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College boost for women's football

girls are queuing up to get a place at a centre offering them training in one of the fastest-growing female sports football.

The successful centre at Calderdale College in West Yorkshire is to have more applications than places after a strong start in its first year.

Its head coach, Dez Hazel, is a former professional with Sheffield Wednesday and Rotherham United, and visiting coaches have included Sue Smith a former Leeds and England player who is now preparing the England women's team for the 2007 world cup.

Mr Hazel said: "We've already got plenty of interest in the course and there are those that come along at the last minute.

"We still have 10 of the original intake and I'm hoping from September we'll be able to have a squad of about 18 or 20."

Students aged 16-19 who started last year have also played at senior and junior level with clubs ranging from Sunday league sides to big-name teams such as Leeds and Bradford.

The college trainees play against other FE sides including Thomas Danby College, but their work goes far beyond the skills required on the pitch. Other training, such as fitness, exercise and sports development, is included to give them a rounded education in the wider subject of sport, which has been identified as a growth employment sector in the UK.

Other subjects include coaching, first aid and nutrition. There are three sessions a week of practical sport. To get a place on the course, applicants have to go through a test of their footballing skills.

But the requirements also include two GCSEs at a minimum grade C. While many entrants will undoubtedly dream of being professional players, one of the most urgent shortages in the game is in coaching which the college hopes many will choose as a career.

England's under-19 squad is off to Iceland for the UEFA championship on Wednesday, when the opening match will be against Poland.

As they depart, there is an optimistic mood in much of women's football with many teams claiming standards are at an all-time high despite the fact the sport remains relatively obscure in the media compared with the men's game.

Once chosen, Calderdale's trainees are expected to approach their classroom studies with the same level of commitment they show on the pitch. In doing so, the aim is that they will be set up for an alternative career or higher education even if they're not on their way to a professional footballing career.

Already, the course is attracting teenagers who, while talented on the pitch, have other careers in mind, including passing on their skills by becoming teachers themselves.

As it goes from strength to strength, the college is unashamed of its "elite" status aiming at the most promising local school-leavers.

"I think we'll be able to be quite selective," says Mr Hazel.

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