NORTHWICH Victoria’s under 12s girls team have had an amazing season under the guidance of a Rugby World Cup winner.

And while England legend Steve Thompson MBE has been keen to help them at the start of their footballing journey, he says the team has helped him through his own battles.

Following a career that saw him win 73 England caps and help them lift the 2003 Rugby World Cup, the 45-year-old moved to Northwich in 2019 with his wife Steph and their four children – daughters Seren, Slone and Saskia and son Saxon.

Having returned to the UK from living abroad, the family first landed in Davenham before moving to their current home in Hartford, and with the help of eldest daughter Seren, the former hooker put a team together to play for Vics.

On the field, the team have had a superb season, winning their league title with three games to spare and scoring more than 160 goals in the process.

Northwich Guardian: The team have scored more than 160 goals in their title-winning seasonThe team have scored more than 160 goals in their title-winning season (Image: Contributed)

And Thompson, who has been public about his battle with early onset dementia since revealing his diagnosis in 2020, has got just as much out of the experience as the players he helps to coach.

“I’ve loved it to be honest. It’s been brilliant,” he told the Guardian.

“Obviously, there’s a lot going on with me but it’s really helped to keep me going.

“It’s given me a routine and it’s more time with my daughter, my wife’s involved and our younger kids come down to watch the training and games.

“I have to have tests on my memory and they’ve told me the way my brain is managing the condition has got better, and a lot of that is down to me watching drills, coming up with plans and things like that.

“I’m using that part of my brain so for me, it’s been brilliant and the girls have made me better.

“It’s given me focus and it gives me a real high. I’m always drained after it but just being involved with it is brilliant.

“Sam, Ed and Lee - the coaches involved with me - and Rob Walsh (Vics junior chairman) have been such a help – there will be times where I’m having a bad day and at that point, they will take over.”

During his distinguished playing career, Thompson played his club rugby for Northampton Saints, Leeds Carnegie and London Wasps as well as French outfit Brive.

However, he will always be widely known for being a key part of the England side that memorably conquered the world in Australia, playing in all but one of the team's games during the 2003 tournament.

Northwich Guardian: Steve Thompson, right, helped England win the 2003 Rugby World Cup during a glittering playing careerSteve Thompson, right, helped England win the 2003 Rugby World Cup during a glittering playing career (Image: PA Wire)

Having lived much of his adult life within an elite sporting environment, the 45-year-old has plenty of knowledge and advice to pass on in a sport that was always his passion.

“It was always said to me that I was a footballer who got fat and that’s why I played rugby,” he joked.

“The love was always football before rugby came along. I see myself as a true supporter as I support Norwich City!

“We’ve got three daughters and a son and between them, they do so many different sports such as archery, gymnastics and ballet as well as football.

“Especially with the gymnastics and the ballet, it’s very clear that it’s quite regimented in that they were there to do exactly what they went to do which was gymnastics and ballet.

“I looked at the football as the same and with the Lionesses’ success, there’s a real opportunity for girls to get really into it now and play at places like Man United, Man City etc.

“I believe in coaching properly and getting the girls not only to enjoy it but to respect each other, the opposition, the referee and parents.

“We train all year round – even when it’s summer and there’s a lot of players on holiday and we might only have four turn up, we’ll just do a skill school.

“Next season, we might look at playing on a Saturday and a Sunday.

“We wanted to give the girls the opportunity to train and be coached properly and play proper football.”

With the move up to the under 12s age group, there was plenty of new things for the Vics girls to get their heads around, including moving from seven-a-side football to nine-a-side and the offside rule becoming active.

Clearly, they have coped admirably with the changes to the delight of their coach.

“I’m massively proud of them,” Thompson said.

“There’s two divisions and before we started, we got asked which one we wanted to go into – we had girls who were just starting out but we wanted to go into the top league to see how we did.

“This year, we’ve gone from seven-a-side up to nine-a-side and there’s been offsides in there too, so it has been different for them.

“We’ve tried to help other teams along with it as well as ourselves because girls’ football is getting serious now and you’ve got to play it properly.

“It’s been amazing coming off the pitch and having opposition parents saying they love the way we play the game.

“It’s been nice to see the progress the girls have made and the parents we have in the group have been amazing and a massive help.

“You see parents in some teams that aren’t helping at all, but ours have been brilliant with me and with the coaches.

“The girls want to take football seriously and want to give it a go.

“Even if they don’t become Lionesses in the future, they know there’s opportunities to play, coach and even referee – there’s so many ways into football for them.

“They always want to turn up and work hard but have fun doing it.”

Northwich Guardian: Thompson with Northwich Vics junior section chairman Robert Walsh, left, and club chairman Ian EgertonThompson with Northwich Vics junior section chairman Robert Walsh, left, and club chairman Ian Egerton (Image: Contributed)