On Wednesday night Lucy Graham captained Everton to victory over Birmingham City as they secured a place in the FA Cup Final.
With hundreds of thousands of people tuned in to watch the match, Graham has come a long way from trying to hit a painted white dot on a wall in Fife as a youngster.
As well as captaining Everton, the 23-year-old is hoping to cement a regular spot in the national team, having amassed six caps and impressing earlier this year in three victories in Spain at the Pinatar Cup.
During UEFA Grassroots Week, Lucy Graham reflected on her time growing up playing football and her first experiences of kicking a ball.
Lucy, what are your earliest memories of playing football?
I started playing in the streets with friends when I was about seven years old and I was always active as a kid, whatever the weather. I grew up in a typical council estate environment in a small town in Fife called Ballingry, which I really enjoyed.
In estates like mine you just have blocks of houses and they were filled with kids my age. It was back in the day when kids always played outside and we would constantly be in the streets kicking the ball about.
I lived opposite a community centre which is knocked down now and that makes me sad. There was always something going on there, and then close to that there was a horrendous AstroTurf where I learned to play football. It wasn’t like the good 4G stuff you get now. This was a padded, sandy surface that would tear your skin off if you fell on it. That’s been demolished as well.
My house also backed onto a field where amateur football would be played so I naturally gravitated towards loving the game, to the point where I played it every day.
I would walk to school kicking the ball, play football at break time and then when school finished I would rush home to play it again. I’ve been obsessed ever since I first kicked a ball.
Did you play mostly with boys when you started out? What was that like?
Until I had to join a girls team at 13 I was the only female I knew who actually played football. There were a few who joined in but it wasn’t like they took it seriously. One of them would be doing a handstand in the corner and the other would be doing a cartwheel across the pitch.
I started at Cowdenbeath Central Boys Club when I was about eight and I was there for five years. As a girl I felt I had to earn respect right away. I would turn up and I could hear them saying ‘I’m not wanting a girl on my team’, I’m not passing to her’. Once I skipped by them a few times and knocked them over they soon realised I played just like them.
You must feel a lot of pride in being a role model for younger girls and boys in Ballingry?
You can never forget your roots. All the young kids in that estate are playing football on the exact same place I did, booting a ball against the same wall that still has the same white dot that I spent hours trying to hit.
My friends call me the local celebrity when I’m back home as everywhere I go in Ballingry there’s always people who come and talk to me about my football. For me, I’ll always be the wee girl playing at the local AstroTurf and I find it humbling that people might see me as a role model.
In the summer I was back home and there were young kids who were chapping my Dad’s door and asking me to come out to play. I was out there like a shot as I know if I was their age and there was a professional footballer living in the same street, I’d be the first to knock the door. They were asking me all the questions. It was great fun.
You must be proud of the journey you’ve been on, from kicking a ball against a wall in Fife to now being captain of Everton?
I’m proud of how far I’ve come and how far I can still go but it’s not just me that’s put in the hard work, there are so many other people who’ve propelled me to where I am now. I wouldn’t have gone anywhere without my support network.
When I first started out I remember my Gran taking me on the bus to this little sports shop on the local high street. She got me a wee pair of red and black Puma Kings and that’s where it all started.
In October Scotland are back in action against Albania and Finland. How eager are you to pull on that strip again?
Playing for my country is the pinnacle for me. Breaking into the national team has evaded me for a few years but more recently I’ve become involved and I’m really happy about that.
I just want to stay involved and give me best. I have so much to give and I want to help us get to the Euros. When the September camp was cancelled I was really disappointed as I was desperate to get back into camp. For it to be delayed that little bit longer, we’re keen to hit the ground running. It’ll be a busy schedule but I prefer that.