Lucia & Sarah: Oxford United, keepy uppies, and Bob the deer

“Ever since I can remember I’ve been playing with a football or something that I can kick.”

We got the chance to speak to Lucia and her mum Sarah. We spoke about Lucia’s busy football season, and how Sarah has been able to help her get there. On the way, we covered everything from school Street Tag to Wembley Stadium.  

Ever since she was a toddler – in fact, ever since she could walk – Lucia has been out playing with a football. Her progression from a toddler playing in the garden to her first full football season was a remarkably natural one.

Lucia currently plays for the Oxford United U10’s RTC team, and has a jam-packed season of training and matches ahead of her. We spoke to Lucia and her mum about where it all began, and what they were looking forward to in the future.

Do you remember the first time that you played football?

 “A really long time ago. I think I was about 5 when I started. Ever since I can remember I’ve been playing with a football or something that I can kick.”

Lucia spoke about how the first trial for the Oxford RTC was all down to a text.

“My mum’s friend texted my mum telling her about an RTC trial. So, my mum took me there, and I had a couple of trials, and then my mum got sent an email saying that I had gotten through to the RTC.

“I was quite nervous at the trials, because I didn’t know how I was against other girls. I hadn’t really played against other girls before. I started football from a really young age, so I haven’t seen girls in a lot of other teams yet.”

Then, from this first bit of luck, Lucia kept practicing, improving her technique, and training hard.

“I think that I got better at football by keeping practicing.

“At school we have days on Tuesday and Wednesday where we play football at break, so we all split up into teams and we play, and we still have fun playing it. I also play with my dad, and we train outside doing passing and that kind of stuff, and with my mum I train in the garden and she goes in goal.”

From a parent’s perspective, how did you encourage Lucia’s interest in football to develop?

 “It’s just naturally progressed. Ever since she was little it’s been like this – as soon as she could walk she was running. Her hand eye coordination and her ball skills were brilliant. And the fact that she loved playing football with her dad completely nurtured this natural talent.

“Then when she started primary school and she started playing football with the boys in the playground, she came home and said ‘I want to play football’. So we put her on the waitlist for a team. Then in the meantime, we put her into a soccer skills class.

“Because we didn’t know – you know what children are like, sometimes they flit from one interest to another – so we put football skills and we thought let’s see how she gets on. Since then, it’s just naturally progressed.

“We always knew that there would come a time, when she was playing with the boys, that she would have to separate from the boys; that she would have to start playing with the girls. But we were told to keep her with the boys for as long as possible because they would make her a stronger player.

“It has been a natural progression but I wouldn’t change the progression. For me as a mum, as long as she loves doing what she is doing and she has fun, that’s the main thing and all that I can encourage is her love of it.”

 A typical week of football training for Lucia looks pretty busy. Twice a week she trains at the Oxford United men’s training ground (the sessions last 90 minutes each). Liam Gilbert is the Oxford United Women’s Manager coach for the U10’s team, and Lauren Haynes (the OUWFC captain) also provides training and match day support, which Sarah says really inspires the girls.

“If someone wanted to play football, they should just go and sign up, because it’s so fun.”

So what would your advice be for a parent whose child showed a sporting talent?

“As she said, we very rarely play girls in the boy’s league. You know, she has come across a lot of negative criticism. We’d go to a match and someone would go, ‘Ooh they’ve got a girl on their team’. Then obviously when she plays, they’d go, ‘Wow she’s really good’, because she will hold her own against a boy. She wouldn’t cower away from those tackles, and it has made her who she is today.

“For girls that are trialling out – if I had a daughter now that was 5, you could possibly go straight into Wildcats or a girls’ only team and you could start playing with the girls straight away. That wasn’t naturally Lucia’s path anyway, but I think for any parent, if you’ve got a girl you could put them in a girls’ team. But equally, don’t be afraid if they’re a strong player (if they can hold their own against a boy), throw them in with the boys’ teams, because I believe that will make them a good player.

“We’re all biased as parents, I guess, and we all think that our kids are brilliant. So to be honest, you always believe in your child and that so you try to teach them to be the best that they can be in whatever they do.

“So, that’s all I’ve ever said to her – just go and do your best, it doesn’t matter what the result is, it doesn’t matter if you loose, so long as you’ve played a good game and the team has tried and you don’t give up, that’s all that we can ask for.

“She’s generally just a sporty child. I mean I have two children. Lucia has an older sister, who isn’t interested in sport at all. She likes performing arts, so they are very much chalk and cheese. I just think that if your child loves what they do, then you’ve just got to allow them the opportunity to grow into that sport.”

“I want to be a professional football player. I’d like to either play for England and be a Lioness, or play for Man City.”

Bob, Crunchie, Fudge and Cookie.

“We go dog walking a lot, and Lucia climbs the trees, and we go into the woods. That just doesn’t cost anything, and they’re probably some of your best memories in lockdown.”

Lucia spoke about how, as a family, they really made the most out of the lockdown walks.

“Because we couldn’t go anywhere and we couldn’t do anything, we had to do quite long dog walks. We live near lots of fields, so we do walks across the fields, and we see loads of wildlife which is really pretty.

“We see the same deer all the time, so we’ve named him Bob. He’s got some other family, too. And we’ve named them Crunchie, Fudge and Cookie.”

Where do you hope to take your football in the future?

“I want to be a professional football player. I’d like to either play for England and be a Lioness, or play for Man City.

“Then, when I retire from football, I would like to be maybe a commentator or a manager. I would maybe most like to be a commentator, because I like speaking.”

In terms of her inspirations, Lucia has a lot of fantastic football role models to look to.

Sarah mentioned that “Lauren Haynes who is the Oxford United Captain and player comes and helps her coach sometimes. In fact, Lucia has walked on the pitch with her when they played a home game.”

Lucia is also a big fan of Alex Scott (the commentator who is an ex England and Arsenal player), and Lucy Bronze, a defender for Man City, who was voted one of the best female players in the world.

In fact, the similarities are pretty spooky.

“She plays for number 2 and she’s got the same name as me. Her real name’s Lucia too.”

Sarah is also hopeful that the links won’t stop there.

“Lucia likes the commonalities, so we’ve just got to keep working hard and we’ll see where we end up.”

A great tradition for Lucia and Sarah has been going to see the women’s teams play at Wembley.

“Generally as a rule (although this year it didn’t happen because of lockdown) Lucia’s birthday is in May, so the women’s FA cup final seems to sit alongside her birthday. So apart from last year and this year, we take her to Wembley so she can see the professionals play.

“Obviously the stadium’s not fully open because it’s women’s football, and we need to get more support for women’s football and women’s sport in general. But we go to Wembley so she can see everything on a bigger scale and so she can see what is the possibility for her and where she can be and where you can end up.”

Lucia loves this chance to see the big football stars, and she gets a lot from it personally, too.

“It’s fun to watch how they play, because they’ve got a bigger pitch than us. So when they pass it out wide and they tackle it makes me learn new skills and I see how they pass and all that so maybe I can try that in a training session or a match.”

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