Aston Villa goalkeeper Hannah Hampton is playing at the top of the game, she’s just celebrated her 21st birthday, been called up for the latest England squad and has made 200 saves in the WSL.
This weekend she’ll go up against one of the strongest attacks in the league in Manchester City and expect to more than match them.
That much we all know but what you may not know about Hannah Hampton, professional goalkeeper, is that she used to be a striker and probably more importantly, as a keeper, Hannah Hampton has no depth perception and was told she would never play sport. That makes her move to the top of her profession all the more remarkable.
“Yeah, I can’t judge any distances,” she tells Sky Sports from the back of the bus on her way with the team to Manchester ahead of this weekend. “I don’t get how I’m a goalkeeper, I don’t understand! Everyone’s been asking me that!”
Hannah was born with a squint and had several operations as a child.
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“I don’t get how it works but you can tell because I try and pour a glass of water and I will miss the glass completely, unless I’m holding the glass myself and I have done it around the training ground a few times and a few of the girls have just laughed at me”.
Spilling water hasn’t translated into spilling goals. She’s one of only four Villa players to play every minute this season. Last time out, she was ranked one of the top keepers in the league and since making her WSL debut at just 16, she hasn’t looked back. She’s chosen to talk about her lack of depth perception to show to young children that anything is possible.
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“I think that’s one of the reasons why I wanted to say it because loads of people were saying: ‘No, don’t do it’ because you don’t know how it’s going to affect with selections to clubs and to internationals but I feel like if you don’t say anything people are going to be told by doctors [they can’t do things] – especially me.
“I was told by a doctor I would never be able to do any sport, I wouldn’t be able to do certain jobs I wouldn’t be a pilot, I wouldn’t be a surgeon but I always wanted to play sport so I kept going.”
Hampton learnt her craft in Spain and initially started life out of the goal and up front, training with the boys’ academy before moving back to England and a chance stand-in for an injured goalkeeper at Stoke’s centre of excellence saw her never look back. Now she’s on the verge of her full international debut.
“When I was in Spain playing for Villarreal, I’d sit on the bed at night and would be like [to my parents]: ‘Do you think I’ll play for the England women’s team one day?’ Obviously now I’m getting close to that chance so we always reminisce about that and it’s always great to see how far I’ve come.”
Hampton “is the best in England” according to her manager at Villa, Carla Ward, who also admits she might be a bit biased. The next few weeks could see Villa’s No 1 finally make her England debut, another major stepping stone after the disappointment of not making the Olympic squad this summer.
Hampton found out she wasn’t in the squad after being told just 90 minutes before a WSL game for her former club Birmingham against Everton.
Ward was actually Hampton’s manager at Birmingham at the time and said being dropped so close to kick-off “clearly affected” her.
The FA said the timing “was an error” and apologised, but, like Arsenal’s Beth Mead who also missed the cut, was Hampton determined to show she has what it takes to perform on the big stage by putting in an impressive season this time around?
“When you’re not in the squad and you’ve got to live with that and keep your head down and focus on your next performances and that’s one thing I’ve focused on.
“I think at the beginning of the season I’ve done okay with some performances and I definitely had a bit of a dip but now I’ve just got to keep that consistency and I think it’s definitely added fuel to my fire, because I want to succeed as more as ever now.”
Ward, or Wardy as she’s addressed by the team, stood up for Hampton at the time.
“I can’t fault one thing Wardy has done for me she has backed me at times when I needed her most and you can’t ask anything more of your manager.
“I’m really grateful for that she just kept me going and giving me time when I needed time and helped me push on when I needed to and we’ve got that kind of bond when she knows how best to work with me and she’s really pushed me on I think. “
Hampton says she had no doubts about following Ward across from Birmingham to Villa and this week has seen yet more change at their former club. Birmingham are searching for their third manager in less than seven months after Ward’s replacement, Scott Booth, was sacked.
“With everything that Blues have given him, I think he’s done the best he can. I don’t feel like they’ve been in such a bad situation as what everyone is making them out to be. I think he’s done a great job and you never want to see a manager get sacked… but I’ve got no doubt he’ll find another job really soon.. and I hope the club as well manage to stay in the league because you never want to see a club that’s been there from the beginning do bad and get relegated.”
The Midlands has seen somewhat of a managerial merry-go-round this week as Villa’s men’s team begin life under Steven Gerrard. Ward is a huge fan of Gerrard and told Inside the WSL that she will kiss the camera, à la Stevie G, should her side beat Manchester City. Hampton says the Gerrard excitement has been infectious.
“As soon as he got mentioned as the manager, our group chat we just said can you please arrange a meeting with Steven Gerrard? Everyone was saying that, so everyone is obsessed with him at this club at the minute.. It hasn’t happened yet but I’m sure it wont be too far away.”
The kissing of the camera won’t come easy for Ward’s team this weekend, against an indifferent City.
Last season, Gareth Taylor’s side took the title down to the final day. This time around, they sit ninth with just two wins to their name.
They have already conceded sixteen goals, three more than they conceded in the whole of the last WSL campaign.
That’s drawn attention to their own goalkeeping situation. Ellie Roebuck, City and England’s No 1, has been missing with a calf injury. France’s Karima Taieb has stepped in and has saved just 14 of the 30 shots on target she’s faced; at 47 per cent that’s the lowest save percentage of any Manchester City goalkeeper in FA WSL history.
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Highlights of the Women’s Super League match between Birmingham and Aston Villa.
But stats don’t always tell the full story and as Hampton points out being a keeper can be a rollercoaster.
“Yeah, I think as a goalkeeper everyone can relate to the situation she’s in at the moment. I think she’s definitely been thrown in the deep end and is doing as well as she can and I think she has just got to keep continuing and believing in herself because she’s at Man City for a reason.
“I’ve been in that position previously and it’s never nice but with good teammates and with the staff around you and belief in yourself no doubt she’s going to change that around very soon.”
My parents got told by the doctors that I would never be able to play sport because I wouldn’t be able to judge any ball coming towards me
For Hampton and Villa, they’ll be hoping that turnaround doesn’t come this weekend. If she does manage to keep another clean sheet – her third of the season – then there will be plenty of camera kissing and another lesson that anything is possible if you keep trying.
“My parents got told by the doctors that I would never be able to play sport because I wouldn’t be able to judge any ball coming towards me so it was going to be dangerous but I always wanted to. I feel like if I didn’t say anything a lot of the girls and lads around the ground they would’ve stuck to the doctors’ words.
“You’ve got to try and do what you want to do in life and not let people tell you what to do.”
If that wasn’t the perfect response to the doubters, Hampton need only show people her CV. Hannah Hampton, Professional Goalkeeper, Aston Villa and England.
How to follow Man City vs Aston Villa
Watch Man City vs Aston Villa on Saturday live on Sky Sports Premier League and Main Event; Kick-off 11.30am. Follow the action with our dedicated live match blog including in-game clips, with free match highlights published on the Sky Sports website, app and YouTube channel shortly after full-time.