SSE, in partnership with the FA, are launching a new girls only football programme. To find your local club and start playing, visit: http://www.SSE.co.uk/girls-united
In developing their partnership with women’s football, SSE’s latest idea is to ensure more girls across the United Kingdom have a better chance of following in the footsteps of their idols and becoming professional footballers.
With the FA Women’s Super League continuing to grow and SSE themselves putting their name to the Women’s FA Cup and helping to bring the final to Wembley Stadium, this is yet another sign that participation at all age levels will continue to flourish and the demand for young girls playing football is higher than ever.
One current FA WSL and England star who knows all about taking the tough route into the game is Manchester City goalkeeper Karen Bardsley. The 31-year-old previously worked at Disneyland back home in California before moving to Sweden and eventually ending up at Lincoln Ladies in 2013.
With plenty of caps to her name, a World Cup bronze medal and appearances at the 2012 Olympics, Bardsley is one of the key role models for girls who are looking to become professional footballers and she thinks any initiative to improve that will be a benefit moving forward.
“We’re really proud that SSE have come on board and started this initiative to get girls involved because where does the future talent come from otherwise? Who develops it and who takes that responsibility?
“Manchester City and a few other teams have some players coming through but it’s about getting that interest in them at a young age, making them aware there’s a future in it for them, and SSE have done a really good job of doing that.”
Whilst most young girls now won’t have to go down the path that Bardsley and every other England player had to in terms of working part-time alongside training in the evenings, the England no.1 admits she’s grateful for the path she had to take to get to where she is now.
“Sometimes I worry that these types of experiences that I’ve had that have moulded me to become who I am won’t happen for a lot of young kids. We had to work jobs to make sure we could play football – but I grew up in the States where we were always encouraged to go out and play football.
“We would only train twice a week but I couldn’t get enough of it, the biggest factor for me was that I enjoyed it and that kept me going. Once I got my scholarship to play in college I went on to get drafted and the rest is history!”
The 2015 Women’s World Cup has also had a huge impact on the interest coming from young girls who want to get involved in playing football, but Bardsley says the significance of the tournament didn’t hit them for a while.
“We heard a lot about it whilst we were away but we didn’t feel it because we were constantly in this bubble,” she said.
“We’d be getting sent pictures of newspapers and magazines from back home and now we get recognised at train stations and in the street – not just from young people but from men who have watched us play and that’s great. It is a bit difficult to kind of understand the immediate change from our point of view but when you see the rise in attendances, it’s encouraging and exciting.”
Of all nine teams in the WSL 1 at the moment, very few have a British core as solid as Manchester City’s. With the likes of Alethea Paul and Zoe Tynan having already made their debuts under manager Nick Cushing this season already, such an initiative from SSE could benefit Bardsley’s club more than most.
“We want to be able to develop that talent. We want to give them opportunities and we’re really excited about hopefully getting our Centre of Excellence up and running.
“For us, it’s great to be able to say we can bring 16- or 17-year-old’s up from the development squad because they’re fitting in like round pegs and round holes. In Sandy McIver and Ellie Roebuck we’ve got two great goalkeepers coming through which is great.”
Watch Karen getting involved with SSE’s new initiative in the short video below: