Par­ris cer­tain of her goals on the pitch – and in life

There is no sur­prise why striker is record scorer in Women’s Su­per League, writes Katie Why­att

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Football -

Nikita Par­ris perches on a blue-and-white sofa at the gleam­ing City Foot­ball Academy as she re­counts the jour­ney that has al­ready seen her, aged 24, win ev­ery do­mes­tic ti­tle with Manch­ester City and be­come an Eng­land main­stay.

It is some story for a player who joined Ever­ton’s Cen­tre of Ex­cel­lence aged 14 and made her se­nior de­but five months af­ter turn­ing 16. Last month, Par­ris be­came the Women’s Su­per League’s all-time lead­ing goal­scorer, eclips­ing Eni Aluko’s 36. It was a land­mark mo­ment in a ca­reer Par­ris rightly in­sists is “just get­ting go­ing”.

At Ever­ton, she spent hours por­ing over DVDs of Thierry Henry. As a teenager, she sat her maths and English GCSEs at an Eng­land camp – “our in­vig­i­la­tor would just be one of the coaches” – and re­calls a child­hood watch­ing the for­mer Arse­nal striker Julie Fleet­ing “once a year on the BBC” dur­ing the FA Cup fi­nal.

In the days when she would fin­ish train­ing with the ath­let­ics team at St Pa­trick’s Pri­mary School and im­me­di­ately de­scend on the lo­cal Methodist Youth Cen­tre in Tox­teth, Par­ris dreamed of em­u­lat­ing Fleet­ing. “I’d play foot­ball all night,” she re­mem­bers. “It would just be a whole group of kids from my area. There was an in­door ten­nis court, two goals ei­ther side, and you’d play shooties – you wouldn’t play a match. Two touch, and if the ball goes out your half, it’s the op­po­si­tion’s. Two goals and you’re off.”

She was never in­tim­i­dated shar­ing a pitch with boys of­ten six years older.

“It was never about who was ma­cho, if you were a boy or a girl, how old you were,” she says. “If you were good enough, you’d stay on.”

This sum­mer, Par­ris launched the NP17 Foot­ball Academy, of­fer­ing sports qual­i­fi­ca­tions to stu­dents in her na­tive Liver­pool. She wears her Tox­teth her­itage proudly and her words tum­ble over one an­other as she speaks of the area that “is prob­a­bly the rea­son I am the per­son I am”.

Since the 1981 ri­ots, Tox­teth has found it dif­fi­cult to shirk con­no­ta­tions of un­em­ploy­ment, racial ten­sion, crime and ur­ban dere­lic­tion. Tox­teth was one of the sites of the 2011 ri­ots but Par­ris, born in 1994, found a de­ter­rent in foot­ball from the mo­ment, aged seven, when her neigh­bour in­vited her to the lo­cal field to play. From then, there was lit­tle else.

“You have to sac­ri­fice time with your fam­ily, your time as a teenager,” she says. “You don’t ex­pe­ri­ence life like any other, out­side of foot­ball. When you go to uni, you can’t live the uni life­style. But I’ve never, ever thought about quit­ting foot­ball.

“I knew from a young age what I wanted to do, but that’s not the case for ev­ery­one. Some go through dif­fer­ent paths to reach their desti­na­tion. My academy is all about en­sur­ing they see the op­por­tu­ni­ties – aged seven, 15, 20. It doesn’t re­ally mat­ter, as long as they re­alise what they’re ca­pa­ble of. I think I had a lot of friends that didn’t de­cide to do the right thing early. You’re go­ing to have that in in­ner-city ar­eas – but through me, they re­alised there’s a way for­ward.”

Her roots pro­vide con­stant in­spi­ra­tion, and she holds close “the val­ues in­stilled in me when I first started go­ing to the youth cen­tres: love, sup­port, hard work. I wouldn’t say I got out, be­cause I’m still in it. I go home ev­ery day and my mum still lives in the same house. It’s not one of the most af­flu­ent ar­eas of Liver­pool – some may say it’s de­prived – but we have an abun­dance of love and sup­port.”

Are those suc­cess sto­ries, though, al­ways ac­cepted? Does the cov­er­age de­voted to her City team-mate Ra­heem Ster­ling, for in­stance, and its largely racist sub­text, in­di­cate a prob­lem cel­e­brat­ing the suc­cesses of those from dis­ad­van­taged back­grounds? “I don’t think we have a prob­lem,” Par­ris says. “It’s not a prob­lem we have with deal­ing with these peo­ple. It’s maybe a lack of un­der­stand­ing. If you’ve never been in a sit­u­a­tion, you’re never go­ing to know what gets peo­ple go­ing.”

Par­ris, like Ster­ling, has grown from a move along the M62. “I was a nat­u­ral tal­ent, a raw tal­ent. Then I came to Manch­ester City and I learned philoso­phies.”

City’s women train on a pitch 50 yards from Pep Guardi­ola’s side, but Par­ris first be­came ac­quainted with Ster­ling dur­ing his days at Liver­pool. “He’s lovely. I’d say we’ve both got a sim­i­lar per­son­al­ity: fun-lov­ing, love a joke and a laugh. He’s got good ban­ter – well, it’s all right, but it’s not as good as mine.” Does she think Ster­ling gets up­set at some of the cov­er­age? “That’s not for me to com­ment on.”

To­day, Manch­ester City host an un­beaten Arse­nal side for whom a win would see them pull eight points clear. It will be the big­gest do­mes­tic test of the sea­son for a City side who, Par­ris ad­mits, “started off slowly.”

In the com­ing months, her at­ten­tion will turn to the World Cup. A lot has hap­pened in the 17 months since Par­ris fea­tured in her first ma­jor tour­na­ment, Euro 2017. Does she feel dif­fer­ent from the girl who, last sum­mer, lay awake with nerves on the eve of the squad an­nounce­ment?

“No, I don’t, be­cause I re­mem­ber the feel­ing of get­ting that email at 8am,” she smiles. “I get that feel­ing ev­ery time. I’ll be scrolling through [my in­box], and if it’s not hap­pen­ing, I’ll be reload­ing it, just to make sure I’m in the squad. That feel­ing, for me, has to al­ways stay. Be­cause that shows the hunger and de­sire I have to play for Eng­land. If that feel­ing ever went, I’d be dis­ap­pointed in my­self. That feel­ing should never change.”

Shoot­ing star: Nikita Par­ris and Manch­ester City face an un­de­feated Arse­nal to­day

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