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Justine still going strong at 50

In the season which has just been completed, one player has set a remarkable record in the FA Women’s National League which is highly unlikely to be beaten or even equalled.

The Division One South West match between Keynsham Town and Southampton Women turned out to be a largely uneventful goalless draw, but saw Justine Lorton start the match in the Keynsham side having turned 50 years old just a few days earlier.

Justine Lorton first came to prominence playing for Wembley Ladies, with a certain Kelly Smith as one of her team mates. She was to win her first major honour with Wembley, winning the FA Women’s Premier League Cup in 1995-96 with a penalty shootout victory over Doncaster Belles in the Final at Underhill, after the match had finished in a 2-2 draw.

The following season, she moved to Millwall Lionesses and won the Premier League Cup again, this time beating Everton 2-1 in the Final. She also lifted the FA Women’s Cup for the first time, with a 1-0 win over former club Wembley in front of 3,015 at Upton Park, Louise Waller heading in the winning goal from Lorton’s corner.

Justine moved on to Arsenal in 1998, helping her new club win the FA Cup with a 2-0 win over Southampton Saints in the Final, the second of which was scored by Clare Wheatley.

From 1999 until 2001, she enjoyed three short but productive spells in Iceland with Stjarnan and after playing in Sweden for a while, returned to her home country in 2002, signing for Charlton Athletic. She helped her team to their first ever FA Women’s Cup Final, scoring the winner from the penalty spot against Arsenal in the semi finals, but they were beaten by Fulham at Selhurst Park.

Justine returned to Arsenal and lifted the FA Cup again, appearing as a substitute as they beat Charlton Athletic 3-0 at Loftus Road with a brilliant Julie Fleeting hat-trick. She also won her first Premier League title when they won 3-1 against Fulham at Highbury and picked up another Champions medal a year later, as well as reaching the semi finals of the UEFA Women’s Cup.

Following a season with Fulham, Justine then spent the next three years at Bristol Academy and helped establish them as a top half club in the top flight. She moved on to Portsmouth, representing them with distinction, and after returning to the West Country and a spell with Yeovil Town, playing for them in the newly formed WSL 2, she joined Keynsham Town in 2015 and has remained with the club ever since, playing a key role as they won the Division One South West title in 2018-19. As recently as April, she won yet another winners medal when Keynsham beat Yeovil in the Somerset FA Senior Women’s Cup Final at Paulton.

Justine has been capped six times by England, making her debut in August 1997 when coming on as a substitute for Sue Smith in a 4-0 victory over Scotland at Livingston. She was allotted number 128 when the FA recently announced their legacy numbers scheme to honour the 50th anniversary of England’s inaugural international.

We spoke to Justine about her illustrious career in the women’s game and she reflected on a number of matters from the past, as well as looking forward to the future:

WSS: Congratulations on reaching such a milestone, what is it that keeps you going and playing these days?

JL: In terms of carrying on playing I think 1st and foremost you have to still have the heart for it so I guess mine is quite big (laughs).

WSS: Could you ever have envisaged playing anywhere near as long as you have?

JL: When you love something it’s much easier to stick with it and I’m very much like that. I’ve worked in the fitness industry for over 25 years so on the fitness side I’ve probably slowed my body clock down, just by taking care of myself in general. Plus, I lost my mother five years ago and I’m sure that’s pushed me on longer from a health perspective.

WSS: Women's football has changed beyond recognition over the last few years, just how big is the difference between now and when you first started playing?

JL: In terms of the change in the game, I actually used to feel really lucky with the facilities I had access to but now it’s just a whole other level and I enjoy watching the games.

WSS: Who would be the best players you have played with or against?

JL: I’ve played with some brilliant players over the years, but no one will ever come close to Kelly Smith. She was just a generational talent that doesn’t come along very often so I’m glad I can say I played with her.

WSS: You have won all of the major domestic honours in the game during your career, are there any in particular which stand out?

JL: I think the season I joined Millwall Lionesses - they were struggling in the league but I’d looked at the great young players they had and that’s what made my mind up. That season we won the League and FA Cup double with a really  young raw, talented team and an amazing togetherness which will always stick out to me.

