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Girls strike out for fame and glory

Men's football may dominate public attention but the biggest growth area is the women's game, and FEis playing a big part in it, writes Kevin Berry

women's football is one of the fastest growing sports and, with the England women's squad going to China in September next year for the World Cup, the game will become even more popular.

Many further education colleges are setting up courses and football academies to support this growth.

At Calderdale college in Halifax, a football training centre for girls aged 16 to 19 was established in September. It has 18 enthusiastic members, who come from across West Yorkshire, and is run along the same lines as an already successful football academy for boys aged 16 to 18, which started last year.

The head coach is Des Hazel, a former professional with Sheffield Wednesday and Rotherham United. He has long experience of coaching the women's teams at Leeds United and Bradford City.

Visiting coaches include Sue Smith, who has been a member of the England women's squad since 1996, won 54 caps, scored 14 international goals and has a BSc in sports studies, making her a respected role model.

"Sue is a great motivator", says Hannah Wardman, from Bradford. "She's always stretching us."

Minimum admission requirements for the academy are two GCSEs at grade A to C. The two-year course combines studying for a range of A-levels or GNVQs and Btecs in sport or public service with football coaching. Regular fixtures are organised with other colleges and a referee's course is being planned for next year.

"The girls will be looking for jobs in the sports industry," says Matt Fawcett, who is Calderdale college's programme manager for sport. "One of the national priorities, with the growth of the sport, is coaching. It would be wonderful if some of our girls went on to coach in the future.

"We want the girls to be ambassadors for their sport and the college. We'll be going into schools next year and holding summer camps to recruit students.

"Two years ago we had just 25 students in the sports department. Now we have more than 200."

Rebecca Bridger, 18, from Todmorden, says: "I saw the academy advertised on the internet and thought it would be a good qualification to get me into university. I want to study sports science."

Chantelle Ogden, who has played football since she was six years old, says:

"I really enjoy it. I want this course to help my career, which will probably be teaching, and I want to develop my football."

As the girls warm up for a coaching session, they look comfortable with what Des asks them to do.

They are all dressed in smart college kit: no odd socks, scruffy shirts or trainers instead of football boots. "We want them to identify with each other and stay as a unit," says Des. "You look the part and you look after each other. You are representing the college and the academy at all times.

It all goes together."

It seems keeping up appearences is important, even on damp afternoon when the cold Pennine winds are blowing and there is only one spectator.

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