Picture the scene: it’s a sunny summer’s evening in 2010 and a ten-year-old Lauren Hemp is playing in the back garden with her sister.
Shrieks of laughter and squeals of joy ring from the house in North Walsham, Norfolk – but it’s not all fun and games. As always, there’s more at stake: victory and pride.
The Hemp sisters are competing in the ‘Hemp Olympics’ – inspired by the Summer Games, the pair are trying to replicate their favourite Olympic sports in their own back yard, seeing who can jump the highest, the furthest; who can sprint the fastest…
According to Lauren, she would always triumph – sheer determination, coupled with an electrifying pace and notable agility impressive traits, even at a young age.
Her sister Amy is the reason she fell in love with football, the reason she stands tall today as a three-time PFA Young Player of the Year and… an Olympian.
Though she did not originally hold much interest in football (often instead found dancing in the corner at matches!), Lauren grew up watching her elder sibling play and one day, decided to join in as Amy practiced in the garden. From there, Hemp Jr quickly developed a passion for the sport and followed in her sister’s footsteps – the duo going on to play together in Norwich’s Centre of Excellence before Amy sadly had to hang up her boots through injury.
The training sessions in the garden were fun but competitive – both sisters possessing a burning desire to win. It is this mantra that has served Lauren so well in her footballing career: the drive to win at all costs, putting her body on the line for the cause, stretching every sinew.
Whether in training, a match or a light-hearted quiz for the official website’s media team, her grit and tenacity shine through with a winning mentality that has earned her status as one of the most exciting up-and-coming players in the English game.
Whatever the challenge, one thing is guaranteed: Hemp will put her absolute all into it.
Harder, better, faster, stronger.
The 2020/21 season saw our wing wonder hit new heights – all the more impressive when you consider she missed the opening months through injury. Collecting her second PFA Award, Hemp expressed her frustration to be missing the start of the new campaign but she made every second of her recovery count and returned just before the Christmas break in better shape than ever before.
“That time in the gym has really helped me come back to full fitness. I used that time effectively and made sure I was stronger, fitter, faster. I do feel like I'm in a good form, although I know I can still improve and keep getting better.”
Her welcome return sparked an upturn in fortunes for City, as she soon picked up where she had left off. A wonder-strike in the Champions League against Gotebörg announced her comeback and she rode the crest of the wave, bagging a remarkable eight goals in nine games, as City ramped up the hunt for silverware in all competitions. While the season would end with a solitary piece of silverware – the 2019/20 Women’s FA Cup – it proved a fruitful one for Hemp, who bagged ten goals in just 23 appearances and crafted a hatful of assists, forming a profitable partnership with Ellen White and Chloe Kelly in a frighteningly potent attacking trident.
Though tipped for great things from a very young age, one of Hemp’s best attributes is her modesty. It would be easy for any budding starlet to become carried away with the stardom but Hemp is remarkably grounded and level-headed, portraying a maturity that belies her youth. Whenever asked of her thoughts and feelings during periods of success or acclaim, she remains wholeheartedly humble and often reiterates the fact she feels she has plenty still to learn – that she is not yet the finished article. A tantalising prospect for City – a terrifying one for any opposition.
Her wisdom likely derives from a need to ‘grow up’ very quickly, as she packed up and left home in pursuit of her dream at the age of just 16. From Norwich’s Centre of Excellence, she took a huge leap of faith, making the four-and-a-half-hour trip to Bristol to embark upon a senior career in the top flight of women’s football. It was a major step for a self-confessed ‘home bird’ who was unused to being away from her family but eager to achieve her ambition of playing football professionally, Hemp stuck it out.
Two successful years with the Robins saw the teenager named the PFA Young Player of the Year for the first time, following a standout breakthrough campaign which yielded nine goals, including a Goal of the Season contender against Arsenal.
Those who had watched the pacey forward play were tipping her for great things and with a passion for nurturing young, British talent, City expressed their interest in capturing the starlet’s signature and although at first, she had to pinch herself to believe it, the 17-year-old agreed a move to Manchester and uprooted once more to join Nick Cushing’s trophy-chasing side.
“It was so unexpected! I never thought it would ever happen. When City first made contact, I didn't really believe it! I was sitting at home in Bristol and I was completely shocked. I rang my mum to tell her I'd just got off the phone with City and she was like: 'No way!' I think she called Nick Cushing herself to ask if he was being serious! It was a really big deal. The thought of playing with Steph Houghton and Jill Scott - players I'd looked up to - was incredible.”
“I know there's a pressure on me and I know I'm still young and as we get older, there's going to be even more pressure being put on me but that's what I want to do and that's how you're going to be the best.”
It was not long before Hemp had found her scoring touch in sky blue and in her debut season at the Academy Stadium, she played a key role as City lifted her first major trophies as City claimed a cup double – Hemp famously finding the net from the bench with a superbly-taken goal in the 2019 Women’s FA Cup Final on the biggest stage: Wembley.
Racing onto Jennifer Beattie’s long ball, Hemp showcased her lightning speed, clipping the ball over goalkeeper Anna Moorhouse to the ball and into the back of the net.
“Sitting on the bench, you’re eager to come on and make an impact, showing what you can do. I was just looking forward to running up and down the side-line! I wanted to get out and warm-up every five minutes and soak up the atmosphere. [When I came on], we were in front and I thought: ‘I may as well give it everything I’ve got!’ At the time, I thought it was a good shot but it was only when I did a roly-poly and heard the crowd cheer that I knew it had gone in! It was perfect.”
Delighted for the youngster, Hemp’s City teammates rushed over to celebrate, highlighting the level of respect she had earned from her peers. She was no longer a young player seeking validation or someone to look up to – she stood proudly alongside the England internationals as *someone* for other girls and boys to look up to.
Unsurprisingly, international recognition soon followed and having attended the 2019 SheBelieves Cup as a training player, Hemp won her first senior England cap the following October. The previous year, she had helped the Lionesses’ Under-20s to a bronze medal finish at the World Cup, alongside Georgia Stanway, Chloe Kelly, Esme Morgan and Ellie Roebuck, and had also previously claimed the 2017 England Young Player of the Year award, after captaining the young Lionesses at the UEFA Women’s Championship, in which she was selected in the Team of the Tournament.
This summer, she has the chance to secure another medal – one that would surely trump any victory in the ‘Hemp Olympics’ but one that would be equally enjoyed. Throughout her career, Hemp’s love of the game and determination to succeed have continued to shine as brightly as they did in those summer days in the garden.
Our wing wonder who regularly runs rings around her opponents… and we can’t wait to find out how she fares in the *real* Olympic Games!
Written by Caroline Oatway