Lauren Hemp interview: Lego helps me relax off the pitch as Man City push for WSL title on it

Lauren Hemp training with Man City
Lauren Hemp is aiming for a first WSL title with Manchester City - Reuters/Craig Brough

As a 17-year-old Lauren Hemp walked off the pitch on May 3, 2018 following Bristol City’s defeat by Manchester City, little did she know her life was about to change. At that moment, the then-England captain Steph Houghton wanted a quiet word in her ear.

“She said, ‘Come to City, come to City’, and I went home and said, ‘Mum, Dad, Steph’s telling me to go to City, I’d better go to City!’” the now 23-year-old Hemp says of her first conversation with Houghton, who is retiring at the end of this season. “She was the first person that persuaded me to come to City [Hemp signed at the end of that month]. At that point I was starstruck and it meant a lot.

“Coming up north to Manchester, I was petrified but also very excited. It’s 100 per cent been the best decision I’ve ever made. If I ever had a problem or needed help, she [Houghton] was always there. What an amazing person. It’s a career people only dream of. I’d love to go on and be half the player that she is.”

Hemp has already amassed almost half as many international caps as Houghton (55 to 121) and starred at last year’s Women’s World Cup. With Manchester City, she has won an FA Cup and a League Cup, but there is a domestic trophy missing: the Women’s Super League.

“I try not to think about it too much, but it’s hard not to think about it. In previous years, we’ve come so close and just not quite done it, and I truly believe we can, this season. All of us are desperate to get our hands on that trophy,” says Hemp. Her side currently hold a three-point lead over defending champions Chelsea, who have a game in hand.

Lauren Hemp #11 of England celebrates her goal with teammates during the FIFA Women's World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023 Semi Final match between Australia and England at Stadium Australia on August 16, 2023 in Sydney, Australia
Hemp was one of the stars of England's World Cup campaign last year - Getty Images/Zhizhao Wu

‘This season has been quite special’

Regardless of whether City lift their first WSL title since 2016, they have made a marked improvement this season compared to last, when they finished fourth and trophy-less.

“Last season, I feel like, when we lost a game, it took us longer to bounce back, whereas this season, we’ve bounced back to win our next run of games,” says Hemp. “That’s been really important. In previous years sometimes we maybe didn’t start the season as well as we could have done, but this season has been quite special.

“You see in our performances, everyone is basically on their knees by the end of the game, every single week. We’re so hard-working. I love the club so much because of that passion and family feel we’ve got together.”

Hemp, who has more assists (six) than any other player in the WSL this season, has been a key part of Manchester City’s title charge, contributing nine goals from her 18 league appearances too. As well as increasing her goal contributions, she has won more aerial duels (12, up from nine last season), drawn more fouls (22, up from 19) and upped her pass completion percentage (73 per cent, up from 68 per cent).

Manchester City's Lauren Hemp against West Ham United's Hawa Cissoko during the Barclays Women's Super League match at the Joie Stadium, Manchester. Picture date: Sunday April 21, 2024
Hemp is enjoying a fine season for Manchester City, and the numbers back this up - PA/Ian Hodgson

“Each year, I always try to outperform the last one. I’m always looking at stats at the end of every season, like an end-of-season review,” Hemp says. “Over the last year or so I’ve felt really confident in myself and my ability. I’ve worked hard on the defensive side of things as well. It’s not a favourite thing of wingers, to track back and help the defence, but I feel like I’ve tried to implement that in my game this year, which has ultimately helped out our defence as well.

“Something that helps me have confidence and be relaxed on the pitch is that work-life balance. Life away from the pitch is really good for me and when life outside of football is going well, it helps reflect on the pitch.”

‘Lego helps me relax’

A key part of that relaxation is building Lego models. “I quite like doing that to relax the mind,“ Hemp explains. “I recently made a little model, a mini rollerskate, which was quite cool. I’ve actually recently been building Ikea flatpack things to put them all on shelves, because at the moment they’re just hoarding my house!”

How long Hemp’s home will be in Manchester, however, has been a question City fans have been wondering all season, with the England winger now in the final two months of her current contract. Earlier this term, Barcelona were linked with Hemp, but when asked about her future, she gives nothing away: “I try not to look on Twitter and get absorbed in stuff like that. A lot of the time it’s just rumours, isn’t it?

“Naturally there are going to be rumours, but I’m not in a position yet to reveal what I’m doing. Once I’m ready to tell people what I’m going to do, then that day will come around, but for now I’m just trying to concentrate on the game coming up and trying to win the league.”

That next game, this Sunday, is a trip to face her old side, Bristol City, who know they will be relegated to the Championship unless they win at Ashton Gate. The prospect of condemning her former club to the drop is a sad one for Hemp but not something she can worry about, as she adds: “When I was at Bristol City, they treated me so well. It’s an amazing club that also holds a special place in my heart, but I’ve been here for six years now and it would mean so much for me to win the league so my full focus is on scoring as many goals as we can, which unfortunately is not very nice for them. It would be horrible to see them relegated but that’s football and I know they’d definitely bounce back if that was to happen.”