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Toni Duggan considers it part of her duty to build the profile of women's football..

Manchester City striker Toni Duggan eyeing landmark with last laugh on bullies

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Toni Duggan stands on the brink of a thoroughly modern landmark as she enjoys having the last laugh on bullies who wanted to hound her out of football as a youngster.

The 24-year-old Manchester City Women striker is about to become the first of England's Lionesses to reach 100,000 Twitter followers.

And as the women's game in Britain goes from strength to strength, Liverpudlian Duggan has lifted the lid on the toughest years of her football life, which came in her childhood.

"It was really tough and I'm not going to lie," Duggan told Press Association Sport. "You hear the same story from all the players. People got picked on when we were younger, we were laughed at for playing football as a girl, and I was ashamed to go out in my tracksuit or my kit, and it was difficult.

"There were times when I went home to my mum and I'd say, 'You know what Mum, I don't want to play, it's not worth the hassle, people are laughing at me', and there wasn't a pathway, I wasn't going to become a professional football player, I just loved doing it.

"My mum just said, 'It's something you love, keep doing it no matter what other people think', and that kind of succoured me and I look back now and laugh at the people who said those things because I'm having a life that I couldn't dream of, so I'm glad I did stick with it and my mum gave me that advice and supported me."

A footballer in a millennial mould, Duggan uses Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to connect with the women's game's growing fan base. She considers it part of her duty to build the profile of women's football.

There has been the occasional mistake along the way. Last year she posted a picture of herself smiling alongside Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal, just hours after United beat City in the derby, and Duggan faced a backlash from angry Sky Blues fans. She soon apologised.

In 2014, Duggan dressed up as a nun with her face painted black in an imitation of film star Whoopi Goldberg from the film Sister Act. The pictures from a party were spread across social media by England's players before being deleted, and Duggan expressed her regret.

She used Twitter to set the record straight in October 2015, laughing off reports from Argentina that she was dating Sergio Aguero.

As of Wednesday she had over 99,700 Twitter followers.

Duggan wants to be a strong ambassador for the game, and said: "I like social media and without social media the game wouldn't be where it's at.

"That's how people find out our fixtures, results, and get to know the players.

"It's nice to see the impact that it's having, but I don't sit there and count my followers.

"It's a nice feeling that the women's game is supported and people are interested in it, and if you went through my followers it would be a range of people as well: it wouldn't just be young girls and my team-mates, I'm sure it'd be dads, uncles, nans, grandads, people from a mix of generations, and that was our aim when we started.

"Particularly when I moved to Manchester City (in November 2013) our aim was to change the perception of the game and we're halfway there to doing that. I don't think it's fully done but I think it's a work in progress and we're certainly proud of what we've done in the last three years."

Duggan supported the Football Association's McDonald's-backed Girls' Football Week, and was proud to tell youngsters she met in Chelmsford how perceptions of the game had changed beyond recognition since she began kicking a ball.

"The future's bright for these youngsters," Duggan said.

"It was nice to be able to chat with the players, the parents, the families, and just show that there is a way. There are role models out there and a pathway. This isn't just a hobby anymore, this is a profession."

:: McDonald's ambassador Toni Duggan was speaking at the Essex event for FA Girl's Football Week. To find out more please visit www.fa.com/girlsfootballweek

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