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Georgia Stanway was clearly a young footballer going places even when she was just seven years old, her childhood coach Steve Liddicott has said.
On Sunday Stanway, who recently joined Bayern Munich, is set to play for England at a sold-out Wembley against Germany in the final of Euro 2022, a tournament at which she has made a significant impression.
The 23-year-old Cumbria-born midfielder’s journey in football started as a child at Furness Rovers.
And Liddicott, who coached her at the club, recalls it being apparent that something special was happening from a very early age as the young Stanway shone in a team otherwise made up of boys.
Furness chairman Liddicott told the PA news agency: “Georgia’s older brother was in one of the teams, (Stanway’s mother) used to bring Georgia too while he was training, and she used to go behind the goals when the kids were shooting and collect the ball.
“Her mum eventually said to me ‘is it alright if she joins in?’. I said that was fine, and she joined in when she was about four years old, at the Furness rugby ground, Strawberry Grounds.
“It quickly became evident she could handle herself, knew what to do with the ball, had good control, could hit it, and she got involved with the boys’ training and eventually played for us.
“There were some feisty training sessions, because the lads were out to prove they were better than Georgia, and she was the only girl, trying to prove she was better than them. There were some interesting tackles going in! She never drew back.
“She played with us from six years old to the under-11s and then, at the time, that was the threshold for girls playing in a mixed team.
“It was quite clear when she was seven, eight that she was going to go somewhere.”
Stanway subsequently joined Blackburn’s centre of excellence around the age of 13 and was with the club until signing for Manchester City aged 16 in the summer of 2015.
There were some feisty training sessions, because the lads were out to prove they were better than Georgia, and she was the only girl, trying to prove she was better than them.
- Steve Liddicott
Blackburn manager Gemma Donnelly, who gave Stanway her senior debut earlier that year just after she turned 16, says something striking was the youngster’s “aspiration to be the best”.
Donnelly said: “(When Stanway arrived at Blackburn) she was quite raw, but what was very evident was she had aspiration to be the best.
“You could see that in her application in training, her discipline, her commitment – given you’re talking a couple of hours each way (journey from home to the centre of excellence), plus a three-hour training session, three times a week.
“We had to start working with the school in order for her to be released earlier, and she was doing her homework in the car.
“The minute she stepped out of the car, she just wanted to make the most of every second with a football. She was super-competitive, ridiculously tenacious, wanted to be on the ball all the time. She was quite confident, getting forwards, shooting. And wherever you put her, she was naturally talented – eight, 10, nine, seven, 11.
“We had the expertise to identify talent, look for those attributes – hard-working, resilient, athletic, understands the game. While you might have got one or two at a higher level, I think Georgia kind of stood out because she exhibited the majority of them, if not all of them, at a higher level.”
Stanway gave a memorable demonstration of her shooting prowess at the Euros with a stunning effort that secured England’s 2-1 extra-time victory over Spain.
Also on the field at that point were team-mates Keira Walsh and Ella Toone, others who spent time with Blackburn as teenagers before moving on to City.
And Donnelly said: “When all three are on the pitch together, I just think ‘wow, that’s amazing’. It’s amazing we’ve been able to help support these players getting to where they are.
“In terms of proud…everybody that was involved, the coaches that supported those girls, I know we’re all absolutely beaming to see that – not only for the girls, but as coaches, as somebody who has played a part in their development.
“That’s got to be your ultimate goal surely, to help somebody to play at the highest level, on the world stage? You can’t ask for more than that.”