Getting a kick out of the
girls’ football revolution
by Laura Taylor
A swarm of eager young players buzz around the football pitches at this vibrant Cambridgeshire school.
Shouts of encouragement rise up from the touchline and exclamations of delight eminate from the pupils whenever another goal goes in.
Yet these pitches aren’t dominated by boys’ teams but by members of the opposite sex for whom football has become something of a religion.
Six years ago, girls’ football at St Ivo Academy in Cambridgeshire was hardly on the radar. Fast forward and the difference is palpable.
Pupils of all abilities are encouraged to take part but the strength of depth and sheers numbers has brought huge rewards for the schools.
Such has been our success that, in just six years, St Ivo have reached eleven national football finals, one national futsal final and two British Isles tournaments.
Last summer, their U15 and U16 teams reached national finals, with the U16s being crowned national champions.
Anthony Ward, director of strategic operations at St Ivo explained: “Prior to 2014 the school did not have a significant girls’ football programme.
“The current successes have been spearheaded by one member of our staff Lisa Trigg. Her dedication and talent cannot be underestimated.
“She has single-handedly managed national cup teams at all age groups - organising and running training and fixtures – all in addition to a full teaching load and pastoral leadership responsibilities.”
As far as Anthony is concerned, the impact of these successes on all student has been enormous.
“Clearly their sporting ability improves,” he adds. “But, thanks to the qualities of sportsmanship instilled in them, so does their attitude and work ethic off the pitch.
“Many of the students also contribute to other extra-curricular sports at the school and they are actively encouraged to do so. The memories they make will stay with them for many years to come and perhaps influence them far beyond their years at St Ivo.”
Up in the north east, football is alive and kicking at Durham Johnson School where girls have enjoyed football for several years.
It’s a growth that has mirrored the success of the England women’s team, highlighted by the huge response to last year’s World Cup exploits.
The school enters teams at county and national cups at every year group from U12-U18 and two years ago their U14 team got to the national final against Surrey’s Blenheim High School.
PE teacher Andrea Wood said: “The girls have been fired up since local girls Steph Houghton and Jill Scott made such a positive influence in the England squad.
“Our pupils have seen the local football stars at football events over the past years and had medals and winners trophies presented by them. This really sticks int their minds.”
“Reaching a national final two years ago was a massive achievement for the team. The whole school watched the live footage on the day.
“Obviously there is always a difficulty in a school like ours as we have so many sports teams. We always have clashes between various sports, but with very careful planning in the department we manage to fulfil all fixtures.
“There is a massive benefit from running all sports teams in our school. The girls learn teamwork, work on their fitness and develop a sense of identity. Quite often the team are made up of different groups of people so pupils mix within different friendship groups.
The girls have a sense of pride every time they put on the school kit. Twitter and the school website publish results so parents can also be involved in their success.”
Overseeing the growth in the girls’ game,is the English Schools Football Association, who run secondary school national cup competitions from the age of U12 to U18, including their newest competition, the girls’ U18 Super League.
While boys are not permitted to play in any of the girls’ competitions, as they are designed specifically for the development of the girls’ game, girls are permitted to play within boys’ teams until U18.
And the good news is that the ESFA have seen entries into girls’ competitions grow in numbers for the last two seasons – with 1650 teams entering at the secondary school age groups.
The ESFA also runs nationwide U11 competitions for girls in the form of the Danone Nations Cup, beginning with local rounds up to regional and then national finals.
Communication executive Sarah Kearney said: “This is the first time we’ve experienced a significant increase of this manner and we’re incredibly pleased to see that the number of girls’ entries is on the up.
“The ESFA have been strong advocates of girls’ football for a great number of years, running over ten dedicated competitions at inter-school and county level and an international programme for our U15 girls’ England squad. We also have a huge network which delivers local activity across the country.”
In the middle of the London borough of Bromley, Hayes School is in rather unique position of having a fantastic girls’ football programme - despite no PE teachers currently having the time to actually run a girls’ team.
Instead the mixed comprehensive school is blessed to have a number of teaching assistants and science teachers who are football enthusiasts and who run the entire programme.
Director of sport Joe Healey explained: “We have the same challenges as every other school when it comes to motivating girls to play sport. However every girl in the school is able to train on a Friday and we specialise with squad training on a Monday.
“We have no links to a professional football club but are proud of our record as one of the strongest girl’s football schools in Kent. Every girl in key stage 3 plays football within PE lessons, irrespective of ability and/or disability.”
There’s no doubting the 2019 World Cup semi-final success has made a positive impact on participation rates at Hayes.
Joe adds: “For the first time ever, we now have the numbers for U12A and B teams and we have girls playing in every age group including U18s.More than 100 girls now play football every week. The World Cup seems to have inspired a new generation.
“The programme is run professionally with regular meeting with myself and the team of non PE teachers to ensure we are all singing from the same hymn sheets.
“It gives colleagues the chance to understand the value of sport at Hayes, the protocol for arranging fixtures, entry into national, county and local events and raise the profile of the sport within a team of colleagues. It also allows us to use media forums such as Twitter correctly and increase the profile across our community.”
Of course it’s a success that hasn’t come without hurdles.
“The barriers to participation are clear,” Joe says. “Staffing, facilities and sadly a lack of neighbouring schools who play football especially in key stages 4 and 5 hurts our girls’motivation for the sport.
“We often have to travel across the county for a game. Additionally, we play against neighbouring independent schools to ensure that fixtures are not cancelled. They are played on nice pitches which makes a difference.
“We are also very fortunate to be able to use other non-PE teachers for the delivery of this sport or girls’ football at our school would reduce significantly.
“The future is dependent on a number of things and could involve new links with professional clubs although recent meetings suggest they want the use of a full size 4G pitch which we do not have. Having said that, it will hopefully remain a major sport for years to come.”
At Shenfield High School in Essex, girls’ football is quickly catching up with the boys’ game in turns of popularity and success.
While their boys’ football programme has enjoyed countless Essex Cup successes and five national cup titles since 2004, the girls have reached four national cup finals since 2016.
Last season, their U13 girls won the school its first national title while the U14 girls narrowly lost on penalties to the prolific Thomas Telford School.
Garry Sapsford, head of PE. said: “We have a long standing commitment to excellence in both boys and girls football and, at the start of this school year, we have had over 50 girls training for football every Friday after school and a further 30 coming to Futsal club once a week before school.
“This level of commitment enables the school teams to be very competitive which, given we are a relatively small non-selective school (90 girls in that U14 age group last season), we are very proud.
“Most of the teams are either grass roots players or multi sports athletes for whom football is not their specialist sport. But providing regular training and fixtures has enabled our players to make huge progress.
“And this season the numbers of girls competing for places in our U12 and U13 girls football teams is so high that we really could do with B team competitions for them. The fact that so many girls attend the training sessions is testament to the enjoyment that the girls get from being a part of the football programme.
“The girls benefit from making a close-knit group of friends who often also compete in other sports together like cricket, basketball or athletics. It also shows that the football programme complements participation in other sports.
“Staff collaborate to ensure the girls are not pulled in different directions and also liaise with parents to ensure that if they do need a rest then players are rotated. We are very proud of what we are doing here.”