Kick-start for women's soccer;FE Focus

8th May 1998 at 01:00
Maggie Robinson looks at the neglect of women's football in colleges

The good news is that around 51 per cent of girls play football at school. At 14 they can play at senior level in the FA leagues. Once over 18, if these girls go on to university, they can play football in organised leagues.

But the bad news is that there will almost certainly be disappointment for would-be soccer players at a sixth-form or FE college - if they happen to be female.

Small to medium-sized colleges typically have three male teams competing in an organised league and other competitions, including the well-sponsored England Schools Cup, which culminates in a trip to Italy for the winners.

In stark contrast, women's football in the FE sector is virtually non-existent. Yet since 1989, the number of girls and women playing football has more than trebled - from 7,000 to 21,500 - the biggest growth in any single sport in the country.

So this raises the question of why women are not catered for. The size of the problem is illustrated by one teacher who confirmed the lack of teams in the South-east.

"I wrote to over 50 colleges in Essex, London, Kent and beyond. I had replies from seven of them, only four of which did have a team," she said.

If there is demand, then surely students should be allowed to participate? Many of these teachers seem to have stagnant ideas and would appear to base their activities on what they want, rather than on the needs of students.

If women's football is not part of the college's sports programme, then it has to be taken up by other teachers as an extra-curricular activity, say the enthusiasts. But, they say, there is little incentive for this since the goodwill, on which much teaching relies, has often been exhausted.

They are faced with PE departments that would not run the sport and, despite existing commitments in their own subject areas, have attempted to go it alone. They often encounter a general spirit of non-co-operation which includes being last in the queue for resources such as balls, nets and even pitches. Eventually, they are forced to give up.

The root of the problem, though, comes back to the attitudes of departments that should run the sport. Many female teachers, who were not given the opportunity to play soccer when they were young, feel they are not familiar enough with the game to teach it themselves.

But there is help available. The Football Association (FA) took over the running of girls' and women's football in 1993 and appointed Kelly Simmons as the women's football co-ordinator. She offers support and advice, as well as supplying, free of charge, two step-by-step guides, Developing a Female Youth Team and Developing a Female Youth League. The guides give full details on every aspect of the game and include colour flyers, leaflets and posters.

Women promoting the sport point to an age-old problem. Students' education is not just academic. Their view of the world, and what is acceptable in it, is enforced by their experience - if women's football is seen as inappropriate for females, then the views of all people of this age will be tarnished and progress will be slow.

As more girls come through who have played in junior and senior school, and consequently have more confidence in their abilities, the FA expects there to be more of a push for equality in the availability of sports in further education, and a change in attitudes.

Women who play sport should not have to feel embarrassed about it, or be seen as masculine. Sport is for all and it is part of an educational institution's responsibility to promote this.

Football Association: Ms Kelly Simmons, The FA, 9 Wyllyotts Place, Potters Bar, Hertfordshire, EN6 4JD. Women's Football Development Programme Hotline: 01707 647250.

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