Goal machine Olivia Simpson (10) is the youngest prospect to feature in the Guardian’s Sports Stars of the Future series so far.
Simpson is also the first footballer to be featured after her exploits with Norfolk team Firside Foxes Under-11s last season when she helped them to a league and cup double with 28 goals in just 12 games.
It was a season marred by illness when Simpson was told to stay away from the game for ten weeks, but also one that saw her crowned players’ player of the season and invited to be a mascot for a charity game at Norwich City’s Carrow Road ground.
Simpson said: “We were 1-0 up in the Under-11s Cup final against North Walsham after I scored for Firside.
“Then in the second half, it became 1-1 and the game went to extra-time when my friend scored the winner.
“My mum, dad and brother Josh were quite proud and as a treat, I went to see the FA Women’s Cup final at Milton Keynes where Arsenal won against Everton.”
Simpson’s football story started as a toddler when she had regular kickabouts in the family garden with her brother Josh (14) who is starting the new football season in goal for Fishtoft Under-15s after a move from Holbeach United Tigers.
Mum and dad, Darren and Jayne, were being hounded by their daughter who wanted to join a junior team just like her brother.
Darren, of Holbeach and an ex-goalkeeper with Wisbech Town, said: “Olivia asked us if she could play football but there were no teams around here.
“She went on and on until I said ‘if a team starts up around here, you can play.’
“Olivia joined Holbeach United Tigers Under-7s and then Under-8s when she was noticed by Rob Gifford who managed the Wisbech Acorns team.”
At first, Simpson’s parents turned down a move to the Fenland side, despite Gifford telling them their daughter had a “natural talent”.
Jayne said: “Rob knew she had something special and he wanted to help her develop further.
“When we found that Olivia was too old to play for Holbeach, Darren rang Rob up and when we got her down to Wisbech, Rob was impressed that Olivia could kick with both feet.
“Olivia really enjoyed being part of his team and her understanding of football soon progressed.
“She was soon spotted by the Norwich scouts, but Darren and myself felt she was too young and we just wanted Olivia to enjoy her football.”
Simpson eventually joined the Canaries’ Centre of Excellence as an eight-year-old, on condition that she could still play for Wisbech Acorns which provided a platform for her to show some newly-acquired footballing skills.
After two-and-a-half years with the Acorns, Simpson re-joined Holbeach at Under-10 level.
But while things were running smoothly on the field, Simpson found out there for her, playing football was more than just about winning.
Darren said: “At Wisbech, she got on really well with her team-mates and when she went back to Holbeach, she missed them.
“Then it all changed for Olivia when her Holbeach team was playing Hungate Rovers in the quarter-finals of the Under-10s Cup.
“It was one of her best games but when Olivia came home after winning a very tough match, she started crying.
“Olivia wanted to go back to Wisbech and play football with her friends, so we decided to transfer her back to the Acorns who loved having her back.”
Jayne added: “We’ve always asked Olivia what she wants to do and for her, meeting new friends, playing for the first team and with other teams is the best thing about being a footballer.”
Simpson hasn’t deserted her Holbeach roots, though, taking part in the Soccer Stars after-school club run by Simon Ward at Holbeach Primary School where the young starlet is a pupil.
She is also a regular at an indoor football school run by Tommy Gostic at Holbeach Youth Centre on Boston Road South every Thursday.
Jayne said: “Olivia’s school has been really supportive and she’s very fond of both Simon and Tommy as well.
“They’ve both been a big part of Olivia’s life and they’re still supporting her now.
“When she did play locally, especially if it was a morning match, Olivia would come back and watch Holbeach United’s first team play in the afternoon when her favourite player was Jamie Stevens.”
Whether Olivia will have time to follow the Tigers’ fortunes in the UCL this season, under the joint-management of 2012-13 title-winning boss John Chand and Graham Drury, is debatable.
That’s because Simpson has signed a one-year contract extension with Norwich City’s Centre of Excellence with whom she will be taking part on a pre-season camp before their opening game against Arsenal.
Darren said: “Olivia is developing very well and Norwich has done a really good job with her so far.
“When we watch her playing football and compare her with all the other girls, she stands out, even though some of them are one year older than her.”
Simpson said: “I would like to play for Chelsea Ladies and then I want to play for England.”