England and Chelsea right-back Niamh Charles, now 24, began her career at an early age on the Wirral in Merseyside.
Charles spent her youth at the West Kirby Wasps and excelled as the only female on the pitch, playing against boys up to the age of 14.
“Playing in boys’ teams growing up was all I knew so I can’t really compare it to anything else but I loved it,” she said.
“Some of the things that I had to learn as the boys got older and stronger and some of the things that I had to adapt and grow about my game have helped me now in terms of the physical side of football. I wouldn’t change playing for boys’ teams because I really liked it.”
After that success at the junior level, Charles became a member of Liverpool’s FC Academy youth setup and found himself climbing the ranks.
She made her Women’s Super League debut at just 16 and appeared 59 times for Liverpool, scoring 11 goals, but left the club following their relegation and signed for Chelsea in 2020, where manager Emma Hayes has hailed her as “tenacious” and a “willing competitor”.
She has since won back-to-back doubles with the Blues and started in the Champions League Final against Barcelona in 2021, aged just 21.
She has also represented England at under-17, under-19 and under-20 levels.
In 2018 at the Under-20s World Cup, Charles made an impression as she helped the young Lionesses win bronze. That same year, she was voted “Rising Star” at the North-West Football Awards.
Her debut for the senior side came in a friendly against France in 2021 and she has since added six more caps, a total she will be seeking to increase further in Australia and New Zealand this summer.