I also have to mention the 2018-19 season with Keynsham. We got promoted that season and played some incredible football with a record goals tally for the club. That was definitely a season I will never forget.

WSS: You have also played under some of the great women's football including the likes of Vic Akers and Keith Boanas, but are there any people who have had a major influence on your career?

JL: I think all the managers I’ve played under have been a good influence as I’ve pretty much always played the same way, in the same position, and they’ve all encouraged me to do that and not tried to change me.

A special mention to Barrie (Newton) as I don’t think I’d have played on this long if I wasn’t at Keynsham. I’ve had a great relationship with him from day one and he’s always been really supportive.

WSS: You have been with your present club, Keynsham Town, for ten years now. They are having a good season and a lot of younger players are coming through, are you optimistic for the future of the team?

JL: With the younger players at Keynsham, there’s nothing more I’d like to see than them keep improving, being more confident and playing the kind of football they enjoy, thus bringing future success to the club.

WSS: We won't ask you how long you want to keep playing, as that seems a little unfair, but is there anything you would like to see introduced into the women's game in the future, or football in general?

JL: One moan about the women’s game… Don’t give three game weeks to teams that aren’t pro!

To mark the occasion of Justine reaching a landmark birthday, we asked some of her team mates and managers, present and past, and they gave their thoughts:

She was always a character who loved a bit of a wind up and a little flutter on the horses. But a great player, extremely clever on the ball with good vision and awareness. She could pick a pass and score goals and I always enjoyed working with her. She loved the game with a passion, wanted to play every minute and looked after herself off the pitch - hence still kicking a ball now is no surprise to me – Keith Boanas (manager, Charlton Athletic)

Justine has always been a true professional, she’s an absolute credit to herself and the women’s game. To play at the standard she has for so long just shows you what it takes. I remember her when I was just a young player coming through at Bristol, she always had a ball at her feet, doing tricks or ball mastery, she was always very friendly and wanted to always play the game in the right way. I wish her even more success, just not whenever we play her! – Abbie Britton (Bristol Academy, Keynsham Town)

Wow, Justine Lorton still playing at 50, that’s incredible. I’m not surprised though - she always loved her football. She was the person who took me to Charlton and introduced me to Keith, and that’s where I stayed for the next eight seasons. Justine was a fantastic player who worked hard in the middle of the pitch and I shared many a car journey over to Charlton with her from north London to south London for training - always leaving early and stopping for the odd sun bed before training! She was a great team mate who always played with a smile on her face, someone who loved the game and her team mates – Karen Hills (Charlton Athletic)

What can I say about Justine?!! I’ve had some great times in football and she’s been involved in most of them. You can’t help but admire her for still playing at 50, I do often wonder how she still manages it, then I remember how meticulous she is about looking after herself. She’s a great role model for the youngsters, she’s very positive in the way she plays football and has had a fantastic career. I think she will make a great manager when she decides to hang the boots up (probably when she’s 60!) and I look forward to seeing her in a dugout in the future – Kerry Bartlett (Bristol Academy, Keynsham Town)

Justine is a role model for players at all levels. Her commitment to the women’s game is admirable - both on and off the pitch. I feel really honoured to have shared the field with her during our time - on the same team for Yeovil Town Ladies and against her during her time at Keynsham! – Kirsty Whitton (Yeovil Town)

Justine is great to play with. She coaches while on the pitch, sharing her experience with younger players. She helps identify areas in which players can improve and does so in a positive way. She’s an inspiration to other players around her highlighting you can play with quality even at 50! I enjoy playing with her and I’ll miss her presence on the pitch if she decides to stop playing – Hannah Price (Keynsham Town)

I’ve known ‘Lorts’ since I was 18 and it’s credit to her that she is still playing at the young age of 50. We eventually played together at Keynsham where her and Barts (Kerry Bartlett) teamed up top again. To be fair, Lorts game has always been around the halfway line so I imagine she’ll play that way until she is 60 (laughs!) - Louise Hutton (Keynsham Town)