In the 65th minute of her side's opening game at the FIFA Women’s U-20 World Cup Canada 2014, Martha Harris latched onto a rebound in the area following a poor clearance by the Korea Republic keeper. England were behind at that point and had been pressing for an equaliser for some time, and thanks to the opportunism of the young defender, it duly arrived. Just as a classic No9 knows exactly where to be in order to finish a move, Harris saw the opportunity – and made the most of it.
In the stands of the Moncton Stadium, two spectators were particularly jubilant as they celebrated the Three Lions’ leveller. Glen and Debra, Martha’s parents, could not have been more proud. Minutes earlier, FIFA.com had witnessed their excitement as their daughter made her debut at the showpiece event in Canada.
“Martha is the first of our children to play in a World Cup, and we weren’t going to miss it. We're so proud of her. Megan, the eldest, has already played in the Women’s Super League in England, like Martha, but this is even better,” said her happy father, patriarch of a true footballing family.
Football in their blood
“We have three girls and a boy – and all four play football,” Debra explained. “Liam, the youngest, is 16 and plays at the Lincoln Academy. Martha’s twin sister also plays, although more for fun, and Megan gave up when she became pregnant with twins.” With so many footballers in the house, it is not hard to imagine how, years earlier, balls would often smash vases or windows at the family home. “When they were little there were always arguments between them because they were all very competitive – and Martha always wanted to win,” Glen recalled.
The first football pitch for Martha and her siblings was the back garden at home, which came at a price. “It was impossible to plant anything, there was just no way,” Debra added, without a hint of reproach despite enduring a garden littered with balls and goal posts but with no sign of a petunia or even a bunch of daisies.
“That’s where it all started. She played a lot with her siblings. She practiced, she worked hard, she was good… and look where we are now,” said Glen, former coach of Lincoln Ladies and current sporting director at the club’s Centre of Excellence. So who better than her very first coach to talk about the qualities of the girl recently named Best Young Player in the English Women’s Super League.
“I’d say she has a lot of vision, tenacity, she’s strong and fast in the tackle and she has a good touch. I’d like it if she went forward more, but that also depends on the tactical formation. Let’s see if she can do that today. She’s a very good crosser,” he said before the game.
A striker at heart
Those words turned out to be prophetic, because on her World Cup debut against the Koreans, Martha Harris got forward, tracked back, was strong in the tackle - even clean when she had to be - and put in some good crosses. One of those led to one of England’s best chances as Katie Zelem shot against the crossbar, and in the second half, she capped it all by scoring. It is unusual to see a defender so well positioned and attentive with a rebound, but Martha is not your average defender, as Glen explained to us beforehand. “Up until two years ago, when she began to play as a full-back, she had always been a striker,” he said.
After the point earned in the first match and with a draw in the other Group C clash, England’s hopes of making the second round remain intact. Glen and Debra will be present again in the stands to cheer on the Three Lions against Mexico, and they may even need to make plans to cross Canada in the coming weeks, leading up to the final on August 24. “We plan to be here for the whole tournament,” Glen said, before adding with a smile: “Let’s see what happens.”