A year on from winning bronze at the Women’s World Cup for the first time , England Lionesses have been a trailblazer for women and girls everywhere to play the beautiful game.
The England women’s team reached a watershed moment when they did what no current member of the men’s squad can boast – beat Germany and win third place at the Women’s World Cup in 2015.
Since then, women’s football has captured the imagination of the football loving audience and attracted unprecedented attention along the way. FA sponsored projects such as #ThisGirlCan and #WecanPlay to help bridge the gender gap in sports has inspired women and girls to play the beautiful game across the UK.
Though, there is one city which has gone above and beyond in the past year to combat gender inequality in football – Nottingham.
Since Nottingham won the prestigious title of City of Football, the gender gap in football is being tackled at all levels- starting with the grassroots.
Denise Richards has lived and breathed football since she was 12. She has been involved in all aspects of football from coaching to administration as Nottinghamshire’s Football Development Officer.
Now 42 years later, she decided to launch a program for middle aged women called the Women’s Veteran League.
”I’m passionate about older ladies getting to play football. I’m still playing and I’m 56! I’ve got a few injuries and arthritis but when I finish playing on a Tuesday night I feel absolutely buzzing in my head. The teamwork and making friends , it’s just brilliant,” she said.
Nottingham City of Football has also sought to help Asian and Muslim girls get into football by launching a programme called Social Football where Muslim girls can play behind closed doors without any necessary religious restrictions.
“We were raised in a football mad family and I used to play with my brothers on the streets. Since most of us are Muslim, we decided to hire a sports hall so our girls could play without a hijab,” said Laila Ismail, one of the player-coaches who launched the scheme.
Kiran and Faaizaa have found a safe space to not only kick a ball around but also to make friends and a sure-fire way to relieve stress from uni work.
“We start off with a bit of circuitry and then play a few games. I just enjoy the atmosphere,” Kiran Jangir said.
“Everyone’s so supportive, and its good motivation to stay healthy and fit and lose a few pounds,” Faaizaa added.
However, despite the huge steps towards true gender equality in sports, women are still reluctant to watch and play football.
According to a survey, football is the most popular team sport for women with over 225,000 women playing regularly every month. But there has been a decline in the numbers of women who play football on a weekly basis since 2007 (Women’s Football and Fitness Foundation).
One of the reasons for this could possibly be the fact that young girls do not see football as a viable future career.
There is a clear problem in converting women participants from informal to formal participants which shows in club membership with only 13% of official participation coming from women compared to 19% of men.
Another explanation for this glaring gap in participation may be the eternal question of motherhood v career that every woman not only in sports but also in all other professional careers faces since time immemorial.
When the England Lionesses returned triumphant to the UK, the FA called them ”mothers, partners and daughters” first. This was seen by some as not only patronising to the players but also somehow demeaning their status as professionals and national heroes.
Female professional players still suffer the dilemma of going to training and finding childcare for their child with only 31% out of a possible 68% of women being satisfied with the facilities and the availability of high quality child care and services they received where they played.
Lindsey Cunningham played for Doncaster Rovers Belles in the Women’s Super League with and against some of the best of the best female players in the UK.
After giving birth to her son, she found commuting to Doncaster from her home in Nottingham difficult and decided to move to play for Nottingham Forest Ladies who are three leagues down in the Women’s Premier League ( Northern Division).
”It was getting really difficult at times, with childcare and getting time to do training. Plus I’m getting married later this year so going back and forth from Doncaster to Nottingham was tiring so I decided to move back to play for Nottingham Forest,” she explained.
England has come a long way from the days when women’s football was dismissed as nothing more than a joke or worse portrayed as a threat to the ”usual” role of women as nothing more than mothers or partners.
Even though there is a lot of work to do with the gap in female and male participation in sports, including football; women are slowly starting to build a sturdy bridge across that gap to a bright future ahead.
Football is the most popular team sport for women and the 9th most popular activity that they do monthly
However, apart from 2008-2009 there has been a constant decline in the number of females participating in football on a monthly basis since 2007.
Women just constitute 5.6% of the total club membership.
Women are satisfied with the social aspect of the game however are dissatisfied with the facilities and people and staff with only 31% of women being satisfied with the childcare facilities and services where they played .
32% of footballers have been playing more than 2014 and 38% of players are expected to play more the next year
Women’s Football and Fitness Foundation