‘We can’t turn a kid away’: England’s goal to meet demand for girls’ football

‘We can’t turn a kid away’: England’s goal to meet demand for girls’ football

Coaches and parents across country report high interest in girls’ teams, yet varying levels of access

Alessia Russo celebrating after scoring a goal.

Within days of England’s Euros win, grassroots girls’ football clubs reported being overwhelmed with the rise in requests.

However, access to football varies across the country, with some areas lacking girls’ teams for all ages. Only 44% of secondary schools offer girls and boys equal access to football. Additionally, travel and costs are a barrier to some girls getting on to the pitch.

Here, parents and those involved in youth football discuss what opportunities are like in their area.

‘There are great local teams, but schools need to improve’

Fi Star-Stone and her daughter.

Fi Star-Stone, a 47-year-old coach for an under-13s girls team in Stafford, says her area provides a range of opportunities for girls to play. “We are a small town but we have several teams,” she says, describing local access as “great”. She says the FA has provided a good deal of support, including funding the coaching course she took with her club, Stafford Town FC.

However, there is room for improvement at schools, the coach says. “Most offer netball for girls and football for boys, which is why so many girls turn to their local clubs to find a place to play,” Star-Stone says, adding that she “would love to see football added to the girl’s PE curriculum”. It’s particularly important given that extracurricular sports are not accessible to all girls, particularly in the “current climate where anything extra is a burden. Not everyone can afford to get there or play outside school … If it was in the curriculum they would all get the opportunity to play football.”

‘Local access is good – for girls whose parents have money’

Adele Richards.

Adele Richards, the 57-year-old treasurer of a girls’ under-11s football team in Oldham, knows how limited local access for underprivileged girls can be. “Access is pretty good for girls whose parents have money,” she says, explaining that her daughter and a local coach set up a team for girls at a nearby primary school in 2013 to remedy this imbalance. The school funded the team to play in the North Manchester Girls League and allowed them to practise on the school grounds.

However, the school pulled the funding a couple of years ago, leaving the team to fundraise in order to practise at another venue. “We gathered the parents together and explained to them what had happened,” Richards says. “The parents that could afford to pay, do so; the kids that can’t, don’t, and are supported by the parents who can. We can’t turn a kid away. We keep our costs to the bare minimum. We struggle, but we manage thanks to those parents that help out the poorer girls, and through fundraising.”

‘My local area is a bit of a hub for girls’ football’

Dominic Weaver with his daughter, Annie.

Dominic Weaver, a 50-year-old communications professional, describes St Ives, Cambridgeshire, as “a bit of a hub” for girls’ football. The town has two clubs for each sex, and Weaver coaches the under-18s girls’ team that his 17-year-old daughter plays in. His club, St Ives Rangers FC, has girls’ teams for every age bracket, beginning at under-10s. “It’s a bit of a hotbed for girls’ football,” he says. “There are some really good coaches, and there are a couple of players who’ve come through the club and played for England in the under-17s and under-19s.”

St Ives Rangers.

Weaver says the enthusiasm of a female PE teacher at the local comprehensive has had a huge impact. “She’s been so nurturing of girls – she stands on sidelines and cheers them on and offers personal support throughout their games.”

He is keen to see how women’s football will continue to grow, adding that he heard from other coaches that there had been a rise in interest since the Euros. The impact of England’s victory hasn’t stopped at the girls: “The other day I was playing a game with some of the coaches. When one of the guys scored a backheel goal, someone shouted, he’s done a [Alessia] Russo!”

‘The culture needs to change as well as access’

Anna.

Anna’s six-year-old daughter has been playing football at a north London after-school club for almost a year, but nearly gave it up a few months ago due to being the only girl in her mixed team.

The 38-year-old lecturer says her daughter came home one day upset because a boy in her team of five- and six-year-olds had made a comment about “girls not being as good at football”. “It wasn’t malicious,” Anna says. “But it shows the culture that he’s absorbed.”

Anna and her husband convinced their daughter to keep going and had a word with the club’s organisers, whom she says were “fantastic”. “She came home a few weeks later and said she was top player – she’s more confident now and enjoys it. There are least two more girls in the team now,” she says, adding that her daughter “loved watching the Lionesses”.

She thinks the team’s victory will have a real impact on football culture: “Would that boy say that girls aren’t as good now that he’s seen the win?”