Legend in the Making: Hannah Hampton

Legend in the Making: Hannah Hampton

Hannah Hampton is living proof that glass ceilings can be smashed, as there are no limits to what you can achieve when you chase your dreams.

January 19th 2022

Hannah Hampton is the future of goalkeeping in the women's game. Facts.

The Aston Villa goalkeeper has more Women's Super League experiences than most seasoned veterans and she's still only 21-years-old. The very definition of: 'age is nothing but a number'. Greatness knows no bounds, and Hampton is here to make her mark on the world of women's football regardless of being one of the youngest keepers in the Women's Super League.

Born in Birmingham, Hampton notched up 50 appearances for the Blues and made her first senior appearance for the Midlands' team at just 15. Under the tutelage of Marc Skinner and Carla Ward, she's gone from strength to strength between the sticks, and has even caught the attention of World Cup winning manager and Lionesses' Head Coach Sarina Wiegman. With the Euros around the corner - followed by a World Cup in 2023 - Hampton is already looking to don the coveted No.1 shirt.

But it isn't just her performances on the pitch that have fans singing Hampton's praises, as the youngster has overcome serious adversity on her way to the top. The Villains' keeper has no depth perception, which means she cannot judge distances accurately - a skill vital for goalkeeping. She was told she'd never be able to play sport growing up because of her vision, but has since gone on to prove doubters wrong by playing football in one of toughest leagues in the world.

VERSUS sat down with the young baller to talk about her time growing up and playing football with boys in Spain, her switch from striker to keeper and what her hopes are for the future of women's football.

VERSUS: So, you go from goal scorer to shot-stopper. How did that transition come about?

Hannah Hampton: It’s a bit of a classic football training story really! The goalie got injured in the warm-up, so I volunteered to go in goal thinking it’d be a bit of fun at the time! But then I obviously stayed in that position for a lot longer than I thought I would.

During that game, I was playing against Liverpool for Stoke, and there was an England scout who happened to be at the game. Afterwards, he came over to my coach and said: “we want you for England!” I couldn’t really believe it to be honest.

The following week we were playing against Manchester United, but this time I was playing in an outfield position. There was a different England scout on the sidelines at this game…

Wait…no!

Yeah! He came over to me and said: “we want you to play as a striker for England!” So I had to make a decision there and then in a way. I thought, I’ve played one game in goal and they clearly think I’m naturally very good at it, maybe I’m just meant to be a goalie! And the rest was history as they say.

That is a crazy story! It’s as if fate had a huge part to play there.

I’m not going to lie, I had a complete worldie of a game in goal when that first scout came along!

Did you? I’m glad you can find it quite funny!

Oh yeah! I made this triple shot type save, it was mad. I knew when saving the initial goal – it was a fairly simple shot by the way – that I really wanted to make the most of it, so pushed the ball out to another striker running into the box, saved it again and did the same for a third time.

“There were so many pioneers of the women’s game that helped to pathe the way for the younger generation of players. Players like me.”

Well, it obviously worked. You spent some time in Spain growing up and playing for Villareal. How important was that move to your development as a player?

Massive! When I think about my strengths as a keeper nowadays, one of them is my distribution. The Spanish philosophy is one of constant movement, and that’s really helped me a lot as a keeper. Footballers in Spain are two-footed, it’s a really important part of their game and because of that, I’m not afraid to use my feet as a keeper or to play out from the back when needed. My favourite kind of football is tiki-taka football!

Even as a keeper?

Yeah! A lot of teams try to press and isolate the keeper, and it’s always great to surprise players with my feet as they don’t often think highly of keepers in that particular area. I love to pop the ball around sometimes! My time in Spain has helped to hone my skills massively, and I’m really appreciative of the time I got to spend there, but there are still so many different skills I want to learn to help improve my game between the sticks.

You got your first taste of senior football under Marc Skinner, and signed your first professional contract at 18. Talk to me about that.

I came up to the first team when I was 15, became pro at 18 like you said and left when I was 20. I spent five years of my life at City, it was a really important time for me as a player and a person. As soon as I could, I signed my pro-contract. The club organised it as a birthday present, which made it even more special.

How did it feel to become pro at such a young age? I mean, you’re still only 21! But to have achieved something monumental at 18, it must have felt unbelievable. Especially when so many players before you never had the opportunity to reach that milestone.

It was really special, but I didn’t really appreciate it at the time because I was so young, and you don’t really understand the history of the women’s game sometimes at that age. Or you don’t really think about or reflect on it.

At that age, I actually thought that being a footballer was something that women could do as a job for a really long time! But actually, there were so many pioneers of the women’s game that helped to pave the way for the younger generation of players. Players like me. We are now lucky enough to play football as a full-time job and not have to work a second job in order to achieve our dreams. We are very fortunate it isn’t like that anymore, and we can just focus on playing the game we love.

“I’ve always been a really big believer in following your dreams. I was told I could never play sports, let alone be a professional athlete.”

Is it something you knew you wanted to do growing up?

To be honest, I personally didn’t think I’d be able to be a professional footballer. I remember having a conversation with my parents in Spain about it when I was a lot younger, and I asked them: “do you think I’ll be able to play for England one day?”

How old were you when you asked that question?

About six or seven-years-old. We’d just watched the Spanish national team play, so I asked that question because I genuinely didn’t know there was a women’s national team in England. I didn’t know any women’s teams in England really!

Also, when we were living in Spain, I’d only ever played football with boys, and I just thought that was completely ‘normal’. I never really thought any differently about that!

