TEN years after his tragic death, former Copmanthorpe footballer Lucy Staniforth has taken up her late brother’s squad number during her first season as a Super League professional.

Thomas Staniforth was a member of Sheffield Wednesday’s first-team squad when he collapsed and died during a night out in York at the age of 20.

The one-time York City Centre of Excellence defender never made a senior appearance for the Owls, then in the Premier League, but was named among the substitutes against the likes of Arsenal and Manchester United.

His sister Lucy has since become one of the brightest prospects in the English ladies’ game, playing in World Cup finals at under-17 level for her country and in last season’s FA Cup final.

She insists her achievements are borne from a desire to fulfil her potential – an opportunity that was denied her role model and eldest sibling who was also a pupil at Tadcaster Grammar School.

About the significance of wearing Thomas’ Hillsborough squad number of 37 for Lincoln Ladies this term, ex-Sunderland midfielder Staniforth said: “It was a nice opportunity to carry the number on in our family.

“Both of my brothers loved football when I was growing up and, as soon as I could walk, they were throwing balls at me and I was kicking them. It was such a shame that Tom died at a time when he had got where he had in the game.

“I’m now hoping to fill the void that he left in terms of what he could have achieved. That’s my incentive and I am sure that he would be proud that I’ve got to this level.”

While there is a notable difference in her playing style, Lucy also hopes to adopt not only her brother’s number but also some of the traits that saw him all too briefly ply his trade in top-flight football.

She added: “I was really young when he was playing football but my mum always tells me about how good Tom was at heading and attacking the ball. They used to send him up front when teams needed a goal and then back when they needed a clean sheet.

“Even as a young boy, he never shut his eyes or got a chicken neck when he went up for the ball and my heading ability has actually improved this season so maybe it’s down to the number.

“My dad (former York City attacker Gordon Staniforth) would also say I’m more like my brother James in that I’m a flair player.

“Tom was more of a tough, quality player who never really performed badly and I want to incorporate his consistency into my game as well.”

The first women’s Super League season in this country has just taken a two-month break as the World Cup gets under way.

Staniforth has enjoyed the experience so far even if Lincoln have not had the best of starts and are currently bottom.

Gates of 700-plus, though, have meant she is now getting recognised at petrol stations in the city and she believes the new professional league has proved a success so far, saying: “Narrowing the division down to eight teams has meant a better spread of quality players.

“There might have been a little less excitement with a few 0-0 draws but that illustrates the improvements in standard. I am playing with and against good players in every match and that makes you raise your own game.

“We also train every day because the whole idea of Super League was to limit the number of working hours players did. Playing two or three games a week has been physically demanding though, especially at the age of 18.”

Having left Sunderland last season, Staniforth now counts the likes of Sue Smith – the most-capped female England player in the country – and her fellow full internationals Casey Stoney, Jess Clarke, Sophie Bradley and Kay Hawke as team-mates.

She is confident the team will enjoy an upturn when the league campaign resumes in August.

No side will be relegated during this inaugural year and Staniforth added: “Our season has not gone the way we wanted but, when the league is finished, there is a Super League Cup to play for and that might give us a fresh challenge to try to win something.

“This season will be a learning experience. We’ve played seven games and only won one which is pretty disappointing in terms of what we set out to achieve.

“Hopefully, next season we will push on for bigger things and try to get into Europe because we have a strong squad.”

The two FA Cup finalists – Arsenal and Bristol – qualified for Europe this season but the criteria might change for 2012 to include the Super League and FA Cup winners.

Challenging for domestic and Continental honours certainly represents a contrast to Lincoln’s men’s team, who have just been relegated from the Football League with Staniforth admitting the side feel a responsibility to now lift the city’s spirits.

She said: “What’s happened to the men’s team has obviously been bad for the city but we’re playing top-flight football with England players in our team so the pressure’s on really to try to cheer everybody up.”

Staniforth is also hoping further international recognition comes her way with the Nordic Under-23 Cup being played in Norway next year.

“There’s a bigger pool of players to choose from when you get to U23 level but I’m looking to get into the squad and will just keep working hard,” she said.