Niamh Charles

Niamh is a professional footballer, currently paying in the Women’s Super League (WSL) with Chelsea as a right-back. She also represented England in Sarina Wiegman’s Lionesses squad at the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, after being picked for the team following an impressive WSL season.

The team made history when they made it to the final and had their best ever finish, placing second in the competition. For Niamh, football has always been an important part of her life.

Growing up on the Wirral, just a stone’s throw away from Merseyside’s famous Liverpool and Everton Football Clubs, sadly Niamh didn’t have a huge amount of choice by the way of grassroots football for girls. Instead, she joined a boys’ team, the West Kirkby Wasps, who she played with up until she was around 14, often as the only female player on the pitch.

As a teenager she then had the opportunity to try out for both Liverpool FC and Everton FC. Despite initially wanting to join Everton due to their established women's team, she chose Liverpool where she impressed at academy level before making her debut in the senior women’s quad in 2016.

Alongside her flourishing football career, Niamh also wanted to gain a degree, but needed a flexible and supportive approach that would allow her to continue to pursue her professional sporting career.

“When it came to deciding where I should apply for university, the reputation of LJMU’s sports offering was second to none and was something I was keen to experience and be a part of. I was aware that the School of Sport and Exercise Sciences had a history of nurturing world-class athletes, and I knew I’d be getting an excellent quality of teaching and support.”

As well as working to complete her degree, Niamh continued to juggle her full-time football career alongside her studies, making her university experience a unique one. She describes how the support of her tutors and help from the Sports Scholarship scheme allowed her to keep all of the balls rolling.

Speaking during her time at LJMU, she said: “It’s been massively beneficial for me to be able to play football professionally and still continue with my studies at the same time. The support the university has given me has been great, in particular from my tutors and the rest of the Sports Scholarship staff who really go out of their way to guide you. In my case, being part of the Scholarship scheme and getting so much guidance from staff definitely helped me to strike the right balance, and commit to both my studies and professional endeavours to the very best of my ability.

“The teaching curriculum on the Sport and Exercise Science course was also massively applicable to my career. Everything I learned in lectures could be related back to myself as an athlete. It also provided me with a valuable opportunity to continue to progress in my career, while still obtaining an education. It was certainly a challenging experience but it’s one that definitely enabled me to better myself as a person, improve my time-management skills and further develop qualities that I hope will continue to set me up for future success.”

When she graduated, Niamh was awarded the prestigious Paula Gorman Prize for her outstanding academic achievements during her time at LJMU.  

“I have never known a team who has inspired a generation of players to enter a grassroots sport as much as the Lionesses. We were incredibly proud to see Niamh, as a former LJMU student and Sport Scholar, playing a key role in this historic moment and we know that she will continue to be a role model to many other young girls who want to pursue both sport and academia.”

– Dave McDermott, Head of Elite Sport and Athlete Management

Back on the pitch, before making it into the senior England squad, she represented England in various youth age groups during European Championships and World Cups. And in 2020 she left Liverpool and signed with Chelsea where she remains today.

When it comes to her advice for other young girls or women who have aspirations to work in the world of professional football, Niamh feels that love and passion for the sport are key to success.

“It is a really exciting time for female football in this country and the opportunities available are continuing to increase. The most important thing I would say is to make sure that you enjoy playing. Of course, you should take every opportunity to better yourself as a player – but it’s important to mainly focus on the fun and enjoyment football can bring to you. When you’re doing something you love, who knows where you could end up.”

Watch Niamh speaking about her time at LJMU back in 2019.