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Women's Football News
Sophie Walton is one of the rising stars of women's football and has enjoyed a momentous first season in the Leeds United first team, which is set to be crowned on Bank Holiday Monday when she is in line for a starting place in the F.A.Women's Cup Final, where she could be the youngest player on the pitch.
The 16-year-old midfielder forced her way into the starting line up early in the season and has remained there ever since and she told Women's Soccer Scene that she is looking forward to the biggest game in the women's football calendar. "I can't wait," admits Sophie. "It should be a fantastic occasion. We are going to be the underdogs and Arsenal are a great side but they are beatable. We have got to go there with a positive frame of mind.
"It is my first full season and it has been great. To get the chance to play in an F.A.Cup Final is every 16-year-old's dream."
Arsenal have sported a long unbeaten run in the league but, earlier in the season, Leeds came as close to anybody to breaking it. "We led 2-0 at one stage but they came back to win 5-3," recalls Sophie, "but it shows that we can score goals against them."
Leeds have experienced one of the toughest Cup runs possible in reaching their first ever F.A.Women's Cup Final with wins over three National Division sides and Northern Division promotion chasers Liverpool, a run which, according to Sophie, should be of benefit to them. "We have proved we can beat anyone on the day," she says. "We knocked out Everton who are second in the league, so we know we can win against the bigger clubs. We have had a harder run than Arsenal and are worthy of our place in the Final because of that.
The main problem for Leeds ahead of the Final has been a lack of league matches but Sophie does not think this will affect the team. "We should be up to speed as we have been working very hard in training," she says. "It will also help that we have players who rise to the big occasion.
"Karen Walker has played in seven or eight Finals already and her experience will be valuable, while Sue Smith and Karen Burke are senior internationals."
Sophie has been a regular in the England under-17 team this season and showed her versatility by playing in three different positions across the back four in the recent Nationwide tournament. "I played in the centre of defence, which is quite similar to playing in the centre of midfield, and both positions at full back," she recalls. "If you are versatile, it really helps you."
Sophie is the younger sister of Leeds United midfielder Simon Walton who are soon to feature in the Championship play-offs, but she is the first member of the family to play in a major Cup Final. "I have mentioned it to him a few times!" she laughs. "Simon comes to most of our home games and supports me, and he gives me a few tips with my game."
Whatever the result on Monday, the future is looking very bright for Leeds as Sophie, who sits her GCSEs next month, is one of a number of talented youngsters. "We have four or five players who are 16, so it proves that our development is good at the lower levels," she says. "Our manager Julie Chipchase is a really good coach who is prepared to play the youngsters. If you are good enough, you will play regardless of age."
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