Lauren Hemp's journey from North Walsham FC to UEFA Women's EURO
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My earliest footballing memory was probably kicking a ball around in my Nan and Grandad’s backyard. My sister Amy is a couple of years older than me and when she went to training, I used to not be interested at all but my Dad forced me to go to one of the sessions once and I actually enjoyed it. From then on, I continued to play and I loved it.
I used to play in the backyard with Amy throughout the day and we would stay out there until late. To have someone who I could play with and be competitive with made it more fun and it is nice to have another sibling who also loves the sport as much as you do.
Amy used to play at Norwich City Girls’ Centre of Excellence but she tore both her ACLs when she was 16 and wasn’t able to get back in the way she wanted to, so unfortunately she stopped playing but she has gone on to be a PE teacher and has stayed involved in sport.
I started playing for the boys’ team at North Walsham around the age of eight or nine and was there for a couple of years before I went for trials with Norwich City Girls’ Centre of Excellence. I didn’t get in the first year but when I trialled again in the second year, I got in and then stopped playing for the boys’ team.
I was at the Centre of Excellence for five or six years but then it got closed down, so I went back to the North Walsham boys’ team for a year before then moving to Bristol City at the age of 16.
Sometimes being the only girl in a boys’ team might be daunting for some but having them at the same school meant it was nice because I knew them really well and got on with them. Those games helped shape me as a player because I am quite physical and quite strong and I think that stemmed from playing in a boys’ team a lot.
I also played for the girls’ and the boys’ teams at North Walsham High School and my girls’ team even won the County Championship one year!
I think when I was younger I got moved around quite a lot up front but I was mainly a forward player and that was where I enjoyed playing because I could be creative and had the freedom to do what I wanted to do. I loved playing there when I was younger.
A lot of my game revolves around that creativity and freedom I had playing as a kid. I am quite fearless and my strength is taking on people and if I wasn’t confident then I wouldn’t do it, so it is important to have that self-belief and freedom to be creative and do what you are best at.
It was hard when the Centre of Excellence closed because I was 15 at the time so I had a year left playing youth football. I did think ‘what am I going to do? Where am I going to go? I’m going to have to go back to playing with the boys’ team’ and I think a lot of the girls did that and I was lucky to go back to the same boys’ team that I used to play with at North Walsham and in the end it shaped me to the player I am.
One of the girls I played with at Norwich City, Flo Allen, advised me that Bristol City was a great place to go and I lived with her and a couple of other girls who played for Bristol City with a host family.
My parents stayed in Norfolk but they would come and watch the games now and again. It was nice being in a house with other players and people in the same position as you because then we didn’t feel lonely being away from our families.
I was training with the development team and then playing matches for the first team so it wasn’t until I moved to Manchester City that I became professional.
When I look back, obviously my parents were crucial to me and they helped shape the person that I am today, so I will forever be grateful for them. And then all of my coaches had different influences on me growing up.
I will always thank my younger coaches because they were the ones who started to believe in me and gave me the opportunity. Then the England coaches who obviously saw something in me to then bring me on camps. So I am grateful to all of them because they helped grow my confidence and helped me know I am here for a reason.
Even when I was younger, I still didn’t realise that it could be a career for me. It probably wasn’t until I was about 14 or 15 that I could then see the likes of Jill Scott, Ellen White and Kelly Smith going on to succeed and making a living out of it.
Even when I went to Bristol City, the players still had to have two jobs and you couldn’t make a living just off football alone. So from a young age, I just thought it was something that was a hobby and I will enjoy doing it while I have another job. Fortunately, it has turned out to be my career.
When I went to Bristol at 16, I was in college so I could have got a job then because I wasn’t on a contract with Bristol, I was just at the college training with the development team and playing for the first team, but I didn’t need to financially and when I turned 18, I went to Manchester City on a professional contract.
You look now and there are always camps going on for girls in my local area and it is amazing to see how many people turn out for them and the amount of people who are showing up for matches in stadiums or watching games. We are always breaking records for TV views and things like that. It is incredible to see the direction women’s football is heading in and what heights it could reach too. It is exciting to see and it is great that a lot more girls are now involved and it also helps the talent pathway by having a bigger pool of players to choose from.
To any girls thinking of joining a football team, it is important first and foremost to enjoy what you are doing. Then if you start playing, try to have belief in yourself. Not every coach is going to play you or maybe even believe in you, so it is important for you to have that confidence in yourself and that belief to shine.
When I look back to me starting out in football, my overriding feeling is that of pride. I loved playing football at that age and that is what has taken me throughout my career. Whenever I get nervous about playing a game, I always think back to that 12-year-old girl who was just playing just for the love of the game. It is important to reflect on that now and again and remember why you started playing in the first place.
Looking back, I loved playing football and I love it now just as much. It is amazing.
Lauren Hemp vs Jill Scott Rap Battle
Episode 2 of Lionesses Live Connected by EE