Jess Park has sights set on knocking Man United off perch

Park Life! Manchester City star Jess has burst on to the scene and helped win the FA Cup, now she’s set her sights on knocking United off their perch

  • Park won the FA Cup alongside her childhood hero Steph Houghton for Man City
  • The 19-year-old-forward has modelled her game on City legend Sergio Aguero
  • She has scored an impressive 12 goals in 13 games for the England under 19’s 
  • The Man City forward could feature in her first Manchester derby on Saturday

After Manchester City won the FA Cup earlier this month, an image came to light on social media of Jess Park and Steph Houghton from back in 2015.

A 13-year-old Park had just scored four goals for her school in the National Cup final and England captain Houghton presented her with the player of the match award. Five years on, Houghton has Park to thank for City retaining their FA Cup crown after the forward came off the bench to set up Georgia Stanway for the decisive goal.

Park smiles as she’s reminded of the photo. ‘We’d just won the PlayStation Cup which is the National Cup for schools — the biggest thing you can win really,’ says the striker, now 19. 

Jess Park (centre) celebrates after assisting Georgia Stanway in the Women’s FA Cup final

A young Park is presented with a PlayStation 4 after scoring four goals to help her school win the National Cup in 2015 

‘Steph was presenting me with a PS4 for being player of the match. I’ve still got it. Well, I gave it to my brother actually, I wish I’d kept it! Now I’m sitting next to Steph winning the FA Cup — I think you could see in my face on the photos it was an unbelievable moment for me.’

Houghton has always been a figure of inspiration to Park, who joined City’s academy at the age of 16.

‘There was the usual Ronaldo and Messi, you always look up to them. But I looked up to Steph because of the way she carries herself, I love her determination.

Park and Houghton sit next to each other after winning the FA Cup at Wembley in November

‘I watched the London Olympics and the free-kicks she scored were unbelievable. I looked up to her from then.’

Park has been tipped for big things since making a name for herself at York’s centre of excellence. 

She was a pupil at South Hunsley in East Yorkshire, the same school attended by Manchester United’s Dan James, and led them to multiple national finals. ‘Jess always stood out,’ says her former teacher Matt Simpson.

‘In one of the five a-side tournaments, we’d already qualified for the semi-final stage so we put Jess in goal for the last league game. We jokingly said, “If you score from there Jess we’ll get you a McDonald’s after the tournament”. 

‘She rolled the ball in front of her, took it round three players and scored! So after that we had to buy her a Big Mac.’

She is also a source of inspiration for aspiring footballers at her former school.

‘Sometimes I’d leave work at six or seven o’clock and Jess would be out on the main field with her dad doing extra runs and work with the ball. That wasn’t just a one off, it was a regular occurrence,’ Simpson added.

The 19-year-old scored against Liverpool as England boss Phil Neville watched on and says she hopes to earn a spot in the senior team in the future

‘We’ve got one of her England shirts up in the sports centre at the school, it’s inspirational for the younger girls.’

Park plays down her own hype but she looks destined to be a future England star. When she was snapped up by sports management company The Players Player, she was described as ‘one of the brightest talents in the country.’  

The forward has 12 goals in 13 games for the Under 19 side and should she go on to play for the senior team, she would be the first Hull-born player to be capped since Carol Thomas captained the Lionesses in the Seventies. 

A goal and assist in front of England boss Phil Neville will certainly have helped.

‘I can’t have done myself any harm!’ she says. ‘That’s the ultimate goal — to get into that team and be a regular in the Lionesses squad.’

Park wasn’t fazed by moving away from home at 16 nor was she daunted by meeting City hero Sergio Aguero, a player she has tried to model her game on.

The forward has modelled her game on legendary Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero

There are similarities between the two in terms of stature, style of play and desire to score goals. ‘He’s a very funny, talkative guy actually,’ Park says of the Argentine. ‘I love how he plays.’ 

Much like the men’s set-up, there is strong competition to contend with at City after the club brought in an array of stars in the summer, including US World Cup winners Rose Lavelle and Sam Mewis.

‘The competitiveness in training is massive,’ Park says. ‘Especially since these American girls came in. They bring a lot of energy and a lot of, I’d say, loudness.’

Park says that City’s American signings have added to the competitiveness in training

But Park was picked ahead of Lavelle for the game against Chelsea and has clearly won the trust of City boss Gareth Taylor.

She could get her first taste of the Manchester derby today — having been an unused substitute in the three fixtures last season — as Women’s Football Weekend gets underway. Every WSL and Championship match will be shown live on BT Sport, BBC or the FA Player.

United go into the game as WSL leaders, something the lifelong City fan is looking to change. ‘Hopefully we can knock them off the top!’ she said.

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