Karen Carney exclusive: How the Euros changed my life - and who will be England's star this summer

·4 min read
Karen Carney exclusive: How the Euros changed my life - and who will be England's star this summer - GETTY IMAGES
Karen Carney exclusive: How the Euros changed my life - and who will be England's star this summer - GETTY IMAGES

It was 2005 the last time England hosted a home Women's Euros, and a little known 17-year-old from Birmingham stole the show on the opening night. Fresh-faced, twinkle-toed winger Karen Carney's stoppage-time strike gave England a 3-2 victory over Finland that set the crowd – and the competition – alight.

"I was this little skinny kid who was coming on the scene, and the tournament definitely changed my life," she reflects now. That moment at the Etihad Stadium, as it is now known, came just four months after Carney's England debut. She would go on to win 144 caps for her country.

"That [goal] catapulted my career really," she tells Telegraph Sport. "I was unknown and it was my favourite tournament, an unbelievable summer in '05. I remember people wearing our jerseys, walking down the streets, and there was a massive buzz."

A large proportion of that buzz was thanks to the excitement caused by Carney's match-winning display at what was then known as the City of Manchester Stadium. This summer's opening match, being held just four miles down the road at Old Trafford, will be a sellout and Carney expects an exponential increase on the interest that she and her team-mates experienced.

"Seeing the sport's growth since then, and given that the reaction was crazy back then, think about how big it will be this summer. It's ridiculous. If someone does that [bursts onto the scene] this summer then I think it will change them as well. It's a great opportunity. It will be an absolutely phenomenal summer."

There is nobody in the current England team quite as young as Carney, but the now retired former Arsenal, Chelsea and Birmingham City star doesn't need long to think when asked who will be the Lionesses' breakout star this July.

Karen Carney retired from football in 2019 having being capped 144 times for England - AFP
Karen Carney retired from football in 2019 having being capped 144 times for England - AFP

"I think it'll be Lauren Hemp. She'll be the standout star. She's got ridiculous pace. She's exciting, gets the crowd going and she'll grab people's hearts.

"She grabbed my heart when she came into the squad for the 2019 She Believes Cup in the USA, to get some tournament exposure. She is just so normal, such a lovely girl.

"The way I bonded with her in the camp back then was by asking her what her favourite biscuit is – hers is a custard cream. So I always say to her: 'If you get Player of the Tournament, I'll buy a bunch of custard creams!' She's just such a normal kid, she's a great human.

"On the pitch she picks the ball up and you're like: 'Oooh'. She's an entertainer. But she'll be marked, because people know about her. But if there's one who can give something different for us, it's Lauren Hemp. She has a great future ahead of her."

Lauren Hemp has started all three of England's Euro 2022 warm-up matches - GETTY IMAGES
Lauren Hemp has started all three of England's Euro 2022 warm-up matches - GETTY IMAGES

Whatever happens in July, Carney – now a pundit on the men and women's game – is confident of womens' football's future prospects. Since the move to professionalism in England, things have transformed immeasurably from the days when Carney says she struggled to afford to pay for a flight home while playing in America a little over a decade ago.

"For so long, women's football was a vicious circle. You couldn't train properly full-time so then nobody wanted to sponsor it.

"Now we've flipped it and we've gone big, so we've enabled the players to be full-time, so now the product looks good, so now sponsors want to get involved. So now it's a virtuous circle.

"This summer the TV viewing figures will go through the roof. I want to sit down after the final feeling sad that the tournament is over and go: 'Wow, that was epic.' I hope we make people fall in love with it."

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