‘Really heartwarming’: How Euro 2022 sparked a revolution in women’s football | Women’s football

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It was at a village fete this summer that Manchester United’s Aoife Mannion saw a stand manned by the local Davenham Juniors Football Club. After going to introduce herself, Mannion – also an England international – discovered that the club were looking to create a new women’s team, after their last folded in 2018.

Mannion wanted to help, so she gave talks at two local schools encouraging girls to join the club and, also, turn on their TVs and watch the Lionesses play Euro 2022. What Happened Next , Mannion explains over the phone, was “Absolutely not what we expected”. Instead of launching just one team, Davenham Juniors are set to launch three women’s teams in September.

“I just can’t see that would have been the case if the Euros hadn’t been held in England,” says the 26-year-old defender. “In terms of being a catalyst, and really putting it front and center in people’s minds, I think the Euros did it perfectly, especially because we won.”

But Davenham Juniors are not the only women’s or women’s grassroots side to see their numbers rise after this year’s record-breaking Euro 2022. Across the UK, grassroots clubs are reporting a boom following the historic Lionesses victory.

In nearby Manchester, Ella Toone’s former club Astley and Tyldesley experienced what Lorraine Warwick-Ellis, their Women and Girls Development Manager, can only describe as “the Tooney influence”, adding: “We’ve definitely had an increase in interest from girls. I would say ‘from 13, 14, 15 and under there has been a significant increase… in the under 10 category it just went over the scale. We have now formed two teams in this age group , and we could potentially form a third one.

As Northern Ireland make their historic debut at Euro 2022, it’s perhaps unsurprising that a similar trend is being reported there. County Down-based Lisburn Distillery FC are preparing to launch their first girls’ academy, which coordinator Donna Maxwell says is specifically “on the back of the Euros”.

Maxwell says: “Even talking to people locally, the pressure for girls teams to get going now is huge. We never thought we would see the Northern Ireland team compete in such an important competition and it was fantastic to see how well they have done.

For its part, the Football Association has set itself the goal of getting 7,000 more women and girls to play regularly for grassroots clubs by 2024, with the overall ambition of bringing 120,000 girls from more to play football by the same year. In a similar vein, this month the Lionesses wrote a letter demanding that the government ensure that every schoolgirl has the opportunity to play football. Currently, only 44% of secondary schools in England offer girls equal access to football, according to the FA.

Manchester United's Aoife Mannion (right) during Women's Super League action against Tottenham earlier this year.
Manchester United’s Aoife Mannion (right) during Women’s Super League action against Tottenham earlier this year. Photo: Tottenham Hotspur FC/Getty Images

In Birmingham, Yasmin Nessa, project manager at Saltley Stallions Women’s FC, says her club has also seen increased interest since the tournament. “I noticed the numbers just increased dramatically within two weeks,” she says. For Nessa, she hopes the legacy of the tournament will be to show that “women and girls can engage in football, to normalize that and completely change the norms around it, [to] change the conversation”.

Elsewhere in Ipswich, Kaileigh Bridges helped Shotley Rangers form their first women’s under-nine team. “With every game the Lionesses won, we would then start getting random messages on Facebook with parents asking about their daughters, if there was anything for their daughters to be involved with,” she says. . “So it really had a direct impact on us having a women’s team.”

Despite this, women’s and women’s football clubs often face a mountain of challenges, including when it comes to funding, access to facilities and coaching staff. In Wales, Phil Butler, coach of the Newport City Ladies, recently told the National newspaper that more core funding was needed, calling the facilities in South Wales “atrocious”. Warwick-Ellis, meanwhile, says: “We always struggle to get female coaches forward which is a real shame because in the Euros you saw there were a lot of coaches who were women… I think that really needs to be the next area where we start looking and involving women more.

For Manchester United’s Mannion, who is in rehabilitation after an ACL injury, she plans to speak at more schools to support Davenham Juniors once term resumes. “It’s really comforting,” she said. “Originally I just said I would go to school and talk to them and then basically get on with my life. But, in fact, I found myself super interested in it. I got involved a lot more because it gives me a lot of joy to think that there will be a lot of girls who will have access and opportunities that they should have, but also that maybe the previous generation didn’t have .”

quote of the week

England captain Leah Williamson edited BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour program last week and thanked Sue Whyatt – who played for the England women’s first team – in a warm moment“I stand on your shoulders. Without you, I wouldn’t be where I was and the game certainly wouldn’t be where it is. So you say thank you but, in fact, it’s from me to you.

Lea Williamson
Leah Williamson has praised England trailblazer Sue Whyatt for her influence. Photography: Daniela Porcelli/SPP/Shutterstock

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