Women’s World Cup - England Lioness Lucy Staniforth driven by local pride

THE sight of Lucy Staniforth at the peak of her profession at her maiden World Cup with England Women is likely to evoke a nostalgic rewind to her father Gordon’s own place in the sporting sun.

England's Lucy Staniforth: Daughter of former Hull and York striker Gordon.
England's Lucy Staniforth: Daughter of former Hull and York striker Gordon.

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A much-travelled lower-division striker who counted home-town Hull City and York City among his former clubs in the 70s and 80s, Staniforth’s most famous hour arrived on a Spring afternoon at Villa Park in April, 1984 while wearing the colours of Plymouth Argyle.

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Around 20,000 Devonians, resplendent in green, headed to that venerated Midlands footballing cathedral for their side’s FA Cup semi-final with Graham Taylor’s top-flight Watford, only for their hearts to be broken with a goal from George Reilly denying Argyle a place at Wembley.

Gordon Staniforth. (Picture: Kevin Neagle)

Despite missing out on becoming the first third-tier side to reach the cup final, the Pilgrims’ remarkable progress during that 1983-84 season under manager John Hore remains a revered part of football folklore in Plymouth.

For Staniforth, the devout hope will be that his daughter can write a similarly exhilarating story with England Lionesses in France, albeit going one step further by reaching a major final.

Not that it would probably suffice. Speak to any of the Lionesses and they are plainly striving to be the last ones standing after the showpiece in Lyon on July 7.

Relishing her first experience of a major tournament, midfielder Staniforth said: “I am super-excited and really ready to grasp any opportunities that I get and will give it my all.

“The highlight of my father’s career was in the FA Cup semi-finals with Plymouth Argyle. To be fair, he is not really too bad and does not throw his career on me!

“I am sure he will be lapping all this up. It is a chance for him to relive his playing days through me, so I am sure he will be loving it and fully supportive in it.

“We speak a lot about football. I am so lucky that I have got my mum and her partner as well and all three of them are so super-supportive of me and it is great.

“The Staniforths and my mum’s side of the family will be coming out and it will be a big party coming out, which is cool.”

When Lucy and those close to her arrive at Nice’s Allianz Arena for England’s Group D opener with Scotland on Sunday, thoughts will inevitably turn to a special person in their lives who will sadly not be present.

Lucy’s brother Tom was on the books of Sheffield Wednesday when he collapsed and died outside a York nightclub in 2001, with the Lionesses midfielder having paid homage to his memory by wearing his number 37 on the back of her shirt throughout her club career.

Other tales of family heartache and tragedy are also woven in the fabric of several of Staniforth’s team-mates’ stories, with stirring motivations not hard to find for those in England colours during their sporting journey of a lifetime.

Overcoming adversity on the pitch by way of battling back from two anterior cruciate ligament injuries is also integral to Staniforth’s own story.

As do her early experiences at first club Sunderland, who she reached a Women’s FA Cup final with at the age of 16 in 2009, a time she will never forget.

It was a fateful period which also saw the Wearsiders win the Women’s National League North, but grave financial problems provided a sad postscript.

Now at Birmingham City, Staniforth, 26, added: “When I was at Sunderland, we made enough money with our FA Cup run in the first year to fund our year in the Premier at the time.

“When we did not manage to do well again in the FA Cup, we were so short of cash that we could not get to away games.

“So, at that point, you would never had thought that getting to a World Cup was possible for me.

“Dealing with moments that are hard and not trying to take them too personally and not getting too down about things is key. It is all about managing your emotions.”

For England’s class of 2019 who are now settled in their training base, fittingly on the Promenade des Anglais on the idyllic Côte d’Azur, there is a quiet feeling of this being ‘their time’ after the despair of Canada 2015 when they cruelly conceded a stoppage-time own goal to Japan in a shattering semi-final exit in Edmonton.

The togetherness is real and not manufactured, the talent pool is strong and the hunger is plain among 11 World Cup debutants and those older heads who can vividly recall the pain of those events in Alberta.

For Staniforth, who picked up her 10th cap in last weekend’s friendly with New Zealand, earning a place in the starting line-up represents an additional personal challenge, but team glory is the primary motivator.

She added: “I definitely want to try and get into the starting 11 and bring what I am capable of to the table and try and show what I do on a world stage.

“If that is not possible, I know that some of the senior players have spoken about tournaments in the past where team-mates have made it such a great experience to them by being supportive.

“I am sure people can tell that the group is so well connected, so it is definitely important to totally support the girls. We all want to win the World Cup.

“I think that making you valued as a player and a person is one of our strengths.”