Starstruck pupils 'inspired' by Ipswich Town Ladies striker
- Credit: Mick Howes
Excited youngsters were inspired by "a brilliant role model" during a special visit.
Ipswich Town Ladies striker Natasha Thomas presented medals and trophies to aspiring footballers as schools from across north Suffolk battled it out at a popular competition.
Red Oak Primary School in Lowestoft hosted the Ipswich Town ALT North Suffolk Year 3 girls football tournament.
Natasha, the Tractor Girls' all-time leading goalscorer and the special guest of honour, spoke with all the girls and discussed what it takes to become a female professional footballer, as well as handing out the medals after a series of keenly-contested matches.
Natasha, who signed her professional contract with Town Women in August last year, hails from Lowestoft.
A former Northfield Primary and Harris Middle School pupil, Natasha said: "It is amazing to see how many girls have turned out to play for their schools and we are expecting a similar number of Year 4 girls to turn out on Friday.
"The girls are so excited to be here and as I have been round to talk to them they showed a lot of interest and asked what I have been eating, how I keep healthy and if I enjoy it.
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"When I started it was exactly the same time as these girls are starting now."
Having attended Saturday Football Club, Natasha starting playing as a nine-year-old with Waveney FC and then progressed to Lowestoft Ladies.
She recalled: "Then I was spotted by Ipswich and here I am now.
"At Ipswich I went straight to the women’s first team, and it’s just progressed and the women’s game is getting bigger and better.
"There is so much talent out there now."
Battling it out at the Ipswich Town FC ALT North Suffolk Schools’ Cup football tournament were Year 3 girls from Reydon, Pakefield, Grove, Westwood, Albert Pye and Red Oak.
Admitting it was "a very successful day" highlighting the flourishing female game in her local area, Natasha said: "There is a lot of enthusiasm, and the girls here are so excited and were cheering. They just want to play which is so nice to see.
"We want to encourage the girls to stick with it a lot more and I think there is more opportunities for them to do that as well."
After some close contests, the top three placings from the six schools competing went to 1 Red Oak, 2 Westwood and 3 Grove.
Johnny Lee, Red Oak Primary School's PE co-ordinator, Key Stage Leader and the North Suffolk ALT Schools’ sports events organiser, was thrilled with the success of the event.
Mr Lee said: "The ALT Schools’ Cup football tournaments have been running for eight years now and this year we have merged and partnered with Ipswich Town FC Community Trust to create the Ipswich Town FC ALT North Suffolk Schools’ Cup competitions.
"This sees 16 annual football tournaments held over the course of the year for local primary schools - and thousands of North Suffolk children are able to attend.
"The Ipswich Town partnership has really helped to raise the profile of our football events and all of the young footballers were so inspired to meet Natasha.
"Natasha is a brilliant role model for our young footballers and our students were so inspired and starstruck to meet her.
"Natasha spoke to each school team about what it takes to become a pro footballer and the students were all very excited to get her autograph and have their photos taken with her.
"Natasha will also be attending our Year 4 event this Friday to help present trophies and medals to the different schools.
"All of the teams demonstrated fantastic teamwork and respect throughout the tournament."
Red Oak Primary School won the cup after winning four games and only losing one match, as they only conceded one goal throughout the whole of the tournament.