The father of Chelsea and England Women’s star Lauren James has revealed how she was so good as a youngster, she was sent to train with Arsenal’s senior team — though it wasn’t a universally popular decision.
The flying winger — brother of Chelsea and England star Reece James — is preparing for the 2023 Women’s World Cup, where she hopes to make her debut in the tournament and outdo her sibling by lifting a major international trophy.
At club level, James has already enjoyed plenty of success, scoring 14 goals in 18 games to help Manchester United to the FA Women’s Championship in 2018/19 and, more recently, lifting back-to-back Women’s Super League and FA Cup doubles with Chelsea.
However, it’s not always been an easy ride for James, whose talent at 14 years old while at Arsenal saw her outgrow the girls around her. She was moved up to train with the women’s team in a decision that didn’t quite go down well with everyone at the time, leading to some surprising struggles.
Speaking to the Beautiful Game podcast, Lauren’s father, Nigel James, said: “She (Lauren James) was too good to train with the Arsenal girls when she first went there. So Arsenal tried something, Pedro (Martinez Losa) who was the coach at the time, brought her in to train with the women.
“She was probably about 14 at the time. She stayed in her digs for a couple of nights and they got a tutor to teach her, so she trained with the women.
“It was all good hearing it, but your 14-year-old daughter is now training with women who are 35, 28, they were grown women. So when you are on the pitch it is football, but off the pitch, they had nothing in common.
“What people would see is this little girl. Some could take it and put their arm around her. Some couldn’t take it and said ‘you shouldn’t be here, you should be at school.'”
Perhaps James’ presence within their ranks was too big of a hit to the pride of some of the senior Arsenal women, rattling them to the point of asking her to be removed from training. Even so, she still ended up training with the academy boys of her same age — a similarly unpopular decision that ultimately led to her leaving Arsenal for Chelsea.
“She (Lauren) would pick up the good bits from someone and then the negative parts from others,” Nigel added. “The manager left, another manager came in. There was a game she played in where the manager let her take a penalty. She took the penalty, but the next day senior players didn’t like it at the time.
“They then asked for Lauren to be removed from the first team squad at Arsenal and to go back in the academy, but the solution was she trained with the academy boys. This had never happened before so it was a big thing. Some parents didn’t like it.
“But she was superb and did very well. At the end of the season when she was 15-and-a-half, Arsenal then said you won’t be with the women, you’ll play with the academy girls. I saw her playing with girls her own age as sort of a demotion.
“That is why we needed to leave. Since she is back at Chelsea I know with Emma (Hayes) and her staff, she is in the best hands. Emma is like her second mother.”
“I want to carve out my own name”
As James prepares for her World Cup adventure, the latest hurdle on her mind is overcoming being known as ‘Reece James’ sister’ and simply becoming ‘Lauren James, England and Chelsea star’. Certainly, scoring the goals to help the Lionesses to the title would go a long way toward securing her legacy.
“Even just ‘that’s Lauren James, that’s Reece’s sister’,” she said.
“But I want to carve out [my own name] and be known as ‘this is Lauren James’.”
James added: “At the moment, men’s football has a lot bigger profile and I’m sure there are times when I’ve said ‘oh, that’s so and so’s sister’, I think it’s just natural.
“But it doesn’t bother me too much because I know I have my own career.”