West Ham United Women’s players Lucy Parker and Sophie Hillyerd, first-team coach Danielle Bowman and General Manager Aidan Boxall visited the students at Lee Chapel Primary School in Essex earlier this month.
The visit was off the back of the Lee Chapel students representing West Ham United Foundation at a Premier League Primary Stars (PLPS) girls’ tournament in October, where they delivered their own video rendition of the popular ‘West Ham is massive’ chant.
“It’s incredible to be able to do this,” said Hillyerd. “When I was younger, I don’t remember being visited by any female athletes, especially with football, so I think it’s good to show them that growing up, they can do whatever they want to do, whether it be football, or any other sport.”
Premier League Primary Stars uses the appeal of the Premier League and professional football clubs to inspire children to learn, be active and develop important life skills. It aims to inspire children aged five to eleven in the classroom, the playground and on the sports field.
Prior to the players’ visit, the girls from Lee Chapel Primary School travelled to Brentford to compete in the PLPS event. In a field consisting of ten other London clubs, the girls finished the tournament in an impressive third place. To celebrate their achievement, the girls recorded a video chanting ‘West Ham is massive’ which West Ham United’s women’s team engaged with.
“There was a great feeling around the school in the lead up to the event,” said year four teacher Adrian Summerfield. “I was constantly being asked questions by the children about the visit which shows me how excited they were to meet the players. As the players entered the school theatre, it was amazing to see them bouncing with excitement.”
Parker, Hillyerd, Bowman and Boxall were keen to get involved with the group and congratulate them for their efforts both on and off the pitch. So, as part of the surprise the group joined hundreds of students in the school assembly hall and answered questions from the children about their career journeys and the challenges they have faced breaking into the professional scene.
“It’s all about representation,” said Parker. “It’s about showing the kids that being a professional female player is a viable career. The more they can see us in these positions, that’s the important work we need to do.”
In the slew of surprises, the women’s team delivered a video from some of their teammates at the training ground congratulating the school’s girls’ team once again and inviting them to be mascots for this week’s Continental Cup fixture against Birmingham City.
“It’s amazing to see so many young people that are so into women’s football and supporting us!” exclaimed Hillyerd. “They had loads of questions which was great, and it shows just how much work we’re doing to make the game bigger.”
After Parker and Hillyerd handed out the matchday invites to all the team members, the girls collected autographs from staff and players alike.
“Our pupils left the school very excited which we hope will inspire them to join one of our many after-school sports clubs or an external sports club,” confirmed Summerfield. “In particular, I'm expecting to see more girls joining our after-school girls football club.”
The visit formed part of the Club’s Players’ Project and Boxall felt it was a crucial part of inspiring the local community to fulfil their potential, growing the fanbase of the women’s game and encouraging the expansion of women’s football in the area as the team looks to develop homegrown talent.
“We’re really keen to develop players in our community and have them represent our first team,” said Boxall. “The long-term strategy is to have up to 50 per cent of our team coming from Essex and east London and we hope we can achieve that. As we’re going out to different schools, clubs and partnerships, we’re starting to see more girls playing so we realise there’s a lot of talent in the area and we hope that they can be inspired by things like today and push on and progress into our first team.”
To learn more about the Foundation’s PLPS delivery or its wider work, please contact [email protected] or visit the Foundation area on the West Ham United website.