WOMEN STUDYING on the Football Association's flagship scholarship programme are competing in top international matches in Bangkok and Beijing.
Students from Loughborough College have joined the England squad for the World Cup in China, as well as the UK's first women's football team to compete in the World University Games in Thailand.
They include Karen Carney, who balances studying for a foundation degree at Loughborough with being part of the double-winning Arsenal side, as well as being the England team's "super sub" striker. She is known for scoring crucial goals in the European Championship in 2005, which England hosted.
Also travelling to the World Cup this weekend to prepare for the start on September 10 will be midfielders Jill Scott and Stephanie Houghton, who also study at Loughborough on the scholarship scheme.
Meanwhile, four of their fellow students, Danni Bird, Bonnie Horwood, Nicole Emmanuel and Kylie Davis, have travelled to Bangkok for the World University Games, an Olympic-style competition for students.
Lois Fidler, manager of the FA's National Player Development Centre where the footballers train, said the women's game is thriving, with the under-19s having recently reached the finals of the European Championship.
Loughborough College is a key part of the FA's scholarship scheme for women footballers. Since the game is not professional, education is vital, but many players find foundation degrees easier to fit in with training than university study, Ms Fidler said.
"The college has really supported these players, as students and as full-time athletes. Having a really good educational establishment is very important," she said.
"Some people say too much is given and too much is expected in the men's game. But in the women's game not much is given. The players have to juggle education, jobs and families with the demands of being an athlete.
"But we're on a massive upward incline. It's the biggest participation sport for females in this country, and we've got more experience in major competitions."