Why we invest in women's football

We invest in women's football to help address the gender gap in physical activity levels

23 June 2019 Football Funding

Losing semi-finalists in each of their last two major tournaments, England’s women are in France this summer with only one thing on their mind, bringing football home.

While the men surprised the nation last summer with their run to the final four, their female counterparts go into their World Cup with realistic goals of lifting the trophy come Sunday, July 7, in Lyon.

So with the eyes of the world focusing on France and this feeling like a breakthrough moment for women’s football in the public consciousness, we’re going to take a look at some of our investment into the game.

Football investment

We've awarded more than £250m to football-specific projects in the last 10 years

In total, we’ve made 1,150 awards to football-specific projects over the last 10 years, with more than £250 million being invested into the beautiful game.

And the true figure of how much of our investment goes to benefitting football is actually more than that, with numerous other investments into multi-sport projects also contributing to football-related activities.

Over the years, we've invested in projects specifically focusing on men, with others benefitting solely women, and the rest bringing positives to both via the medium of football.

As a result, it's impossible to give a single figure for our investment into women’s football, but the reasons for a focus on women’s sport in general are clear.

Our Active Lives data shows that men are more likely to be active than women, with a gender gap of 258,000 in the English adult population.

So we’re going to spend the duration of the Women’s World Cup focusing on examples of our investments into the women’s game – one for every time the Lionesses play.

Acorn FC

For Acorn FC their Girls Get Active initiative did exactly what it said on the tin.

The Charter Standard Club based in east London received £9,410 from our small grants fund in 2016 to put on a six-month series of coaching sessions aimed at girls in the area.

The legacy of the project can still be seen today, with girls continuing to train with Acorn FC as it endeavours to use football to engage their community, bring it together and promote diversity and equality.

Darrell Isles is chairman of the club and was the Girls Get Active project coordinator that oversaw the grant application and running of the project.

“The money helped us be able to have the facility that was required and accessible enough for the girls in the area to engage – it was just opportunity,” he said.

“We wanted to let them know that football was available to them.

“The girls that engaged with us during the project left feeling like they had fun, and that was all that we could ask for.

“Now we want to continue to provide for girls and hopefully grow, but even if we just had one girl showing up for training then we’d still do one-to-one training, that’s how committed we are to it.

“The programme itself gave the girls confidence, they were able to have fun, just be with their friends.

“It was noticeable how they engaged with the training. They were more engaged when they felt like they were with friends, you don’t want any girl – or anyone really – to feel like they are alone.

“It helped the inhibitions that they may have had, they were alleviated because of the camaraderie between the group – it was great to see.”

Our funding allowed Acorn FC to hire pitches and coaches to provide the training, as well as promoting the sessions in the area.

With Darrell feeling that promotion is a key factor in getting more girls into the game.

“Venue and coach hire were the vital building blocks for the programme,” he added.

“But the money also allowed us to just promote what we were doing.

“Now we have successfully completed the project, we can see that the promotion we were able to do allowed our club to be recognised in the area as one that helps to facilitate girls’ football.

“We still have girls coming to sessions now, not is as large numbers as we did during the project itself, but they do come and we still get enquiries, so it has provided a legacy for us to continue giving opportunities for girls in the area.

“We know that there are girls out there who still want to play, but it’s just that maybe they don’t all know about us and we are always looking for more ways to be able to promote ourselves.”

Target Football

What started as an idea between two friends when they were both made redundant almost a decade ago, Target Football now has ambitions to become the go-to place for women’s football in Liverpool.

Based in the heart of Toxteth at Admiral Park, Paul Hurford and Reg Standish’s goal for their idea was for football to provide a unifying force for the people of Toxteth, to allow them to participate in safe, structured and healthy activities that contribute to educational development and improve connections within communities.

The Community Interest Company works with people of all ages, including military veterans, while running a school league and elite development centre at their Admiral Park home.

They now have funding from the Football Foundation and Mersey Rail to expand their facility and build what they think will be the biggest centre for women’s and girls’ football in the area.

That would not be possible though, were it not for £7,935 of National Lottery funding provided by us back in 2016 that allowed Target Football to run the Goals for Girls programme that engaged girls from the community in football.

“We went around some of the local secondary schools in Toxteth, delivered some sessions and also did am after-school community session where people from anywhere in Liverpool could come and join in – it was all ages, all abilities,” said Paul, Target Football’s youth inclusion officer.

“We ran that for about a year and, at the end of it, we had a small tournament with four of the schools that we’d worked with, on our pitch in Toxteth.

“We also had a bit of money to take the girls to some football matches and on stadium tours.