As a family, we always go back to when I asked whether or not I could play for England, and talk about how far women’s football has come in the space of fifteen years or so.

Someone that has helped to move the women’s game forward is Carla Ward, and you spent quite a long time with her at Birmingham City before moving to Aston Villa. Again to be coached by her! How big of a role did she have in that move?

I think as a coach she had a really big role in the Villa transfer, mainly because I already knew what type of manager she was.

I knew her style of play, how she’d go about making sure I would develop and what kind of football we’d be playing under her. And I wanted to stay around the area for a bit longer, so at the time it just seemed like the perfect fit for me really!

The talent they’ve got at the club and their ambition were big factors in me joining as well. I thought they were going in the right direction as a club, and it was exciting to potentially be a part of that journey.

You get to play with the legend that is Anita Asante too!

She is the ‘Knowledge Queen’! Every single time I need help with work outside of football, I go to Neetz. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked her: “is this literacy correct?” And she’ll read over it and tell me whether or not something needs changing! Everyone will go to Neetz if they need help or advice.

She’s been in the game for about 20 years as well. What a person to learn from.

I know! Sometimes we can’t believe it! We tell her: “Whatever you’re doing, just keep doing it!” She’s got about another five years left in her we think! We keep asking what her secret is, she is absolutely incredible.

“I think being at a club, where players didn’t necessarily get a lot has definitely helped me to be more appreciative of things.”

You’ve spoken really openly recently about your vision and how that’s impacted your journey as a professional footballer. I remember reading last year – on an everyday basis for example – you might struggle to pour yourself a glass of water because of your vision. Is that true?

If I pour myself a glass of water, I need to hold the glass otherwise I am going to spill the water everywhere. And I do that all the time! The reason why that happens is because I’ve got no depth perception, so me being a goalkeeper shouldn’t really work in theory.

How has it shaped you as a person and a player?

I think it’s helped me realise that when people say you can’t do things, you absolutely can do them if you believe in yourself and really want to give things a go!

I’ve always been a really big believer in following your dreams. I was told I could never play sports, let alone be a professional athlete. Hopefully my journey can prove to others that you can do whatever you set your mind to. And that’s what I really want people to take away from my experiences, and I’ll never stop telling people to follow their dreams.

You’ve definitely followed your dreams and now get to play football with some of the game’s best players. Is it true you spent most of your time at the last England camp ‘fangirling’?

I genuinely think I am the biggest fangirl in football!

When I am at camp, I tell people: “I know how many goals you’ve scored, who you’ve scored them against…” A couple of months ago I proved it in-person when I was able to tell Keira (Walsh) there and then when she made her England debut.

I got really excited when I got to go for a coffee with Jill (Scott)! And then I got to have even more chats with her and so many others at camp! You’ve got to love what you do, and I really respect those players as they’ve helped to make the game what it is today.

Who was one your biggest idols growing up?

I didn’t actually know alot about the women’s game growing up, so didn’t really have any female role models but as soon as I was in the England set-up, someone I really looked up to was Carly Telford.

Everything she’d been through, and the setbacks she’d experienced just made me really relate to her because I felt like our pathways, or journeys, were fairly similar. So whenever I was at camp I would always ask her questions if given half a chance to do so! I’d watch the way she did things and would try to copy her style. I loved her to bits, and she was so nice as well.

“I hope that the gap between clubs becomes smaller so that it’s more of an equal playing field across the league.”

You got to play with Ann-Katrin Berger at Birmingham City as well, another fantastic keeper to learn from.

She is ridiculous! I am surprised she doesn’t have more caps for her national team. I am so surprised by that, because when we were at Birmingham I was actually starstruck by some of the things she could do. She really helped me to develop as a keeper.

She taught me a lot of little tricks you can learn in the game that helped me a lot. Sometimes as a keeper you can feel a little isolated from the rest of the team, so you try to make an effort to speak to the outfielders to try and learn their inside jokes, and be in on the chat in general really. Ann always made an effort to come over to me and ask how I was doing, and made sure I was settling into the first team environment alright. I don’t think she realises how much of an impact she’s had on me really. I am grateful for the support she gave me during that time.

For someone so young, you’ve worked with some unbelievable players and coaches!

I know. I have been really lucky with the people I’ve had the opportunity to work with in the women’s game.

It seems like you haven’t taken it for granted either?

No way, I don’t think you can. I think what’s really helped is being at a club where you don’t necessarily get a lot.

When you go away to an England camp, or you play with a club that’s considered to be a ‘step up’ for example, you don’t really consider all the little things and can sometimes take things for granted. I try really hard not to do that.

At the start of COVID – when I was at Birmingham City – we weren’t allowed to have access to the changing rooms so we had to put our boots and kit in the car. Our cars would absolutely stink! But at Villa, we were allowed to leave our boots and kit at the training ground. Just really small touches like that can sometimes make all the difference.

I think being at a club, where players didn’t always get a lot has definitely helped me to be more appreciative of things.

What do you hope for the future of women’s football off the back of that anecdote?

I hope that the gap between clubs becomes smaller so that it’s more of an equal playing field across the league.

Other than that, I just want the game to keep growing! I want more engagement from fans, more supporters in stadiums and I think with the home Euros this summer, the game will get a lot more exposure – I think our Old Trafford game has already sold out! It’s going to be great to play in an environment like that. I can’t wait to be a part of it.

Photography by Akira Trees.