Manchester, ENGLAND – I’d arranged to speak to Manchester City superstar Georgia Stanway at 1:30pm, but the 18-year-old dropped in half an hour early due to having a psychology lesson at half past. Yes, despite being a regular first team player for the FA WSL champions and an England youth international, the teenager is still studying at college and will take her A-Level exams this summer.
It’s a stark reminder of just how young Stanway is considering she already has an FA WSL and Continental Cup title to her name, as well as a senior hat-trick and several Under 17 World Cup appearances for her country.
“It’s just crazy,” says the forward.
Whilst Stanway has just come back from France after appearing in City’s Champions League semi-final against European champions Lyon and is now preparing for the weekend’s SSE Women’s FA Cup final, her friends only have eyes for their impending exams. Yet despite being a determined student, Stanway admits it’s a tough one to juggle.
“It’s been quite hard, to be honest,” she says. “City have been really good and very helpful and I can put my studying around my football. I have a tutor for each subject which is great in an evening and it means I can get some work done after training, it’s hard but I want to do both so it’s up to me how I juggle it.”
Growing up on the Cumbrian coastline as a Newcastle United supporter, Stanway devoted her childhood to football and started kicking a ball around her garden as young as three years old. Playing with boys until she was 11, Stanway’s drive and determination led to her begging her mum to allow her to join Blackburn Rovers, it turned out to be the best decision of her life.
“I used to play with my older brother in his Under 7s team, I had a year out when I was 11 but then I forced my mum to take me to Blackburn – I ended up there for four years.”
Blackburn has become a proving ground for talented young players in the north, Stanway’s City team-mate Keira Walsh also came through the ranks at Rovers, as did recent Liverpool debutant Ali Johnson. So, what’s the secret?
“Blackburn were just very supportive in what they do,” says Stanway. “They play good football and everyone who’s come out of there works hard and wants to achieve things. Blackburn was the nearest Centre of Excellence to me, it was still a two-hour journey but they supported me and made sure I could train in a local club in Barrow [where Stanway grew up] if the travel was too much.
“That was nice when you’re relying on your parents to take you everywhere, my coach was Amanda Goodwin and she worked really hard with me, she worked one on one with me and it was important to build up that relationship with the coach because she wanted the best for me.”
Soon both Stanway – and Walsh – were making a big enough impact in the youth divisions to attract the interest of Nick Cushing and Manchester City. Cushing, a manager devoted to bringing through young English talent, was quick to snap the pair up but not even he could have envisaged the rate of Stanway’s development at such a young age.
Most players can only dream of winning the league and the cup in their whole careers, never mind in one season. The teenager achieved it before she even turned 18 at the start of 2017, allowing her to sign her first professional contract with the club who had shown such faith in her.
Looking back on the past twelve months, Stanway says, “It’s been a year that I’ve dreamed about but never thought could happen so soon, for it all to happen in my first full year whilst I wasn’t even a pro is unbelievable.
“We won the league, the Continental Cup and now we’re in the FA Cup final too. It’s unreal at 18 that all this has happened, to think you’ve been part of the team trying to get to the Champions League final or maybe to play at Wembley - plus the individual stuff I’ve been nominated for too.”
Indeed, Stanway hasn’t been short of individual accolades during her time at Manchester City. Last year the forward was nominated for the BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year award whilst recently she was nominated by her peers for the PFA Young Player of the Year award.
Whilst she lost out on both awards to her fellow colleagues, she’s forever grateful for the recognition but is determined to not let it get in her head.
“I’m not one to flaunt my achievements or make myself bigger than I am, I think of the now and what I want I want to do in the future.
“If things happen they happen for a reason, to get the recognition from the BBC and the PFA is important for me because it shows my hard work is paying off but I’m grounded - I’m just Georgia at the end of the day. I’m just an 18-year-old wanting to achieve their dreams and I’ll do anything to get that.”
Whilst focusing solely on the here and now, the teenager admits sharing a room with the great and good at last year’s Sports Personality of the Year awards ceremony only added to her determination to improve on the pitch.
“It was an unbelievable experience,” she recalls. “It just makes you want to be one of them, nobody knows who you are and everyone’s asking what you’ve been doing so I’d love to turn up one day and people know who I am.
“It would be important for the club and the whole of women’s football if more players get recognised in public like Carli Lloyd does and other City players. It shows you’re working hard and you’re having an impact on the community, I hope I’m helping younger girls achieve their dreams too.”
Cushing brought players like Lloyd – two-time World Player of the Year winner – to help the likes of Stanway with their development and the USA star certainly seems to have had an impact on the youngster.
Almost twice the forward’s age, Lloyd joined the club over the winter on a short-term deal and Stanway admits the World Cup hero is proving to be an inspiration for her.
“I’d love to be like Carli Lloyd, to win major tournaments, to score those goals, to captain your national team but it’s about putting down those stepping stones now to make sure it can happen in the future.
“City are great with their youngsters, they give young people the opportunity and Nick has trust in our ability and our talent and how hard we work. They’ve helped with my development so much, I wouldn’t be where I am now if it wasn’t for this club, I wouldn’t be the player I am if it wasn’t for the players and coaches here. I work so hard and I soak up everything I get told because I want to achieve so much with this team.”
