England Lionesses providing inspiration locally for women's football hopefuls with World Cup progress

England are looking to follow up their quarter-final victory over Norway with a win over the USA to reach the Women's World Cup final in France Picture: John Walton/PA

England are looking to follow up their quarter-final victory over Norway with a win over the USA to reach the Women's World Cup final in France Picture: John Walton/PA

PA Wire/PA Images

The popularity of women's football is hitting new heights in our region, as the country prepares to cheer on England against the USA in the semi-finals of the Women's World Cup.

The Lionesses face the defending champions tonight (8pm) looking to go a step further than four years ago, when a cruel injury-time own goal handed Japan victory in the semi-finals.

North Walsham star Lauren Hemp, who plays for Manchester City, didn't quite make the squad for the finals in France - having helped Phil Neville's squad win the SheBelieves Cup in the US earlier this year. Yet the 18-year-old is one of the players who can help inspire local youngsters to believe they could one day turn professional.

Harry Diggens is development officer for the women's and girls' game at the Norfolk Football Association's, and says the standards locally have risen rapidly in recent years thanks to girls playing the game from primary school age.

"There's growth coming from all areas now, I get a number of enquiries every day around joining in and seeing what opportunities are available," he explained.

"Youth football was the FA's hit nationally as they identified there was nationally a gap in provision, in that not enough girls aged five to 11 were playing football. When you look at the male game there are under-six and under-seven sides, whereas in this county traditionally girls didn't start playing until they were 11."

Locally it is Norwich City Ladies playing at the highest level of women's football, at step four of the national pyramid, a step above Wymondham and Wroxham - who have just merged with Acle United.

While at the top level Hemp is joined by Aimee Palmer, who plays for Manchester United, and Flo Allen, who is with fellow Women's Super League team Bristol City.

Diggens continued: "I think the big thing that hit me is that when the last game was on, I was at home and I knew it was on TV and my mum and dad were like 'shall we watch it?' and I thought that was great because you would never have had that a couple of years ago.

"So there's definitely a change that we're seeing and it's taken time, but the World Cup is definitely helping to inspire and impact the individuals that are following the game, so it's helped us massively."

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