September 27, 2022

Aoife Mannion, Manchester United’s player, saw a stall set up by the Davenham Juniors Football Club at a village fete. Mannion, an England international, went over to introduce herself and discovered that the club was looking to start a new girls’ team after they had lost their previous one in 2018.

Mannion wanted help so she spoke in two schools to encourage girls to join the club, and also to turn on their TVs to watch the Lionesses at Euro 2022. Mannion explained over the phone that what happened next was “absolutely different from what we expected”. Davenham Juniors is not launching one team. Instead, they are preparing to launch three girls’ teams in September.

The 26-year-old defender said that he couldn’t believe such a thing would have happened if the Euros had not been in England. “I think the Euros is a great catalyst and has really brought it to people’s attention, especially since we won.”

Davenham Juniors isn’t the only female or girl’s grassroots team to see an increase in numbers following this year’s Euro 2022 record. The historic win by the Lionesses has seen grassroots clubs across the UK report a boom.

Near Manchester, Ella Toone and her former club Astley & Tyldesley experienced what Lorraine Warwick–Ellis, their head for women and girls development, only described as “the Tooney Influence”. She added: “We’ve definitely seen an increase in girls’ interest. It’s been a significant rise in interest from the ages of 13, 14 and 15 years old. The younger age group, which is just about to explode, has seen a marked increase. Two teams have been formed in this age group and there is a possibility of forming another.

It’s not surprising that similar trends are being reported in Northern Ireland after the country made a historic appearance at Euro 2022. Lisburn Distillery FC is based in County Down. They are preparing to launch their first girls’ academy. Their coordinator, Donna Maxwell says it’s specifically “on the backs of the Euros”.

Maxwell states, “Even just by talking to people in the area, it is clear that there is a huge push to get girls teams started now.” It was amazing to see the Northern Ireland team win such a major competition. We didn’t think it would happen.

The Football Association has set a goal to have 7,000 more women and girls play for grassroots football clubs by 2024. It also wants to see 120,000 more girls play football in the same year. The Lionesses also wrote a letter requesting that the government guarantee every schoolgirl the chance to play football. According to the FA, 44% of secondary schools offer football to girls in England.

Yasmin Nessa from Birmingham, the project leader at Saltley Stallions Women’s FC says that her club has also experienced increased interest since the tournament. She says that she has noticed an increase in numbers over the past two weeks. Nessa hopes that the tournament’s legacy will show that “women can play football”, to normalize it and to change the standards, and [to] change how the conversation is viewed.”

Kaileigh Bridges, a local girl from Ipswich has helped Shotley Rangers form their first girls’ team for the under-nine group. She says that after every win by the Lionesses, she would receive random Facebook messages from parents asking about their girls and if there was anything they could do. It really has had an impact on our girls’ team.

Despite these challenges, grassroots clubs for women and girls often face many obstacles, including funding, access to facilities and coaching staff. Phil Butler, coach at Newport City Ladies, told the National newspaper recently that more grassroots funding was required, describing the facilities in south Wales’ as “atrocious”. Warwick-Ellis, however, stated that “we’re still struggling to get female coaches forward, which was a real shame since, in the Euros, you saw that there were many coaches who were women.”

Mannion from Manchester United is currently in rehabilitation following an ACL injury. She plans to speak at more schools for Davenham Juniors when the term resumes. She says, “It’s really touching.” “Originally, all I said was that I would go to school to speak with them, then continue my life. It turned out that I was really interested in the subject. It gives me the joy to think of all the girls who will have access to these opportunities.