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Nikita Parris: ‘Lyon are irresistible because they’re the best’

“The Champions League is one trophy that I need to win,” says Nikita Parris on her move from Manchester City to the six-times champions Lyon, which was confirmed by the French club’s new coach, Jean-Luc Vasseur, on Tuesday.

It is the club prize the England forward wants above all others for one simple reason: “Just because I’m a Liverpool supporter. That 2005 final was very motivational for me,” says Parris of Liverpool men’s dramatic second-half revival after falling 3-0 behind against Milan.

Then 11, she recalls the emotion: “I remember going from absolute hysterical tears to absolute joy. I’ve never ever felt emotion like it. Not even when [the men] recently beat Barcelona – because Anfield is a special place I always knew that there was a possibility, whereas in the Champions League final there was nothing left. I knew we couldn’t give any more and then it just became a dream.

“There’s not many moments like that in football as a fan but also as a player. As a fan I sat there and thought: ‘I want to do that as a player. I want to lift that trophy.’”

Parris has become the third player to swap Manchester for Lyon in three years, following in the footsteps of Lucy Bronze and Izzy Christiansen. After four and a half years at City and a season that “ebbed and flowed”, with a domestic cup double the highlight and an early Champions League exit and falling short in the league the lows, the timing felt right. The decision to join arguably the best team in the world was a “no-brainer”, despite offers from across Europe.

“They are irresistible because they’re the best,” says Parris matter-of-factly. “Everyone wants to win the Champions League and they consistently win. They’ve won it four times in a row, and six times in total. That’s massive.

“I just want to be at the best place possible to ensure that I really kick on in my career, that I constantly have challenges, because in football you don’t have long. It’s easy to become complacent when game time comes so easily and you’re doing so well.”

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The 25-year-old says it was hard to leave the club that nurtured her from a prospect into the WSL’s all-time record goalscorer but the chance to take her journey from Toxteth to the top, and to prove she is good enough for it, was key. “Everyone used to say I’m a rising star and I’ve got raw talent, but I really wanted to be honestly the best.

“You always second-guess yourself when times become hard but ultimately I’ve stuck with it. My mum, my dad, my brothers and sisters have been a real support system to kick me on.

“I have a niece now and it makes me want to be better for her. Just to show that there’s a big wide world outside Toxteth and you can imprint yourself in any one of those places as long as you do the hard work and have the desire.”

Nikita Parris celebrates after scoring for England against Scotland at the World Cup.



Nikita Parris celebrates after scoring for England against Scotland at the World Cup. Photograph: Hannah Peters/Fifa via Getty Images

Making a difference matters and the forward does a huge amount off the pitch to build on the foundations for women’s football laid by those who trod the turf before her. But she admits being a role model is “a bit surreal”.

“When I see girls running around saying: ‘I want to be the next Nikita Parris,’ I always say: ‘Don’t be me, be better than me.’ Because ultimately, if they’re better than me they’ll take the game much further than I have in this moment. Like the pioneers of the game – the likes of Casey Stoney, Fara Williams, Alex Scott – I hope they look back and think they really pushed the game on.”

From the moment she started kicking a ball by the side of the pitch at her elder brothers’ games, she was welcomed. Her neighbour took her to join an under-nines team and later she played for youth clubs. “I was massively embraced. It wasn’t a case of boys and girls, it was just a football team. And that’s what I feel the attitude should be like these days. It’s not about women’s football, men’s football, England women and England men. It’s about England and football. It’s not about your gender.

“It’s about who’s good enough to play for their country, to represent their country and ultimately to win trophies. And that’s how I felt growing up. I went into the youth centre and it was a sports hall full of boys and I was welcomed. They made me feel wanted and appreciated from the age of seven. So from then I always knew I had a home in football.”

Representing Toxteth, frustratingly synonymous with poverty and the 1981 riots, is as important as giving hope to those in the area. “Everyone would see the history of Toxteth as being the riots but there’s so much more,” she says passionately. “Many sporting stars have come from Toxteth. I hope we show young people that there are other perspectives of the area. I can show it in football. You can then change the landscape.”

Nikita Parris in action for Manchester City in this year’s FA Cup final against West Ham.



Nikita Parris in action for Manchester City in this year’s FA Cup final against West Ham. Photograph: Molly Darlington – AMA/Getty Images

Now Parris will be sharing the limelight with the Lyon galácticos. “I’m not intimidated because I know my own quality. I know I’ll put my best foot forward to really try and deliver in each and every session to ensure that I make the most of my time in Lyon. I’m not there just to collect trophies and sit on a bench. I’m there to improve as a player and play.”

Before then, though, there is the small matter of England’s final Group D match against Japan at the World Cup, then the knockouts. Parris opened her account on her World Cup debut, against Scotland: “Scoring a goal for England is special. Scoring in a World Cup is even more special. First World Cup – getting the first goal? I’m very happy about that.”

Despite the standout season, she says her place in the squad never felt assured. “I had sweaty palms!” says Parris, laughing, when asked what it was like waiting for the 8am squad email. “From 8am in the morning, 8.10, refresh, refresh.

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The Football Association’s celebrity-led social media announcements came the next day and Parris had no idea what was coming. “Phil [Neville] texted me after the squad came out and said: ‘You’re going to have a great surprise tomorrow.’” And she did …

“It was David Beckham and he announced that I will wear the No 7 as well. It was unbelievable. I was running up and down the gym like a headless chicken screaming ‘yesssss’.”

From a young girl with a scratched and overplayed Bend It Like Beckham DVD, she has come a long way.

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