It sounds like the tagline for a must-watch film: “A little girl from Toxteth who chased and caught her dream. Princess status with a Cinderella working-class attitude.”
The heroine is Lionesses forward Nikita Parris, and the man who came up with the back-of-the-book worthy blurb is Earl Jenkins, the coach who first laid eyes on the striker when, aged seven, she joined Liverpool side Kingsley United and started playing with the boys.
Some might think the girl who once wore out her VHS of Bend It Like Beckham after one too many re-watches would relish her individual efforts paying off when England play in Sunday’s Euro 2022 final at Wembley.
Not so, suspects Jenkins, who suggested even a trophy would immediately turn the striker’s mind back to the club – and the people – where it all started.
“I think she’ll feel stronger about what this means for others rather than herself if I’m honest. Not that she won’t be proud, just that she feels strongly about what this means to her family name, friends, the community. She is the most accomplished player we have ever produced,” he told the PA news agency.
Parris, remembers Jenkins, was a “great little character” from day one, “cheeky but not disrespectful, just comedic” and excelled on the pitch, showing early natural prowess in dribbling and attacking, never afraid to take plays on.
But Parris soon faced an early setback: she had outgrown the age when girls could play alongside boys. Determined to stay local, she did what any enterprising young footballer would: start a Kingsley United girls’ side, recruiting friends, cousins, classmates and anyone else who looked like they could kick a ball about.
it’s from the area that we’re from, Liverpool 8, and she’s very proud of that.”
“She wanted to play for Kingsley,” confirmed Jenkins. “She could have gone to other teams, it wouldn’t have been an issue. They would have all taken her, but the loyalty which still rings true today was the loyalty towards Kingsley, because it’s from the area that we’re from, Liverpool 8, and she’s very proud of that.”
That devotion has remained consistent since the now-28-year-old was scouted by Everton, where she was playing for the first team by age 16 before signing with Manchester City in 2016 — the same year she made her England debut.
A three-year spell at Lyon followed before her July 2021 transfer to Arsenal.
Despite her exponential rise in the game, said Jenkins, Parris is “at the end of a telephone any time any day. If I ask her what she is doing on a certain day, she would ask where she needs to be”.
It is why, he said, that Cinderella spirit will shine through on Sunday, no matter how many minutes she plays or which way the scoreline ultimately stands.
He added: “She said something the other day about always taking a piece of Toxeth with her wherever she goes, and I believe she does that.
“We feel like the reverse of that is true as well, like we’re with her when she’s reaching the heights that she does, and we definitely feel like we’re backing her there and supporting her. It would mean an awful lot to everybody. She’s the type of person who makes sure that she uses her platform for others rather than just herself.
“I know that sounds really cheesey but honestly that is her. That is the person she is.”