By this point it is clear Stanway’s whole life so far has been pointed towards being a successful footballer. 15 of her 18 years have been dedicated to improving her talent and she admits herself that football is her life.
Whilst many girls her age are getting set to go off to University, Stanway is preparing for her first full year as a professional football and she’s hoping the hard work put in now will reward her in the future.
“My mentality comes from what I want to achieve,” she says. “I’m so driven in what I want to do and if you don’t work hard now you won’t get that. If I do work hard now I’ll get the end product when I’m older.”
Incredibly, whilst juggling life as a pro footballer with her A-Level exams, even at the tender age of 18 Stanway is already eyeing up her coaching badges with a view to a career in football even after she retires.
“It’s important in football to have a backup, if I get my A-Levels I can potentially come back and do Uni in the future.
“I’m going to start my coaching badges for when I retire, you’ve got to have a backup, if I get them done now then I’ve got them forever but it’s definitely for the long term rather than for the next few years!”
She adds, laughing, “I like keeping busy so it keeps me on my toes, everything I do is about football!”
Despite the ups that come with a league and cup double, as well as an unbeaten season, 2016 wasn’t all about success for Stanway and her teammates.
A second defeat in as many seasons to Chelsea in the final minute of the SSE Women’s FA Cup semi-final denied City a chance to walk out at Wembley and denied them a shot at the coveted treble.
“I remember I came on in that game, we lost in the last minute and I remember putting a tweet out saying the dream had died but the fact it’s come around now means it’s alive again.
“We were patient in what we had to do this year, we beat Liverpool in the semi-final and I’m just so excited to be going to Wembley. Those downs make the ups all the sweeter, in life, not everything is a flat road and that obstacle was just one of those we had to get over this season. The aim was to put it right because who doesn’t want to win at Wembley?”
Things would take another turn just days before City prepared to welcome Arsenal in the semi-finals of the Continental Cup at the start of September when former City midfielder Zoe Tynan passed away shortly after leaving the club.
At just 18, Tynan’s sudden death sent shockwaves around the women’s football community and set-up what was to be an emotional day in Manchester as City beat their rivals 1-0 to book themselves a spot in the final.
As someone who knew Tynan well, Stanway says it was important that the team handled the week in the right way.
“There was a lot of emotion in that game but we handled it really well, it was important to handle it well at that time. There are always ups and downs in football, no matter what team you are, the more experienced players make sure we’re all ok, we’re just here to play football and football is often over-complicated.
“We took each game as it came at us, it was hard to distract us after that, every single one of us is so determined and we make sure every second and every minute counts and it was clear to see last season that helped us in the difficult moments.”
Such a mentality is now engrained in the minds of every City player, many of whom had experienced plenty of success before arriving at the club and all of them have had a large taste of it since.
Whilst the Champions League has evaded them, the cup final at Wembley looms large and Stanway says the squad are pushing each other all the time.
SEE ALSO: IBWM SPEAKS TO BIRMINGHAM CITY LADIES AHEAD OF THE SSE WOMEN'S FA CUP FINAL
“We want to win everything,” she states. “We’re so competitive within our own environment and it’s important we get the best out of each individual. You have to make sure you learn something every day, everyone is going to face things along the way but once you’ve faced it you’ll come out as a better team.”
As well as success on a domestic level, Stanway will now have one eye on the impending Under 19 European Championships to be held in Northern Ireland this coming August.
After starring in the Under 17 World Cup in Jordan last year, the teenager has now made the step up to Mo Marley’s Under 19 squad and has already been around certain players for nearly five years.
“I’ve been with the likes of Alessia Russo and Lotte Wubben-Moy for over four years, we’ve got a great relationship there and it’s good to have to people to talk to, everyone’s on the same path to success and everyone has the support of their fellow teammates.
“Even though they’re a long way away at times, we’re always on the phone and it’s important if you want to win things that you already have those relationships in place, it makes it so much easier.”
In Marley, Stanway is now working semi-regularly with one of the most respected coaches in England and there’s no lack of desire when it comes to eyeing up a future with the senior national team.
“The Under 19s is another challenge,” says Stanway. “The girls are a bit older and I’m playing against players who are both physically and mentally stronger than I am but as a team we are so driven to achieve our dreams. We want to win the Euro’s and we want to go and win the Under 20 World Cup in France next year, I think Mo will be a real influence on my development because she’s so experienced, one day I want to make the England seniors so I’ll take in everything she tells me.”
Whilst keeping her feet firmly on the ground, it’s clear Stanway has dedicated a lot of time into planning her future, both with Manchester City and the national team.
Stanway is already looking past her playing career with a view to going into coaching or going to University but she admits occasionally she has to take a step back and drink it all in.
“I’ve thought long and hard about it and how I’ve ended up here, what could have happened. It’s so hard because sometimes you question if you’re good enough to be here around these players but I’m so happy with what I’ve achieved so far.”
She adds, “Sometimes I need to remember I’m only 18 and I’ve got plenty of years ahead of me, right now I’m enjoying my football, now I just need to find my feet and get myself in the starting eleven as much as I can…”
By Rich Laverty, IBWM Senior Writer. Image credit goes fully to Tom Flathers, Manchester City FC.