Norfolk-born Lauren Hemp plays for her sister as she returns to Norwich

At 21, Lauren Hemp is heading into her first major tournament with the England women’s football team with the world at her feet. The dynamic left-winger is considered one of the stars of the game, but on Sunday she will play at Carrow Road in Norwich, the stadium she grew up watching the game at.

In the new Arnold Clark Cup, a four-team tournament also involving Olympic champions Canada and Germany, England will face Spain at Carrow Road, the home ground of men’s Premier League team Norwich City. The ground gave young Hemp her first live experience of top-flight football, a game she initially showed little interest in.

“To be honest, it was my dad and sister who had a subscription,” she tells me. “They used to go every week and watch Norwich City. I always used to stay at home with my mum. It was at a time when I wasn’t really interested in football but i think it was as soon as my sister started playing, i wanted to be like her so i joined in. we always had it on the radio if we weren’t there to watch the game, we were big supporters, I always tried to go there whenever I could.

Like many female gamers, Hemp’s first role models in the game were male. “I really looked up to Wes Hoolahan and James Maddison, who I also loved before he left. There are some fantastic players who have come through Norwich. I’ve always supported them. It’s great to go to the games every time I can. I grew up going to Carrow Road. It inspired me to want to be like them when I was older.

It was older sister Amy who sparked the Hemps’ interest in the game, but emulating her wasn’t always a concern for young Lauren who danced on the sidelines when her parents went to see Amy play for the local team. “I was just there doing my own thing while my mum and dad watched over my sister. It was only when I was playing in the back yard, in the garden of my grandma and grandma’s house. -father they said ‘why not try?’. Dad took me to my local base team and a tryout there. The rest is history, I guess.

While Lauren went to fulfill her parents’ dreams of representing their country at senior international level, Amy’s career was derailed by two cruciate ligament injuries which forced her to give up playing. “I think she was more of a goalscorer than I will ever be,” admits the young Hemp. “She was a striker in her own right. She was a great player. Unfortunately, she got injured and couldn’t continue playing, so part of me does that for her too because I know that she would have loved to continue playing. She I also attended a few camps in England and did that before I started going to camps. I have her full support behind me and she still comes to games whenever “She can and has been supporting me from her home. It’s great to have a supportive family around me.”

The predominantly rural English county of Norfolk is the fifth largest in the country, but it is not renowned for producing talented football players. Norwich-born Danny Mills, who always featured for England in the 2002 Men’s World Cup, is one of the few from Norfolk to represent his country. Born in August 2000, Hemp hails from the small market town of North Walsham, famous for its motorcycle museum and the young footballer who in 2020 was voted into the IFFHS u20 women’s world team of the year and named by the body European leader UEFA as one of the ten most promising footballers on the continent.

Pursuing a professional career forced Hemp to live away from Norfolk for over five years, but she still retains an affection for her hometown. “There the market is really nice. Every Thursday they have a market and I used to go there with my grandmother. To be honest, it’s a great little town. Obviously I grew up there, I did my primary and secondary education there like well. I love it. I always walk around town with my mom whenever I’m home. It’s awesome just thinking about it.

Growing up away from the traditional heart of English football, young Hemp couldn’t envision a professional future in the game. “To be honest, growing up I never really thought of football as a career, I always thought of as a hobby. It wasn’t until I was older that I thought it was actually possible. I had to move for me to do that.”

At just 16, she left Norwich City Academy to join Bristol City in Women’s Super League 2. “I moved to Bristol and went to university there. They had a great university academy. We had so much talent at Norwich but there just wasn’t an elite women’s football club I could go to I needed to get away from home to do it They gave me a fantastic start to my footballing career. Obviously having that center of excellence and also being able to train with the boys, the elite boys in Norwich. It was great for me, it really helped me on my journey to become a professional athlete.

On the other side of the country, Hemp couldn’t have gotten much further from Norfolk in England, she admits to feeling homesick. “I remember when I played for Norwich when I was younger and we would go on tour and travel around the country, I was really upset that I was away from home and my family. It was only when I “I actually moved to Bristol that was real. I think it helped me a lot with my independence. It’s definitely come by leaps and bounds because you don’t normally see 16 year olds years leaving home. So for me, that was a huge thing at such a young age. It’s been part of my journey and it’s helped me become the player and the person that I am today. It was always hard to get home, it was at best a five hour drive to get back and see my family, those are the kind of sacrifices i made to be where i am today.

Within two years, Hemp had been voted Professional Footballers’ Association Young Player of the Year and secured a move to Manchester City. This weekend she will return home to Norfolk hailed as a local hero with many familiar faces in the crowd. “I think one of the stalls is full to be honest with all my friends and family!” she tells me. “I’m just trying to get as many tickets as possible. A lot of them have come home to tell me they’ll be there to support me. It’s great to have a lot of my old friends back. school, my mum’s friends, my sister’s friends, obviously all my family Yeah I just have a bunch of people coming so I can’t wait to get back to Carrow Road on Sunday and show Norfolk how much quality that exists in women’s football.

As Carrow Road has not staged a senior women’s international game since 2006, Hemp acknowledges that this will also be the first time many of her teammates have traveled to the area. “It’s not often people come to Norwich. It will be great to show them the area because it’s a fantastic city. I loved growing up there. I wouldn’t change that for the world, I I always like to come home, so it will be a great experience for everyone. I think I will definitely be the tour guide!”

Having made her senior international debut in 2019 shortly after the last Women’s World Cup, the UEFA Women’s Euro in England this summer will be Hemp’s first chance to feature for England in a major league. However, her first experience of a senior tournament came last year when she represented Great Britain at the Tokyo Olympics. The team were eliminated in the quarter-finals by Australia, but Hemp ended the competition as the tournament’s most-offending player, receiving thirteen illegal challenges in three matches.

She admits it’s something a creative player like her has to deal with. “Obviously I love taking people one and sometimes it gets me foul. I take it in my stride. I like running against players because that’s one of my strengths. I enjoy every game of the game and I don’t mind getting a little dirty on the floor too from time to time. I love playing football and if that happens sometimes, that’s what happens.

England’s opponents Spain enter the Arnold Clark Cup on a 16-game winning streak, a run that began with victory over the Lionesses in the She Believes Cup in March 2020. Hemp did not play in that match but came up against the core of the Spanish squad when FC Barcelona knocked Manchester City out of the Women’s Champions League last season.

She is full of admiration for their way of playing. “I think they’re definitely the best possession-based team I’ve seen. It’s going to be a great experience for me and the rest of the squad. These are the kind of games you want to play. We’re going to go there -down and obviously do our best and make sure we try to win. We want to be in the best possible position for the Euros, that’s the start of that. Obviously Spain are a top team, what they’ll bring a lot of possession-based football, a lot of attacking threats, but hopefully we can match that and be one step ahead of them.”

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