“Fun and Beautiful Games”: The Rise of Women’s Recreational Soccer | Women

MeSaturday at 11:00 am, on a football pitch, I was sandwiched between a chunky path along the Lee Navigation River and a technology campus at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Hackney. The red black-haired woman challenges the defender’s gag with a previously skilled pass. “Yes! The beginner’s debut is just around the corner,” shouts Julie Reeff at the top of the Manchester dialect lungs. The player grins.

The friendship and joy on the pitch where women play soccer for the first time is noisy and infectious. This is the Clapton Community Football Club’s open access training and is one of thousands of grassroots sessions in England born as women’s football accelerates. But unlike many who aim to encourage young women and girls to start playing sports, it is aimed at all age groups.

“We wanted to open it up to older women,” said Leaff, 54, co-founder of a training session for women of all ages and abilities and non-binary people. rice field. “We wanted moms who were watching the kids play to understand that they could cross the line and play for themselves. We were 10 or 11 years old. To get the same topic that I got when, some boys pinged your bra strap and said, “It’s a girl,” before you got to the secondary.

Leaff, who teaches at Grasmere Elementary School in Stoke Newington, and Ellie Guedalla, 45, co-founder who works for children’s services, are part of the “lost generation.” I grow up in sports when I am young.

My own football journey began with CCFC open access after the pandemic. When I was in my fifties, I had never kicked the ball and knew nothing about sports, but I loved training. Last year I was asked to join a spin-off veterinary team. It’s bravely named Hot Flush and now plays in Super 5 in the non-binary gender league with five women most of the week.

Hackney’s match at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Photo: Christian Sinibaldi / Guardian

The Football Association banned women’s professional football from the club grounds in 1921 and considered it “totally inappropriate” for women. The ban was only lifted in 1971 and shows the trend of sexism that is still prevalent in football today. Twenty years have passed before FA established the Women’s Committee, and in 1993 the first Women’s FA Challenge Cup was held.

However, since the pandemic, many women in their 30s, 40s and 50s seem to make up for the lost time. According to Sport England’s Active Lives survey of 2020-21, the percentage of women aged 35-54 has participated in sports or become a member of a football club at least once in the past year. It’s getting higher than usual.

Gedara, who played for Wanstead Girls as a kid, said: Both me and Julie played and were called “it”, “what is it?” It was normal in the 70’s and 80’s. “

With funding from the Football Foundation from CCFC, we set up an open access session in 2019. From a small number of people at the time, membership has grown to more than 100 today, with players between the ages of 22 and 60.

“We started with a flyer saying that we don’t have to be Megan Rapinoe,” Gedara said. “Julie borrowed some things from Grasmere. If no one came, she thought she would go for a pint, but they appeared, and they stopped coming. It was. “

With the record-breaking tournament UEFA European Women EURO2022 imminent, the numbers are expected to increase. Studies show that women and girls’ participation in football has increased significantly after the 2019 Women’s World Cup, with an increase of nearly 500,000 among women over the age of 25.

Woman talking on the pitch
“You wear a shirt and you are part of something.” Team Confab at the Olympic Park. Photo: Christian Sinibaldi / Guardian

Guedalla is passionate about the power of football for happiness, fitness and community awareness.

“When women get together, things happen,” said Gedara, who works for a children’s service. “You wear a shirt and it’s part of something. It’s about fitness, fun, and of course beautiful games.”

More and more women’s veterinary clubs include Crawley Old Girls, Canterbury Old Bags, Bromley Bells FC, Bury FC Betts, Lewes FC and Maidstone Magpies.

Women talk about the optimism it has brought to their lives. And the joy of pulling a team jersey, playing with others of all ages, and being a little taller as a member of the team. They talk about the therapeutic benefits of exercise for their body, menopausal symptoms, and how they feel.

A few weeks ago, in Lansing, a coastal village near Brighton, Sussex County FA hosted the annual Women’s Recreational Soccer Festival. There were no scoreboards, tally or trophies. The emphasis was on fun. However, the collective crescendo of the same cheers recognized around the world reached all the goals and blew away 1970s classics like bang bang from pitch speakers.

Carol Bates, 55, who interrupted play and founded Crawley Old Girls (Cog) seven years ago, with a small amount of funding from the Crawley Town Football Foundation and the English Football League Trust, said: I am. The physical and mental health of women is excellent. Women in the 1960s are running around like a legend. There is a 76-year-old Susan coming to a walking soccer session. I see the faces of these women and you will see that joy, I want to do it when I was 76 years old. “

Currently, Gear runs five sessions each week. “When we started, the common theme was that it was a missing generation that we didn’t have the opportunity to play. Girls didn’t have the opportunity to be coached. Boys and men didn’t have the opportunity to do that. I take it for granted.

“When I tell women of my age to come and play football, they say” I don’t know anything about football “and” I don’t fit. ” “You are exactly the woman we want,” I say.

Bates, who was awarded the British Empire Medal for his service to football and inclusion last year, said:

In 2020, Sports England and FA aim to increase women’s recreational football opportunities in nine host cities: Manchester, London, Traford, Sheffield, Rotherham, Milton Keynes, Wigan and Lee. We have awarded £ 1 million for the 2022 event. , Brighton and Hove and Southampton.

At the age of 66, a retired teacher from Crawley, Viv Moore is the oldest member of the COG. She started playing three years ago. “It gives you the opportunity to get in touch with your young self,” Moore said. When you score a goal, it’s like a child and it’s very exciting. It’s a very nice sense of accomplishment. “

Jackie Cox, 53, a 53-year-old mother of three who played for the goal and started Kingswood Ladies three years ago, said:

Cox, Breast Cancer Survivorship Coordinator at Royal Marsden, said: We train Friday play matches most Sundays. There are two girls in their twenties, most of whom are over 40 years old. “

Community Center manager Kim Joselin, 61, remembers hiding a soccer kit in a hedge when she was a kid, fearing a reaction from her mother. She continued to play for Shoreham and Brighton in her twenties, but she recently returned to play for Cogs. She said, “They are all wonderful girls. They take you to yourself. Without them I would get lost.”

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