stoke keeper tells Ian Herbert, he is a key part of the national side which, thanks to the spirit forged in those times, is going to Brazil this summer.

The tunnels still visible on the Sarajevo airport runway brought everything home to Asmir Begovic: the desperate need there had been to dig out an escape route from the gunfire and the fear that always came when darkness fell on a Bosnia riven by civil war.

More than 20 years have passed since his family took him, then a four-year-old, away from the carnage which befell their home town, Trebinje, after ethnic conflict between Bosnians, Serbs and Croats exploded as Yugoslavia was torn apart. The Begovics simply packed up the car and left, heading into a form of exile which saw them consider settling in Turkey and Sweden, before finding safety among relatives in Kirchhausen, Germany and ultimately moving on again, to Canada. And though Bosnia was always there, in the fabric of an upbringing during which Begovic was encouraged to speak the language, celebrate the festivals, eat Bosnian cuisine and know of the painfully slow recovery, it is football which has restored the Stoke City goalkeeper to the country where he most belongs.

Begovic, on whom Stoke manager Mark Hughes will be relying more heavily than ever as Arsenal visit the Britannia Stadium in the Premier League today, began to restore the link when he was asked to play for the newly formed Bosnia international side in 2009. It brought him into the company of players like Edin Dzeko, now a close friend; the two look out for each other and follow each other’s progress. Having delivered him back to Sarajevo to play matches, it has now given him the opportunity which never seemed conceivably possible – a place at this summer’s World Cup, in which Bosnia’s first appearance sees them grouped with Argentina, Iran and Nigeria.

Premier League football under Hughes is offering new football horizons, too. He is being asked to provide a more ambitious, technical, footballing component to a Stoke side now committed to going  forward.

Asmir and Nicolle Begovic: 'I think we've found the perfect match'

Stoke City goalkeeper Asmir Begovic may be a Premiership star but he credits his wife Nicolle with helping his success on the pitch. Zita Collinson meets the young couple to talk about life away from the Britannia Stadium, the importance of family and how an unlikely chain of events led them to the Potteries

BY RIGHTS Asmir and Nicolle Begovic shouldn’t even know each other. After all, the Stoke City goalkeeper and his 26-year-old wife were born thousands of miles apart: Asmir in Trebinje, in what was then Yugoslavia, and Nicolle in the small 2,000-strong town of Mountain City, Tennessee.

When war broke out, Asmir’s family fled to Germany, before eventually settling in Edmonton, Canada. He was just four years old at the time.

Sport was in his blood. Asmir’s dad (also called Asmir) was a goalkeeper for FK Leotar in Trebinje.

“I don’t have any memories from Bosnia – just flashing images that I can’t place,” says the 24-year-old, who now plays for the Bosnian team.

“Circumstances forced my parents to leave.

“If you have the chance to go, you get out of a bad situation to make it better. We left right at the beginning of the war.

“If we would have stayed of course we would have been in danger.

“I have one aunt and a cousin who stayed there during the whole war and survived.

“It was a horrible situation. The fact that they did survive it is incredible to me.”

“Not to sound morbid about it, but if Asmir’s family hadn’t left Bosnia, they might have never made it out alive,” says Nicolle.

Asmir showed talent from an early age and got his lucky break after signing a youth contract with Portsmouth.

He moved to England in 2003, and his father and mother, and his two younger brothers, Denis and Anel, returned to Germany.

Nicolle’s story is no less straightforward.

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