Football: no longer a man’s game?

Arsenal Ladies in action, an inspiration to female footballers.
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To paraphrase Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, “It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquility  they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it.” Undoubtedly, the Yorkshire-born novelist didn’t think such statement could one day describe women’s football in England, but her heroin’s words aptly describe the feeling that has swamped ladies football in recent years.

The number of girls taking part in what is still largely considered to be quintessentially an alpha-male sport has grown steadily over the last 24 months, reaching a staggering 1.38m (from the age of 5 onward) unit in 2011, making it the the third largest team sport behind only mens football and mens cricket. A recent report by the FA calculated that almost 300,000 women over the age of 21 play some form of football in England.

Riding the wave of the London Olympics that saw Team GB miss out on a spot in the semifinal by a whisker, Islington’s council have been promoting a scheme to involve as many girls as possible into football, a long-term plan whose goal – if you’ll excuse the pun – is not simply to keep girls active.

“More and more girls want to get involved in football,” explains Cameron Hughes, one of the coaches involved in the Access to Sports Project sponsored by the Islington council that includes football sessions at Mayville Red Pitch.

“Our sessions don’t have an age limit,” continues Hughes, who’s been involved in coaching for 15 years, “although we do like to keep youngsters under 16 in a separate group, to guarantee fairer competition and understanding.”

The football training at Mayville Red Pitch has been received with enthusiasm by the local community, with many girls looking at football as something more than a simple distraction.

“I think making football accessible to a wide number of people is a wonderful idea,” said Alice Kenny, 18, whose football-mad family members are delighted to see young girls involved in football.”

Arsenal Ladies in action, an inspiration to female footballers.
Arsenal Ladies in action, an inspiration to female footballers.

“Mum, dad and my brother are all Arsenal season-ticket holders and I loved football since I was really young so it’s great to have the opportunity to become a better player,” continues Kenny who plays for a local ladies team and hopes to play for Arsenal Ladies one day. ”

“Arsenal Ladies are the most successful club in the country,” explains Kenny, “and it would be an absolute dream to play for them, particularly as they’re my local team,” says the 18-year-old.

Arsenal Ladies, who have a strong partnership with Arsenal Football Club, have been identified as an essential figure for the growth of female football across the capital and Islington Council are likely to seek to involve the club in their scheme but no deal has been struck as yet.

Cameron Hughes hopes to see Arsenal Ladies involved with the council as soon as possible: “It’d give the whole initiative a massive boost,” says the coach, “it’d bring a whole different dimension to our project”.

For now, young girls in Islington can dream of Rio 2016.

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