Recently I had the pleasure of speaking to the rising star of the table-topping Sunderland AFC Ladies team, Neve Herron. Herron, who is only 16 year old and is making her first steps into the senior game, has done a fantastic job for Mel Reay’s side this season and, providing she continues progressing at the rate she is currently, it’s clear she has the ability to have a long and prosperous career in women’s football.
I was keen to learn more about her ambitions, and what got her to the stage she’s at currently, as a very young player who has managed to make a big impression in her debut season, and very quickly the conversation turned to how she started on her path to playing for the Ladies.
She starred for the famous Boldon Girls, who have produced several current England internationals and are the best local girls club in the north east, where she stayed for around three years. After showing her quality there, she was invited to trials with Middlesbrough RTC and Sunderland’s centre of excellence. Both clubs offered her the opportunity to join them, and she thankfully opted for Sunderland. She continually impressed there, resulting in her bursting onto the first team scene, earlier this season.
Her interest in football started when playing the sport in the garden with her brothers from an early age, supported by a family that absolutely loves sport.
When discussing her toughest challenges this season, the young midfielder was quick to mention working hard in pre-season, to push herself into the manager’s thinking. She didn’t start the first game of the season, but made an immediate impact with an assist when coming on as a substitute.
And since then she’s gone from strength to strength, and is now a regular in the side. She’s scored fantastic goals at Stoke City, resulting in an amazing response from fans on social media. If you haven’t seen them, get yourself online to check them out - you won’t be disappointed. Testing herself against WSL side Birmingham City Women in the Women’s FA Cup was a challenge she more than met head on. She excelled with her energy, work rate and quality on the ball, against a side in the top league of women’s football.
Herron’s game has many strengths, but the one she counts as most important at this point in her burgeoning career, is her versatility - she’s even appeared at centre half for the ladies this season. She’s not fazed by any challenge thrown her way.
We chat excitedly about the players she looks up to and models parts of her game on - the hugely experienced and talented pair of Lucy Bronze and Keira Ramshaw. It’s clear that her teammate Ramshaw is a huge presence, in and around the squad.
Although the completion of the season is currently in the balance, Neve isn’t giving up on what lies ahead and admits that, once play resumes, she plans to work hard in order to keep her spot in Mel Reay’s side:
I want to maintain my place in the starting eleven and to stay disciplined in my approach to training and matches, until the very end of the season.
When discussing her ambitions for the next few years, she remains typically humble and unassuming.
I want to familiarise myself with women’s football and see how far the team can go.Sunderland mel reay
After all, it’s easy to forget she’s only sixteen.
So who are her closest friends in football? ‘Definitely Jessica Brown’ - another superbly talented youngster in the Sunderland Ladies team - and ‘Lily Simkin from Birmingham Women... we play together for England’. I wouldn’t bet against them playing together in the senior England side in the future, such is the talent these two young players possess.
Our conversation turns to the hugely successful Ladies coach, Melanie Reay.
She’s helped me come so far in the last six months. She’s worked with me to improve my strength and speed of play. Her trust in you gives you great confidence too.
Herron is both grateful and complimentary about the Sunderland Ladies fans.
Please keep supporting us, it gives us extra energy and it’s brilliant speaking to the fans at the end of each match.
Her Grandad, Trevor, is a huge influence on Neve as both a person and footballer - he drives her to work hard and improve her game. I can personally agree with this assessment, as he was one of the best coaches I worked with when I was a young player, many years ago.
He works me hard in preseason and improves my shooting and all aspects of my game.
Perhaps the most noticeable thing about this Sunderland team as a fan from the stands is their unity and togetherness, a bond built upon having a good rapport and characters in the squad who keep spirits high and keep everyone involved.
Claudia [Moan, SAFC Ladies’ goalkeeper] makes everyone laugh. Actually everyone has a laugh, there’s a good team spirit. Me and Georgia Gibson locked Katie Barker in the toilet for about 15 minutes, on the team bus, on the way back from an away game!
So how is she staying fit during the current break?
Our strength and conditioning coach has given us programmes to work on, and a lot of us have equipment we can use in the house or garage.
Herron is a classy performer on and off the pitch, who won’t let anything stand in her way. She’s a player that’s destined to go to the top of the women’s game, make no mistake.