There are a couple of photos on Ricki Herbert Football Academy’s website showing a very young Natalie Young dribbling the ball and protecting her goal.
The 15-year-old Cambridge High School student remembers those days well and how much she enjoyed kicking the ball around in the club’s First Kicks programme.
It saw her develop a love of football to the point where despite being a representative softball and basketball player, she now favours “the people’s game” over any other sport.
The Cambridge Football Club’s football programme, which she started at five, set her off on that journey and resulted in her selection this month in the New Zealand under 16 team.
Natalie, who plays as a forward now rather than in goal, flew out to Tahiti with the team on Monday to compete at the 10-nation Oceania under 16 women’s championships.
The winner qualifies for next year’s Fifa under 17 women’s World Cup in the Dominican Republic.
The selectors noticed Natalie at trials held in Hamilton at the home of Melville United where she saw her big chance, ran herself to a standstill and was rewarded by getting named in the Football Ferns side.
It has been quite a year for her as she made her debut in the Hamilton Wanderers premier team and scored her first topflight goal in an 8-1 loss to Western Springs in July.
She also travelled that month to Melbourne with the RH3 Football Academy – set up in Cambridge by former All Whites player and coach Ricki Herbert – to experience six training sessions with the women’s A League club Melbourne Victory.
While there she saw Australia beat France 1-0 in a pre-World Cup friendly at Marvel Stadium – learning why Sam Kerr is one of the world’s best women players.
Back home she attended eight World Cup games including a United States match when her idol, striker Alex Morgan, played.
Natalie has been in the RH3 academy for seven years under the watchful eye of Herbert who works in partnership with the Wanderers club to provide programmes for young players.
Herbert played for two seasons with the then cash-strapped Wolverhampton Wanderers in the old English second and third divisions in the 1980s and came to the attention of the world football audience as a coach when his All Whites team remained unbeaten – but still failed to qualify for the latter stages – in the 2010 World Cup.
He is also director of football at the Hamilton Wanderers and his contacts should prove invaluable for Natalie who dreams of playing in Europe.
“Hopefully someone will notice me and ask me to play over there,” Natalie said.
Her favourite club is Manchester City which fields a side in the Women’s Super League and is captained by England defender Steph Houghton.
Two German coaches who visited New Zealand before the World Cup and did a session with players might well have spotted the hard-working Cambridge player and jotted down her name for the scouts to follow up on.
Natalie has trained herself to be good with both feet but tends to shoot and take penalties with her right.
Nineteen players have been named in coach Leon Birnie’s squad which includes one other Waikato player, Laura Bennett of Melville United.
New Zealand have been drawn in Group B alongside Cook Islands and Samoa, and kick-off the competition against the Cook islanders tomorrow (September 15) at 2pm our time.