Net results for soccer's ladies

18th January 2008 at 00:00

A college-run women's football team is topping the league table at the highest level with just a fraction of the resources of better-known clubs.

The Bristol Academy team, run by Filton College, does not even have its own ground but is leading the Premier League after its best-ever run of results against clubs backed by some of the biggest men's professional teams.

A mixture of teenage and experienced women footballers, the team is now just ahead of the undefeated Arsenal Ladies side which dominates in England.

Even the most optimistic fans of Bristol Academy expect that lead to be clawed back as Arsenal have several games in hand, but the college's team is still on course to beat its previous highest position in the league of fourth and has its sights set on second place.

The club has suffered the loss of sponsorship from the two professional men's teams it relies on: Bristol City and Bristol Rovers. City has withdrawn all funding, while Rovers has halved its contribution.

Simon Panes, the college's director of sports academies, said: "On the field, these are the best results we've had ever. Playing-wise, it's our best season. But off the field, financially it's been our worst. The cost of running the club and paying expenses is proving difficult."

Backing from the Football Association is plentiful at grassroots level, helping to make it the most popular sport for women, but Mr Panes said there is no support for elite players and clubs.

Bristol Academy was formed in 1998 as Bristol Rovers' women's side but changed its name for the 2005-6 season when the college sports academy took over. They were soon promoted to the Premier League, reaching an FA Cup final on the way.

Manager Gary Green said the seven college players in the senior squad were crucial to their success after injuries to older players. In a recent last-minute 1-0 defeat at Arsenal, the club had to play its centre-forward as goalkeeper.

"Without the youth set-up we couldn't survive," said Mr Green. "One or two of the other clubs say their links to the men's club aren't strong, but they still have the pulling power of that name.

"If big clubs come in for our girls, they can offer them whatever it takes. So our system is that if the young players are good enough, they play."

On of those is Danielle Ackerman, the side's 17-year-old dead-ball specialist who saved the game for Bristol after they had gone 3-0 down at Chelsea, setting up crucial goals from corners to bring the club a thrilling 4-3 victory. Meanwhile, 18-year-old Grace McCatty has played every game this season for the club as a centre-back or right-back.

The college players play for the senior side and the college team and have training sessions every day while completing their studies. Most are studying for Btec national diplomas in sport, but some, including Ms McCatty, are taking A-levels.

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