Jess Park interview: I owe everything to my dad – I’ll make him proud to be an Everton fan
There will be no prouder person among the 20,000-plus fans expected at Goodison Park on Friday night than Jess Park’s father. Ian Park has supported Everton since he was a boy but his first visit to the club’s home ground will be to see his daughter, the England forward, play against Liverpool.
The support and reassurance of her dad has been crucial to Park’s sporting rise, particularly when she had to make the switch from playing in her local boys’ team in Brough, in East Riding, Yorkshire, to a girls’ set-up. His encouragement has certainly paid off, as Park has become a breakthrough talent for the Lionesses and last summer signed on loan for his beloved Everton from Manchester City.
“I’ll do a little celebration thing towards him if I score but he doesn’t know that yet. It’s going to be his first time at Goodison as well as my first game there so he’s very, very excited,” says Park of the first Women’s Super League Merseyside derby to be held at Goodison Park. “I couldn’t have done everything without him. He took me everywhere. He’s a massive Everton fan so he’s going to be so proud.”
Park delighted Everton supporters in the reverse fixture at Anfield in September, netting a goal and an assist in a 3-0 victory as she wreaked havoc in the Liverpool back-line.
“It was an absolutely incredible night, it’s one that stands out in my career highlights so far,” Park says of that victory. “It was just like a brilliant start to my season here with Everton. It gave us massive confidence and kind of brought us all together as a team quite well. It kind of set the tone.”
Park is speaking exclusively to Telegraph Sport at the end of a visit to St Mary and St Paul’s CE Primary in Prescot with Everton captain Izzy Christiansen. One of the pupils, Skylar, who declares that Park is her favourite player, is being given the chance to walk the teams out at Goodison Park. These types of community visits have become weekly for Everton’s women’s team, with Park describing them as “very wholesome” and “massively important to us”.
On the pitch, Park has contributed three goals, two assists and 76 per cent passing accuracy in her 13 WSL appearances for the club this term. She says the loan move was motivated by a desire to “definitely play minutes and have a different experience, experiencing different tactics and learning different things”. It has reaped dividends because she has also picked up her first three England caps this season too and scored within 79 seconds of her debut against Japan last November.
“It still seems a bit surreal sometimes when I think back to it, it was just a brilliant moment,” says Park of her rapid introduction to the Lionesses scoring charts. “I don’t think it’s ever not going to be kind of like a dream that happened. It’s been brilliant to be a part of the Lionesses, to be in that environment is just a brilliant thing for my career and learning.”
Everton manager Brian Sorensen has clearly been impressed by his loan signing, saying: “Jess has been great for us and it shows in the minutes we’re giving her. There are still things in her game she needs to improve but, as a whole, she looks much more confident than when she first came in. She is really trying to develop her physical side, she’s really taking steps in the right direction there. Then it’s just being smart under pressure - and being consistent, always tracking back and doing the right stuff.
“When she gets that right you will almost have the complete, finished product but she still has years to grow and we’re happy to help her with her development.”
Park was kept in the England squad for February’s Arnold Clark Cup, putting her in the frame for World Cup selection later this year, but she is trying not to get distracted by that prospect.
“I think it’s important to focus on what I can control right now and that’s performances week in, week out, working hard in the training field and then obviously, I can dream, but we’ll just see,” she says. “You’re always thinking, ‘Let’s try and get there’ but there are many more [tournaments] to come after that hopefully. So I just need to focus on the now and work really hard and see if I can make it.”