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Lauren Hemp wants England’s Euro 2022 success to pave way for next generation
The Manchester City winger left her native Norwich aged 16 in search of competitive opportunities at a higher level.
Lauren Hemp hopes England’s Euro 2022 success sparks a significant growth of the sport and future players have an easier path into the professional game.
Hemp had to leave her home town of Norwich aged just 16 in search of competitive football and got her reward six years later when she started every game as Sarina Wiegman’s side become the first England men’s or women’s team since 1966 to win a major tournament.
The Football Association first introduced central contracts to a select group of female players back in 2009, but the Women’s Super League did not turn fully professional until the start of the 2018-19 season.
As one of the younger players in the England squad, Hemp has played almost all of her career in the fully professional era but admitted reaching the top was still a struggle.
“Obviously women’s football has not always been as big as it is and when a lot of the experienced players were younger they couldn’t play with girls’ teams,” Hemp told the PA news agency.
“So it’s great to see now that women can play at such a young age and it’s great to show them that it is possible.
“Even when I was younger, there wasn’t as much on TV broadcast everywhere, there wasn’t as many places that I could go and watch the women play.
“Everything was so far away from me being in Norwich – you’re literally in the middle of nowhere – I couldn’t go to as many games as I would have liked to so it was always hard.
“Even at 16, I had to move. I moved to Bristol because there just wasn’t enough teams near me at the standard that I needed to be playing at.
“So even for me, I’m still young – I’m 22 – it was a struggle for me as well so I can’t imagine what it must have been like for the players who are a lot older who struggled to find teams and had to travel so far just to get to training.”
Less than a week after lifting the Euro trophy, the players wrote an open letter to the Conservative Party leadership candidates Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss – signed by all 23 members of the squad – calling for every girl to have the opportunity to play football at school.
Reflecting on her decision to leave home, Hemp believes England’s triumph has changed the state of women’s football in the country and wants youngsters to believe anything is possible.
“It was hard, to be fair. Because when I was 13 or 14 – when I used to play for Norwich – we’d go away on little tours for a week and I used to cry every day because I missed home.
“So for me, the thought of leaving home at 16 – if you’d have asked me a few years before I’d have been like, ‘Absolutely not, I couldn’t think of anything worse’.
“So it was tough for me to begin with, I think my mum and dad struggled in the end more than I did but I think it’s helped me grow as a person as well and helped my independence so much.
“Obviously I’ve come on a long way, I’m now not crying every day about being away from home, but it is nice now, I live with my best mate who plays for City as well (Esme Morgan) so it has worked out great.
“We’re hoping this is the beginning and that it’s not just, ‘We’ve won it, that’s it now’. We want this to be the start of something. It’s important that we use this as a platform and prove to young girls and boys that it is possible.
“We’re putting pledges out to ministers and writing letters and things like that, that is trying to get girls to have the freedom to be able to play football at schools and have it as an option for them to do if they want to.
“It’s come on so far and it’s fantastic to see and this is just the beginning for us, and hopefully with the WSL more games are going to be sold out this season. So many tickets are selling fast and a lot of that is down to the Euros and how much it has changed for football in this country.”
:: Lauren Hemp is an ambassador of Starling Bank, national sponsor of the UEFA Women’s Euro 2022, who will be donating £28,000 to emerging players and grassroots football clubs to help develop female talent.