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Laura Bassett, star player in the England women’s football team, talks about inspiring youngsters and her hopes for 2017.

 

In 2015, England’s women’s football team became heroines during a World Cup campaign that saw them defy expectations by progressing to the semi-finals. England player Laura Bassett talks about being a role model for future generations of England players – and her determination to go one further at this year’s European Championship, which runs from 16th July-6th August, and is hosted by the Netherlands. Sixteen teams will be playing in the Euros, with England in Group D with Spain, Portugal and Scotland (also sponsored by Vauxhall)! England’s first match is against Scotland on 19th July.

When you were a kid, who were your heroes from the England players you used to watch?

I’d say my dad and my brother were my heroes, because without them I wouldn’t have started playing football. Dad’s always played, and my mum’s always been involved in running a club. So it was more about watching live football, and Dad would kick a ball around with me – I didn’t want to just stand on the side and watch, and I grew to love it.

 

It was when I was playing structured football that I looked to the England team. I always admired the way Paul Ince, Gareth Southgate and David Beckham played, because you could just tell how passionate they were and how they wanted to give everything for the shirt.

If I were to ask the same question of someone playing in the 2031 Women’s World Cup, they might say their childhood heroes were Eni Aluko, Casey Stoney… maybe Laura Bassett. That’s got to be the next best thing to actually winning the World Cup, hasn’t it?

Ever since the World Cup, it’s been about more than getting results; it really has been inspiring a generation. Now young girls, and boys really know female players. And we’re more accessible – we stay behind after games and sign autographs, so they can talk to their role models. As a kid, that means so much more – and it means so much more to us, as players.

What involvement do you and your England team-mates have in encouraging girls to take up the game?

Our clubs have sister clubs, and we often go there to do appearances in the local communities. Also, some of the England players have their own soccer schools, so that’s another chance for young boys and girls to meet an England player and ask our advice.

When you were in Canada at the 2015 World Cup, were you aware that back home, the nation was really getting behind you? Were you aware of that growing excitement?

No! We had no clue of the momentum it gained. You really are in a bubble, you’re secluded – we had no sense of the volume of people that were just engrossed by our performance. In a way, I look back and think it would have been nice to know, but we were that focused – you enjoy every minute, but you’re so focused on what you want to achieve.

You got to the semis in the World Cup – are you determined to go a step further in the Netherlands in Euro 2017?

The European Championships are a totally different entity. In a World Cup, you get a lot of flamboyant teams, but a lot of the European nations play the same way, sitting in, counter-attacking. And European teams know a lot about each other. But it’s exciting for all us players. Hopefully we’ll have that momentum from the start.

And your first game opponents only happen to be Scotland…

Oh, yes! Quite a few of the Scottish players play in the Women’s Super League, and they’re looking forward to it, too. Scotland has done fantastically to qualify for the first time, and a lot of expectations will be on them as well. It’s just brilliant – we couldn’t have asked for a more exciting opening game.

What advice would you give to kids in the position you were in 20 years ago? What sacrifices did you have to make to get to where you are now?

I was very fortunate to have very good support from my family. Nothing was a problem for my mum and dad, so I was very privileged. My advice would be get out and play football, enjoy it and don’t be scared to ask your coach for advice. Coaches have got knowledge – so tap into that, never be afraid to ask. Rather than turning up to a coaching session and expecting it to be put on for you, think about how it can help you in your position, how can it help you improve your technique. In other sports, athletes tend to have a lot of ownership of themselves as players, but in football there’s a tendency to say, ‘Come on then, coach me’. But as soon as you start to take ownership of yourself, you become very independent.

What about parents? What advice would you give to people of your own age whose kids are talking about a career in professional football?

The journey is full of ups and downs. Whether your kids are eight or 16, parents need to be that solid, consistent, stable support. Kids have so many pressures… as a parent, don’t add to that. As a player, you can be flavour of the month one season, then the next season get an injury or be out of form. Be ready for the bumpy ride – and get ready to give your kids plenty of hugs!