“A defender’s nightmare for the opposition, someone coming on and showing you that much energy, putting you under pressure” is how Manchester City manager Gareth Taylor described an 18-year-old Jess Park after she made a ten-minute cameo against Arsenal in the semi-final of this year’s Vitality FA Cup.
A fast attacking midfielder who can also be utilised as a forward who makes use of her low centre of gravity to trouble defenders, she was on the scoresheet against Everton in the Continental Cup earlier in the month and will now face the toffees at Wembley Stadium once again this weekend.
She has featured in each of the past six games in all competitions for City, the young forward in the starting lineup for the trip away to Chelsea in the Women’s Super League. Ahead of this weekend’s FA Cup final, she spoke to VAVEL.com
Park began her journey into football at an early age when she started playing with her local boys’ team because her best friend’s dad owned it and wanted her to come down. She later spent time with Hull City’s centre of excellence before moving to York City’s regional talent centre after the Tigers’ academy was disbanded. At sixteen and after impressing with both York and England’s U17s, she joined Manchester City, the club which she is also a supporter of:
“It was definitely a 'wow' kind of thing. It's my club that I've always wanted to play for, it's been my dream since being a kid to play with the badge on my chest and obviously now to play for the club is just an honour.”
Moving at sixteen, Park not only changed the team which she played her football for but also swapped Humberside for Greater Manchester. However, she says that she found the transition to be an easy one:
“It was kind of a smooth transition really, I was straight into the academy building where I got set up there for a bit and then straight into house parents after that. By that time, I'd already started college which meant that I had quite a few friends there so it was kind of a smooth transition for me because now I've got all of my friends in Manchester it's really nice to be able to have my friends here and to play football here.”
Developing at City
The City Football Academy has earned itself a great reputation over the years for the talent it has helped bring through into the women’s game, with Lauren Hemp, Georgia Stanway and Ellie Roebuck all developing at City in recent years. Park describes the club as “The perfect place for me and for my development, it's treated me perfectly, progressed my development really well - just accelerated me I think to get to where I am now.”
One of the final games of the 2019/20 season before it was curtailed, she netted a hat-trick against Ipswich Town and was awarded the match ball. Interim head coach and now assistant Alan Mahon praised her for her performance after the game:
“For the likes of Jess Park to step up and play like that and be as composed as she was, I was really proud.
“Jess is a top player. This is the start of her career and she’s doing exceptionally well."
This season, the new manager has put his faith in the young forward and given her the opportunity to become a regular part of the first team, something which Park is grateful for:
“It's been a brilliant experience, obviously learning new things from the girls, getting more experience on the pitch which is obviously what I needed to become a better player, it's brought me into different situations and developed me even more.”
As well as giving her the opportunity to earn regular minutes, Taylor made his first foray into the women’s game when he accepted the position as head coach in the Summer. Speaking about what he is like to play under, Park said: “He's definitely a brilliant manager to play under, he's very demanding, so it brings out the best in the players and he sets the standards which makes us drive our standards from within as well.”
Sam Mewis, Rose Lavelle, Lucy Bronze, Chloe Kelly, Alex Greenwood - Manchester City have a star-studded squad, and that’s only the players who joined the club in the summer. For a youngster aiming to further their career, training and competing with such a class of players is a brilliant challenge: “It's definitely very challenging but it's a brilliant challenge to have it's only going to develop me as a player. [I’m] coming across other players in the league that are of this standard anyway so it's brilliant to play with these players, learn from them, and put my own little spin into things as well.”
Wembley once again
There are very few players who will be able to say that they have featured at Wembley Stadium twice in only a handful of months since signing their first-ever professional contract. On Sunday, Manchester City will face Everton in the final of the FA Cup and will be looking to lift the trophy for the third time in their history while retaining the title they picked up at the end of the 2019/20 season. Park spoke about her excitement to feature in the final once again:
“I'm definitely the most excited I've ever been, I think, to actually like be at an FA Cup final again because last time we won and this time we want to keep the trophy and hopefully I might get some minutes.”
In the Community Shield earlier this year where the blues lost 2-0 against Chelsea, she was an unused substitute on Gareth Taylor’s bench. This Sunday, she is eager to get onto the pitch and will be cheering on her side whether she features or not:
“I'm always eager to get the minutes on the pitch wherever it is, I just want to play football and help my team win so obviously I'm very eager to play at the weekend so we'll see. I know whatever the team is that I'll be supporting on the side or on the pitch.”
With a career that is still in its infancy, her aim for this season is to make an impression when she is given the chance:
“[When I get the opportunity, [I want to] just make my mark really - to try and come on, support the team, come on and change the game and to try and come on and be more regularly appearing for the club.”