From grassroots football to representing England with your best mate
I always remember when I was growing up - it was maybe when I was in year one or year two - we had a new teacher join my school, Mr Cooper, and he was mad keen on getting the girls at Copmanthorpe Primary School into playing football.
Luckily he was one of my teachers and I think he knew my dad (Gordon Staniforth) a little bit, so when he made a girls’ team, I joined and it went from there.
I always used to say how it was inevitable that I would go on to play football but actually the more I think about it, if that opportunity had not been there, then would it have been inevitable? I owe a lot to him for getting me involved in the sport and even when I then moved away from York and to Northumberland in the North East, I had a lot to thank Lucy Bronze’s mum for because she helped me get into a team up there and helped provide other opportunities. Without those people who are really pushing and passionate about women’s football, it is difficult for people to maybe find where they fit into the sport.
I'd grown up around football from a young age due to having two brothers who were quite a bit older than me – Thomas was 12 years older than me. So when I was born and they had this little sister, they kept putting a ball in front of me. My mum used to take me to watch all their games so I was constantly around football and probably when they were that age and a little bit older, it was probably a novelty to have a little girl around the pitch and playing, so it was quite cool really.
When I joined my first grassroots team, it coincided with me joining the school team in York. I played for my local village called Copmanthorpe, which was a boys’ team, and played for them for a few years.
I'd be lying if I said I didn’t love playing against the boys because it was just the best footballing education; seeing their faces in amazement when you scored a goal because they couldn’t believe you could do that and then also flattening them in tackles and them being like ‘what is going on?’
I was really lucky in the sense that because I had a dad and brothers that played, football was in our family and I think it was a blessing in that sense but then also a curse because I had so much to live up to. But it's obviously got me to this point now where I have had a good career. With my family and my best friend growing up being Lucy Bronze, I'd be playing football all the time.
I was going into year six when I met Lucy Bronze and her mum, so 11 or 12 years old. We relocated and obviously I had already had that taste of football so my mum got in touch with a local boys’ team but at that point we could no longer play with the boys, so they put me in touch with Lucy Bronze’s mum and she was just the hub of everything girls’ football in the North East of England, so I was really lucky in that sense.
I joined Blyth Town, where Lucy played, and everything she did I did too. The team we played for there were really good. It was a great set-up and within our area we used to play against Demi Stokes’ and Jordan Nobbs’ team.
There were some really key people in those set-ups who without them those clubs would not have ran or we wouldn't have had the opportunities we did. I remember when we played for Blyth we went on a pre-season tour of America, which is absolutely ridiculous when you think about it and involved us bag packing and everything, but it was such a great experience.
We lived in an area which had three-tiered schooling and Lucy’s mum used to work at the high school and – I probably shouldn’t say this – but we used to play for the high school when we were in middle school (ages nine to 13 or 14). They'd pick us up on the way to matches and we even played for the sixth-form team when we were in middle school! So we were about 12 or 13 when we started playing for them. The other schools must have thought we were in sixth form for about six years because we constantly played for them. We were absolutely tiny as well and playing for the sixth form team. It is was so funny.
I was about 14 when I joined Sunderland and again it was because Lucy did, so we both went to the trials. Even from that moment of joining, it was about us trying to push for the first team because as soon as we turned 16 we were in the first team.
Playing for Sunderland was a hard one for me as a Newcastle fan! It was between Sunderland and Newcastle but Sunderland had a good set-up and the women’s team were in a higher division so that swung it for me.
Staniforth and Bronze on Lionesses Daily
Lucy Staniforth and Lucy Bronze on an episode of Lionesses Daily during the 2019 World Cup
I'm often asked about Lucy and I don’t get sick of speaking about how well she has done because I'm so proud of her! You could see, even at that young age, she was so driven and everything else that she has added to her game is what has put her to the top. She always had that drive to win.
Growing up, she was always a special player. When we were playing grassroots football, she was a striker and I would be in midfield. So all I'd have to do was kick the ball over to her and she would bully everyone out the way and stick it in the goal - so similar to what she does now on the wing but it was down the middle of the pitch.
She was a really special player and she is a bit of a freak of nature physically. That has always stood her out from the crowd. She was always so fit, so fast and so strong. I used to always find it unfair because it would be me, Jordan, Demi and Lucy, and Jordan and Demi are also freaks of nature too physically, so I would be the one at the back huffing and puffing!
Growing up, I never dreamed women’s football would get to this stage. When we were growing up we played for the love of it and because we wanted to be competitive. When we realised there were female footballers and elite female footballers like Kelly Smith and Rachel Yankey, we were totally in awe of them when we met them. We just never, ever dreamed it would get to this point now and that is what is so exciting about it all: to see how far the sport can go in the next ten to 15 years.
I think one of the other benefits of the growth of the women’s game is that even if the young girls playing now do not go on to become professional players, they're growing up seeing strong women in male-dominated worlds and they can really dream about where their life can take them.
I've seen it first-hand when girls are inspired by women who aren’t just on reality TV and it is so cool to see. It is so powerful.
Growing up my role models were always male footballers until I got to the age where I realised women footballers were out there. David Beckham was my all-time hero and then I was obsessed with Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira.
Then when we started training with Sunderland and went to watch the first team matches, we used to see people like Sue Smith and Rachel Yankey and used to stand two metres behind these people who would one day become team-mates of all of ours! At that point, we used to be like ‘we really want to be like you’ so in that sense, they were probably our first proper role models.
For us now, if you can inspire a couple of people along the way whilst playing the sport that you love, you are winning in life. It doesn’t take much to go and speak to fans who have been at the games to support you and those interactions are great. I remember when we met Kelly Smith. We were desperate for her shin pads and her boots and the conversations we were having with her then, I am having now. So I have been there myself!
I remember speaking to Kelly when I was younger and I can’t remember if it was Lucy or Jordan but one of them said ‘we are going to play for England one day’ and now kids are having those conversations with us. It is so cool.