by Tom Dean

LUCY STANIFORTH says every time she kicks a ball she is playing for her brother who died of a drug overdose 18 years ago.

Thomas Staniforth was a promising footballer on the books at Sheffield Wednesday but died in 2001 aged just 20 after taking ecstasy on a night out in York.

England international Staniforth, who was nine at the time of his death, says the memory of her brother is always with her and spurring her on to make the most of her career.

And the Birmingham midfielder, who wears the number 37 on the back of her shirt - the number Thomas wore for Wednesday - says she wants to make him proud.

She said: “It is such a shame he can’t be here to see the success I have managed and all the potential I have to go on and succeed in the future but I know he would be immensely proud.

“I would have loved for him to have watched me because he was mad about football and a fantastic player himself.

“I was only nine when he died so I never had the opportunity to play with him and learn from him but I am still grateful for everything he did for me because he helped me grow my love for the game from such a young age.”

Staniforth never played a competitive first-team game for Wednesday but he was on the bench six times - including games against Manchester United and Arsenal - before his death.

Football runs through the blood on the Staniforth family with both Thomas and Lucy following in the footsteps of their father Gordon, who enjoyed a career in the 1970s and 1980s with Hull City before later spells at York and Carlisle.

And 26-year-old Lucy is determined that her brother is never forgotten - through her career for her clubs has worn the same number her brother had at Wednesday.

Lucy, who is hoping to feature for the Lionesses against Germany at a sold-out Wembley on Saturday, November 9, said: “If I can do something meaningful then that is great and the family really like it and so do all of Thomas’ mates.

“They all love to see it and cheer ‘Stani 37’ when they do, so I wear it more for the family than for myself really.

“My cousin is only a kid but he is already wearing the number, so it is turning into a bit of family tradition.

“If I ever have children, I hope they might continue to wear the number too.”

Her brother’s death is not the only hardship Staniforth has had to overcome - there was a time when it looked like she may never play football again.

She suffered two separate anterior cruciate ligament injuries in 2013 and 2014, the same injury that robbed Jordan Nobbs of the chance of playing in the World Cup, forcing her to miss almost two years of football.

Her recovery and belated breakthrough into Phil Neville’s squad is down to hard work and determination and Staniforth was further rewarded with a place in the Lionesses’ World Cup squad.

She played just 12 minutes in the 3-0 last-16 win over Cameroon but now she is determined to ensure she plays a more pivotal role at the Tokyo Olympics and a home European Championships in 2021, ensuring the Staniforth name goes up in lights once more.

“Obviously I want to play every single game but at the same time I know that in different games we need different strengths,” she added.

“It is hard and it makes me look within myself and ask how much I’m willing to sacrifice to be the best in my position in the country.”

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