More Woman More Football
In the wake of the highest-profile Women’s World Cup yet, Tonicha Luffman looks at how women’s football is developing in Wales.
Football has long been seen as a masculine sport, but times are changing. With the Women’s World Cup achieving record-breaking viewing numbers this summer and the return of the club season looming, more and more girls are becoming invested in football. In Wales, governing body the FAW Trust bears responsibility for the development of the game, from grassroots to national level, and specific focus is paid to girls’ participation.
One person who knows the passion of the sport and has been inspired by stars herself is Wales Women’s first-choice goalkeeper, Laura O’Sullivan. She’s played football for the majority of her life, but only joined a club – Cardiff City – aged 19. “There weren’t many opportunities when I was younger,” she recalls. “I think now the game has grown a lot more – there’s more media coverage in the game, which promotes it. There are a lot more opportunities and clubs around that have women’s teams; I think a lot more volunteers have got involved to help encourage this.”
While O’Sullivan had few female idols to look up to as a teenager, now she has the honour of young girls looking up to her. One of her greatest achievements to date was her performance in the World Cup qualifier between England v Wales last year, keeping a clean sheet away against one of the toughest teams in the world.
“The numbers of people who come to watch our games have increased because of the success as a team where we are getting results,” O’Sullivan says. “More girls come to watch and support us and they want to be in the position we are in, so they go and find clubs. We are trying to build a platform for the youth coming through – hopefully the campaign coming up helps us increase this.”
Of its plans to encourage more women to play, the FAW Trust has introduced Huddle, a fun 10-to-12-week programme where girls between five and 12, new to the game, can develop confidence and give them the perfect football experience. Katy Evans, Football Development Manager for FAW Trust, says: “We are encouraging clubs to offer fun, introductory, games-based activities that cater for new participants. Research suggests once a girl is confident in her environment, she is likely to commit to the activity.”
Other ways to get girls involved with the sport are currently being trialled. Evans said: “We are working with Street Games to develop partnerships in areas of deprivation in Wales to bring football to teenage girls. Again, Street Games runs numerous projects across the UK with football being the most popular sport – however, it is predominately boys that access the opportunities.
“The raised profile and success of the recent campaigns have had a huge impact. The attitudes of the players commenting on the grassroots game and the events we deliver has a bigger impact on the grassroots community than we can ever have alone – some of the players are really on board with our programmes and support as much as they can on social media. We’re confident that the squad players are role models to the next generation and are inspiring in their attitudes both on and off the field.”
The FAW Trust and the Wales Women’s team are inspiring a younger generation of football fans, and have set a participation target of 20,000 girls aged five to 16 playing by 2024. The future is bright and the prospect of seeing Wales play in a Women’s World Cup seems ever more likely.
Wales’ Women’s team start their Euro 2021 qualifying campaign against Faroe Islands (Thu 29 Aug, Toshavn) and Northern Ireland (Tue 3 Sep, Rodney Parade, Newport), with Norway and Belarus to come later. The Welsh Women’s Premier League kicks off on Sun 8 Sep.