Women's Team

My Footballing Icon: Gemma Bonner

My Footballing Icon: Gemma Bonner
Happy birthday, Gemma Bonner!

Our City and England defender celebrates her 29th birthday today – nine days after penning a new two-year deal with the Club.

One of the most consistent performers in the 2019/20 campaign, the centre-back has earned plaudits for her impressive displays, forming one of the most solid defensive partnerships alongside captain and fellow Lioness Steph Houghton.

Incredibly humble, dependable, passionate and dedicated, Bonner is a wonderful role model to all budding footballers, especially in her hometown of Leeds – evident with the superb turnout to her #SameGoals coaching clinics in February!

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But who was it who inspired her dream? Who does she model her game on? Whose footsteps did she want to follow in?

In the latest edition of My Footballing Icon, presented by Hays, our super centre-back reveals her sporting idol.

However, it isn’t a footballer…!

“I had footballing heroes and there are a couple of footballers who I look up to but my sporting idol is Kevin Sinfield,” Bonner explains. “He was the one who had the biggest influence on me, growing up.

“He’s a former rugby player, who used to play for Leeds Rhinos, and he is the person who shaped the player and person I wanted to be.


                        My Footballing Icon: Gemma Bonner

“I first met him when I was a young kid in primary school. Leeds players would come in and present awards and do coaching sessions.

“I was a Leeds Rhinos fan and I used to go and watch games so I knew who he was. He was the captain at the time.

“That was the first time I’d seen him away from the pitch in real life, seeing how he presented himself and spoke, and everything about him was super professional.

“Everyone who knows him speaks highly of him and I have so much respect for the way he conducted himself as a player and a person.

“He was one of the most successful players ever but he was never one to be in the limelight – he always just did the best with what he had.

WATCH: Gemma Bonner: I'm playing my best football with the best players

“He was nominated for the Sports Personality of the Year award a few years ago and in his speech, he said: ‘I was never the fittest, fastest or strongest – I was never the star player – but I worked hard.’

“He earned success because of his hard work and I could relate to that. I’m not the quickest or fittest but you can always make the most of what you’ve got and work hard.

“He really inspired me and positively impacted on how I wanted to be perceived.

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“I thought: ‘If I can have a similar impact on the younger generations coming through – like he had on me – I’ll be happy.”

That early school encounter marked the first of many meetings, as budding footballer Bonner followed in Sinfield’s footsteps, embarking on her own career into professional sport.

Her journey remarkably mirrored that of her hero and hearteningly, Sinfield always remembered the defender, asking of her progress.

“He always made time to speak to me,” Bonner reflected. “He knew I was interested in football and whenever I’d see him at a game – even when I was surrounded by other people – waiting for a picture, he always asked how football was going, or he’d joke that I was wearing the wrong shirt on if I was wearing a football shirt!

“In Year Six, I won a school sports award too and he came in to present it. I was lucky enough to have that interaction with him and that first-hand experience of what he was like.

“Then, when I left school, I was invited to go back and present the award alongside him! So, from then on, we had an annual catch-up and our paths have crossed now and again since then.

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“When I was first asked to be Liverpool captain, I was only 21 and I said no initially. I spoke to my family about it and one of the things my dad said was: ‘Kevin Sinfield was made captain at 21 and look where his is now!’

“That really made me think. I realised that he’d grown into the role and that maybe I could too…

“It’s crazy how it’s progressed.

“More recently, we were asked to go on the BBC 5 Live Debate together. It was a coincidence that we’d been asked at the same time but it was class.

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“He’s also very close to Rob Burrow, who was another player who would come into my Primary School. I’ve known him since I was about seven or eight too and he’s also been an inspiration, doing a lot and raising money for the Darby Rimmer MND (Motor Neurone Disease) Foundation.”

Hailing from a city of sporting greats, Bonner added she could not be more proud to be Leeds-born and bred and is excited about the prospect of her hometown football club making a return to the Premier League.

“The amount of sporting people to come out of Leeds is ridiculous!” she added. “You can’t ignore the sporting talent that’s come out of the city.

“It sounds cheesy but it’s something people from Leeds are really proud of. Everyone is so passionate.

“It’s going to be such a big thing if Leeds get back into the Premier League.

“Everyone from Leeds is so proud to be from Leeds and if you’re from there, you just know!”

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