When Kirsty Hanson glided on to Ella Toone’s neat through ball and fired into the net she shouted “yay”, but then came the roar from the crowd. “I’d forgotten what this was like,” says Hanson, who gets fans’ songs stuck in her head.
In giving Manchester United a 1-0 first-half lead against Reading, Hanson had scored the first Women’s Super League goal of the season, the first shown live on Sky Sports and the first with fans back in the stands.
“I forgot we were on Sky Sports so I was going mad and after it was like: ‘Oh gosh, I need to calm down, this is on Sky Sports, we’re only 1-0 up and they might come back.’”
She needn’t have worried. United won 2-0 and Hanson says that with all the replays going around she was “buzzing for about a week”.
A lifelong United fan and product of the club’s centre of excellence, the 23-year-old Scotland international was re-signed for the newly established team by the then manager Casey Stoney in 2018 after being forced elsewhere in the absence of a senior side upon outgrowing the academy.
“I was speechless” she says of taking the call from Stoney. “When we met up in a coffee shop, me, my mum and Casey, and went through the plans and she was like: ‘So do you want to sign?’ I was like: ‘Of coooourse.’ I wasn’t even thinking about it. I was just really excited.”
Hanson is a fan favourite, a key component of a dynamic, young United forward line and is known for never being satisfied and an insatiable desire to get better.
That drive has come from the knock backs. Having played with boys in the street she then joined a local boys’ team. “I think that’s where I’ve got my physicalness from,” she says. “I had to work hard because at first they didn’t pass to me but then I was like: ‘You know what, I’m going to show them what I can do.’ When I started scoring goals they ended up saying: ‘Oh right, she’s OK’ and they started passing to me.”
Getting into the centre of excellence required similar determination. “It took me a few times to get in,” she says. “But as a United fan I was like: ‘I’m not giving up. I want to play for Manchester United.’ I think that’s where I get my attitude from. They could turn me away but I was going to come back the next year. I did that and I eventually got in. That was really special. I keep it in the back of my mind.
“I’ve had coaches tell me that I’m not good enough and I look back now and a lot of the players that they said were better than me don’t play now. That’s what I keep in mind. Sometimes if I’m not having a good game or I’ve not been selected I’m just like: ‘You know what, there’s no point giving up. I’ve never given up.’”
Hanson’s delight in playing for her team is infectious. “I still can’t believe I get all this kit. It’s just surreal. It was amazing to sign for the first women’s team and it shows how far women’s football has come. To be back is just a dream come true and something that when I was small I didn’t think would ever happen.”
In United’s fifth game of the season, their last before the international break, they came from behind to lead at home against 10-player Manchester City before conceding the equaliser with 10 minutes to play. “If we want to get to the top of the league we need to start beating these teams now,” Hanson says. “We’re up there with them, we just need to try and not concede now in silly moments when we’re on top.”
Under a new manager, Marc Skinner, United have not had the blistering start they did last season, when they were unbeaten and top at Christmas. The team sit fourth, five points behind the leaders, Arsenal, their dropped points from a bruising 6-1 defeat by the champions Chelsea and the 2-2 draw with City.
“We might not have made big signings like other teams have made but we’re really together,” Hanson says. “That’s what is special about our team. We all believe in one another and that’s really paying off now. As the games go on we’ll start playing the way Marc wants to and the way we can. We see some aspects of it in the training sessions and it’s coming out on the pitch.”
Hanson, who hugged the wing more last season, is coming inside to a greater extent, and likes the added unpredictability to her play. “I thought I wasn’t really any good at coming inside but Marc’s really helped me be calm on the ball. He said: ‘Just play with freedom, just do you. It doesn’t matter if you make a mistake because you’ve got players behind you.’
“Coming inside I’ve touched the ball more; especially in pre-season that’s where I scored most of my goals from. I can still go wide and take on players but it’s nice to have different things to do because the defenders you come up against don’t expect it and now I think that I’m less predictable.”
Something less obvious is her nickname, Kirky. “At school someone just started using Kirk and then I started using it. At United in the youth team the coach there started saying Kirky, so now everywhere I go it’s just Kirky. I kind of like it – it’s simple, short and less boring than Kirst.”
Get to know the players in England’s top flight better with our WSL player in focus series. Read all our interviews here.