Electric atmosphere at Lauren Hemp's football home as England win Euros
- Credit: PA
Norfolk's Lauren Hemp and her teammates are the toast of England after the Lionesses' stunning victory in the UEFA Women's Euro 2022 final.
Hemp, 21 and from North Walsham, played a pivotal role in the win against Germany, England's first major international cup victory since 1966.
The atmosphere was electric at North Walsham Football Club's clubhouse, where more than 100 people had gathered to watch the hometown hero fulfil the dreams of a nation.
The North Walsham gathering was a family affair - parents, club stalwarts and a lot of children, together making about as much noise as the 87,000-strong crowd at Wembley itself.
But this was another family as well - the footballing family of Lauren Hemp. The town where she grew up, the pitches she played on, the people who cheered her on all the way and the youngsters she inspires today.
Time and time again the forward took charge of the ball, powering down the pitch and giving her all to create chances in the tightly-fought, yet goalless first half.
Robyn Burgess, 16, who plays for the club, was nervous at the half-time break, but knew England had what it took to win.
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Of Hemp, Robyn said: "She's been really good, always available, you can see that Germany are looking out for her. When she got the ball and moved past two German players it was excellent.
"England have been very strong with their attack but both teams are very strong in their own way."
But When Ella Toone's goal came in the 61st minute, the room erupted in a drawn-out roar, a chorus of "It's coming home" soon followed.
Hemp kept creating chances, then came the big moment. After 110 minutes of football and deep into extra time, Hemp took the corner, placing the ball perfectly in the box for teammate Chloe Kelly to score.
Josh Roper, who coached Hemp when she played for North Walsham's Under 16 boys', wept tears of joy.
"It's unbelievable," he said. "The fact Lauren played almost every minute is amazing. We were hoping they would win it, but it coming in extra time makes it all the more special.
"This is massive for girls' football, and for the game in general."
A star from the start: Hemp's gifts shone through early on
Lauren Hemp's on-pitch brilliant was clear from a young age, according to those who watched her mature into a top-class player at North Walsham Town, the Angels, her former club.
A football-mad youngster, Hemp joined the club's girl's Under 7s team and moved up to the Under 8s, before she was picked up by Norwich City's academy programme when she was nine.
She stayed there till she was 15, when an academy restructure meant she could play for an outside club.
So Hemp returned to North Walsham, and her outstanding skills and speed meant she was put on the boys' Under 16s side.
Josh Roper, who coached and refereed her, said: "It was clear she was destined for big things, even against the boys, she was physically stronger and quicker than a lot of them.
"She was gifted at football but what made the difference was her commitment off the pitch. You could regularly see her running around town.
"I remember when I coaching another team, looking over and seeing her on the track, running laps on her own, timing herself. She had that dedication."
Hemp went onto play for Bristol City and Manchester City, and first played at a national level for England's Under 17 side, known as the Young Lionesses.
Mr Roper said after he saw Hemp kick six goals in an academy cup final, he said to friends and family he would have been "very surprised" if she did not end up on the national team.
He said: "Everyone at the club knew she was destined for good things, but we were quite taken back by how quickly she's developed.
"I think they're going to build a team around her for years to come and she'll be a key player for England."
Hemp's performance in this year's UEFA Women's Euro Cup has won her nothing but praise, and with plenty of time ahead to develop - she turns 22 next week - the best is surely yet to come.