SUNDERLAND Women’s forward Demi Stokes is hoping for a silver lining as she prepares to leave the club.
The 19-year-old England international is taking up a four-year scholarship at the University of North Carolina in the U.S. in the summer as she tries to forge a professional football career.
And the skilful striker is hoping to go out on a high by helping put some silverware in the club’s trophy cabinet.
National division leaders Sunderland entertain third-placed Leeds on Sunday, looking to move a step closer to sealing the league title.
The championship battle is now down to just three teams.
The Lady Black Cats are two points clear of both Nottingham Forest and Leeds and also have a game in hand on both.
Three wins from their remaining four games will guarantee the title, but Sunderland’s final three games are all away from home, so a win tomorrow would be a major boost.
Then, a week tomorrow, Sunderland host mighty Arsenal in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, a repeat of the 2009 final when the Gunners won 2-1.
“I’d love to help the team win some silverware this season,” said Stokes, who was part of the England squad which lifted the Uefa European Championship in Belarus in 2009 and also reached the final of Euro 2010.
“We have a very good chance in the league and we are still in the FA Cup.
“It’s a little bit strange to think I won’t be here next season, but it would be great to go out on a high note. I’ll be doing all I can to try to make sure that happens.”
Stokes is also looking forward to the cup clash against Arsenal, which revives great memories of Sunderland’s run the final two years ago.
“Getting to the final was a great achievement,” she said. “But of course, once you have been there, you are hungry for more.
“It would be great to go all the way and win it this time around.
“Arsenal are a really good team and beat us in the final two seasons ago, so it would be nice if we could beat them this time.
“Winning the FA Cup with Sunderland would be a dream come true, but there’s a long way to go before we can start thinking about that!
“We will have to be at our best to beat Arsenal, but we have a chance.”
Demi has been with the Wearsiders since she was eight and admits it will be a wrench to leave for the U.S., although she is excited by what lies ahead.
“I worked my way through the Academy up to the ladies’ team and I have really enjoyed it,” she said.
“I have met some great people and made some very good friends and I know I will miss them when I leave.
“It will be sad to say goodbye at the end of the season, but I’m looking forward to a new challenge in America. It’s a very exciting time.
“I was always a bit of a tomboy when I was younger. I have always loved football and have always wanted to be a professional footballer. I can’t think of anything else I’d rather do.
“It’s important not to have any regrets. I will be a long way from home, but this is a great opportunity and one which could shape my whole future.
“Women’s football is really big in America,” she said.
“In England, they are just starting to have female professional footballers, but they have had them out there for years.
“Scouts come and watch all the university games, so there is a chance to get picked up by a team if I impress.
“I’ve never wanted anything else than to play football for a living, and if I could do that in the U.S., it would be a dream come true.”
Tomorrow’s game against Leeds at the Hetton Centre kicks off at 1.30pm. Admission is £3 for adults and £1 children.