Another Shearer shows way to goal

27th June 2008 at 01:00
Female footballers in the North East are learning from a coach with an impeccable pedigree

Female footballers in the North East are learning from a coach with an impeccable pedigree. Melanie Reay is the record-breaking striker of the FA Women's Premier League Northern Division after scoring 28 goals last season - and is also the cousin of Alan Shearer.

The 27-year-old coaches teenagers at Gateshead College's football academy and turns out for the Newcastle United women's club at the weekends.

She takes after her famous relative, Newcastle United's record scorer in the men's game, as a centre forward.

Reay said her career as a premier league player helped to inspire the students, who do nine hours of football training a week while taking a full-time academic or vocational course.

She said: "They have that respect for someone who's been there, rather than just someone coming in and coaching them. If you're trying to demonstrate something, it's great if they can see you do it yourself.

"And they can look at the way you're training and your diet and lifestyle, and they can use you as a role model to help them get where they want to be."

Last month Reay received the award for top scorer in the Women's Premier League. It was the fourth time that she has picked up the award for the northern division, having previously scored 25, 19 and 18 goals in a season for her former club - and Newcastle United's great rivals - Sunderland. Her move two years ago finally brought her to the team she supports as a fan.

Just as the academy students have to balance their football training and their studies, Reay has to juggle coaching them and playing for her club, where she is also assistant manager and an under-16s coach.

The academy, which has 40 women players, has produced some stars, with four England internationals having trained there as teenagers. Three current academy players have been chosen for the England Colleges team, and 10 players have won soccer scholarships to universities in the United States, where the women's game is more popular and a professional league is being launched next year.

Reay said women's football has changed enormously since she began playing as a 10-year-old with other children in her home town of Cramlington, nine miles north of Newcastle upon Tyne. "I started just playing in the street, like most people," she said. "It was just what you did.

"There were clubs for girls then, but it just wasn't as big as it is today. Every year, it's got bigger and bigger. Now it's the fastest growing sport for women in the country."

Nevertheless, the rewards are still much lower than in the men's game, where Shearer earned a reported pound;70,000 a week before retiring to become a television pundit.

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