Grassroutes girls football: where can our future Lionesses play?
It was the summer football finally came home. And after all the excitement of the UEFA Euros win for the Lionesses, we talked to one of Amble’s upcoming football players to find out the situation for the next generation of aspiring Lucy Bronzes, Jill Scotts or Beth Meads.
Lyla Smith is 15. She’s been playing football since she was 5, but if you wanted to watch her, you’d have to travel a fair distance. There were no girls football teams for her to join in Amble, including at JCSC, so Lyla trains with the Newcastle United Foundation, and plays for North Shields.
Lyla told us: “Theoretically girls can play on the school teams – but actually, there are no girls picked. I think there should be at least a mixed team at JCSC, and if there was a girls’ team, it would show how many wanted to play.”
We asked JCSC what the current situation was for girls wanting to play football at school.
Liz Harrison, PE Teacher at JCSC, said: “We have introduced football this year throughout the school. Students in Y6-Y7 are currently doing football in lessons in mixed classes. Y8-11 girls PE are currently playing football and badminton.
“Football is a real passion of mine and we would love to run more teams but don’t yet have sufficient interest from girls, this is something we hope to push. We had mixed after school football sessions last year and are hoping to run more groups this year, given the huge success of the England Women’s team.”
Girls often stopped from playing football at secondary school
In the UK, girls are routinely stopped from playing school football once they enter secondary education, and this was an issue the Lionesses drew attention to.
PE is a compulsory subject at school, but there are no rules on whether girls should have equal access to football. And schools themselves get to decide whether to offer football to girls during PE.
In a letter to the government after their Euros success, the Lionesses said: “This generation of schoolgirls deserves more. They deserve to play football at lunchtime, they deserve to play football in PE lessons and they deserve to believe they can one day play for England.”
According to the FA, football is now officially the biggest female team sport in England.
Amble is/was home to several high profile footballers, and a quick search of Wikipedia ‘notable people from Amble’ shows our esteem for players goes back many, many decades. But of course, they’re all male.
Just as with Lucy Bronze who as a youngster played for Alnwick Town, then had to leave when she reached secondary school (she attended the Duchess’s High School), twenty years later, girls like Lyla still had to face obstacles when pursuing their footballing dreams. Is this finally changing?
Lyla shared her experience with us: “I started in football when I was in reception. My parents took me to an after school football club with Trident Soccer. This was the start of my footballing journey and introduced me to the sport. In 2015 I joined Alnwick Town girls. A year later, I had my first trial for Newcastle United Foundation and have been there ever since.” She hopes eventually to be picked for Newcastle United’s women’s team.
Good news for younger girls
Since the fantastic achievement of the Lionesses, Amble Links have begun an under 7s girls’ side which will compete in the Northumberland Football League’s girls’ section.
Coach David Whenray told us: “I believe this is the first ever junior girls’ team in Amble. The girls have been playing really well in pre-season and have already won their first tournament, beating sides a year older than them on the way. We also have some younger girls who attend our Friday night sessions aimed at 3-6 year olds. They’ve all been inspired by the success of England this summer and seem to be really enjoying playing football.” You can contact him on 07885546163.
Our last question to Lyla: What does football mean to you? “Football is a way of life. It makes me feel all different emotions: happiness, love, sadness, anger, determination, guilt. Football is like oxygen, I need it to survive.”