Football is the number one team sport for girls in the UK. Compared with the rest of Europe, however, participation is still low. The FA Girls’ Football Festivals hope to tackle that foot first.
Reporter: Kait Borsay
Sub editor: Indraja Gugle
With over 8,000 attendees in 2014, the FA Girls’ Football Festivals is one way the national association hopes to engage girls at primary and secondary school level on a localised basis. The event, in association with Continental Tyres, will be in London this summer.
The profile of women’s football is fast gathering momentum, the FA Women’s Super League (WSL) season has just started and for the first time in its history, the FA Women’s Cup final will be held at Wembley Stadium. Tickets are reasonably priced for the game on 1 August, and the FA will hope to recreate the buzz around England’s international fixture against Germany at Wembley last year, which sold out.
The capital is well-served if football’s your thing, why not try your hand (or foot) at some of the women’s beginners and recreational sessions organised by the London FA? Or, if you have children, you can get involved with the Capital Girls League, which is in its fourth season. Overall, London hosts 45 women’s football teams and 90 girls’ teams, with great initiatives for sparking and maintaining interest in the female game.
There are 25 Football Festivals throughout England this year: and all are free to participate in, from Yeovil to Cumbria. Katie Brazier, the FA’s Head of Women’s Leagues & Competitions describes how the idea came about:
This year’s calendar kicked off in Yeovil, where nearly 300 girls from five to 16-years-old tested their skills in a range of activities combining football, fun and music.
Polly Fildes, Women’s Football National Project Officer for the FA says: “The different activities at the Festivals help appeal to a wide variety of girls.
— CharlotteLadeRogers (@CharlotteLade) March 10, 2015
“Whilst we have a number of exciting football-based interactivities, such as speed cage and target shoot, a freestyle workshop and referee workshop, we also incorporate face painting, hair braiding and music, to show that, whatever your involvement in the game, there is something for everyone.”
“Our main aim is to get all the girls that attend interested and playing the beautiful game”
FA WSL stars Ellie Curson and Shauna Cossens of Yeovil Town Ladies were on hand at the Festival opener to share tips, advice and their experiences in the game – it’s hard to tell who enjoyed themselves more…
The majority of players in the WSL play football part-time, and must fit training in with paid work, or in Shauna Cossens’ case, study.
The Yeovil Town Ladies midfielder found football at a young age, playing in a girl’s team whilst at Bristol Academy’s Centre of Excellence. Her skill on the football field earned her a scholarship at well-known private school, Millfield, where she is currently studying for her A-Levels. She wants to study medicine – and will actively choose a university near a WSL team in the hope she can continue to play.
After taking part in the festival held in Yeovil, the 18-year-old says: “I would have loved this event when I was younger, getting to meet professional footballers [from Yeovil Town] at this level is rare in men’s football.”
“Some of the girls here today have never kicked a ball before, hopefully we’ve secured some interest”
— Shauna Cossens (@ShaunaCossens) March 3, 2015
Fildes admits they are “fighting a bit of a battle to ensure football is offered in schools”
The current vogue for satellite coaching, where school children get to enjoy a different sport every school term, means that unless children join a local club outside school, they might struggle to play the more traditional sports like football on a weekly basis.
The Football Festivals hope to readdress the balance and 85 per cent of last year’s participants say they’d like to continue playing football after trying it at a festival, as Brazier explains:
Fildes adds: “In 2014 the results were great: 500 girls signed up to a basic refereeing course, quite some rise from the year before when we sent 97.”
In addition to the activities available on the day, all festival attendees receive a free ticket to a match at their local FA WSL club.
London County FA will be hosting a Girl’s Football Festival on 1 June at the Douglas Eyre Sports Centre, in Walthamstow, E17. Click here for more details.
All photos are rights-free.