“We took them over to Tranmere Rovers to watch Liverpool vs Everton, which they all thoroughly enjoyed, and we also got a couple of girls onto their Level One coaching course.

“The project lasted for about a year, but as a result we’re still working with one of the schools, doing some lunchtime clubs for them.”

Admiral Park’s location, in Toxteth, provides a facility within walking distance for football players from many different communities.

And Paul is hopeful that their initial work with Goals for Girls will now lead to a new hub for women’s football in Liverpool.

“It’s going to be the first site we know of in the region that will be a dedicated facility for girls and women’s football,” he added.

“It will be the home of Mersey Rail Ladies and we’re going to have a programme of U14s and U16s coming through to feed into the first team.

“So we hope the work we’ve done in the secondary schools, and we’ve also done a girl’s football league twice a year for primary schools, will feed into Mersey Rail Ladies to create a real home for them here.”

Pontefract Sports & Social Club

Five years ago Pontefract Sports & Social Club’s women’s football team folded.

Hot on the heels of winning the county cup, players departed for pastures new and the team did not survive.

But five years on they are back and looking to build a sustainable platform upon which to build a fully-fledged women’s section.

In September 2018 we awarded the club £892 to aid with the development of their new team, which had been reformed just a couple of months prior.

The award of National Lottery money from our small grants fund allowed the club to buy kit and equipment vital for the running of a side.

Now, almost 12 months on, pre-season has already begun for their second crack at the West Riding County Women’s Football League, and things are looking up.

“It might not seem like too much money to a big organisation but to someone like us then it was massively helpful,” said Dave Stevenson, development officer at the club.

“It set us up and has put us in a good place for the next few seasons, with brand new kit and basic training equipment.

“We had a bit of support from other teams in the club, which has been great, too, but you don’t want to be begging and borrowing bits when you’re trying to set up a proper team.

“We spoke to some people at the end of the season before last, at the men’s team’s presentation dinner, and one of the women behind the bar had been wanting to play for a few years.

“So we said ‘if you get the interest, we’ll set it up’.

“She gave me a list of names, which in the end was 18-strong. When we came round to training only four of them turned up, but it actually grew really quickly and we ended up having around 30 people signed on last season and maybe 25 of them were there most weeks.

“We’ve lost a few during this off season but we’ve just started pre-season and we’ve picked up some new players so we’re still looking good for the season coming.”

A challenging first year saw them finish third from bottom of the league with a team that wasn’t fully formed until a third of the way into the season and was up against development teams from the likes of Leeds United.

Progress continues to be made both on and off the pitch, though, and Dave is confident a bright future lies ahead.

“Everyone is really supportive, involved, and wants to build the club and keep it sustainable,” he added.

“Now we want to get girls involved in the junior teams, so that eventually we can set up a proper girl’s section in the not too distant future.

“We didn’t have much competition for players in the local area, but I know there are two teams that may be coming soon around here.

“One of them is a junior set-up, so we’re hoping that maybe in a few years’ time, when their under-16s are looking for somewhere to play women’s football, they might come to us and we can maybe have a reserve team and more competition for places.

“We want to add two or three teams a year at the minute, across the club, with the aim being that it will include an expanded women’s section in the next few years.”

London Playing Fields Foundation

More than a decade ago the London Playing Fields Foundation (LPFF) noticed a worrying trend in the number of women and girls using their facilities.

The capital’s leading body for the protection, provision and promotion of playing fields in London had noticed a particular decline in the number of girls playing football in the South East London and Kent League (Selkent), which uses their pitches.

Research was commissioned into the area and they found a lack of female role models within the grassroots volunteer workforce, with the majority of adult coaches being men.

As a result, they applied to our Sportsmatch fund and, in 2009, received £11,476 towards their Female Coach Development programme.

Alongside funding from the Football Foundation, Nike, the London Marathon Charitable Trust and the Jack Petchey Foundation, they set up the programme aimed at helping women get a coaching qualification.

And it enjoyed great success, helping 85 women gain their Level 1 qualification and 33 obtain Level 2 – also increasing the pass rate of the London FA at Level 2 grade from 44% to 77%.

“What we always set out to do is work in partnerships and we had very strong partnerships with the county FAs who were very supportive of what we were trying to do,” said LPFF projects manager Jo McKenzie.

“We were able to work with them and ensure we had women coming into the project and then signposting them to other opportunities afterwards.

“We knew that a lot of women were doing their Level 1 coaching course but weren’t taking that step up to Level 2.

“So we wanted to know what we could do to assist them. For one, we wanted to build their confidence. And then the second point was making sure they were aware of the technical side of things, so they knew what they were going to experience on the course.

“We also put them on the course with our other candidates, too, so they had their own support network and it meant they had their friends and weren’t alone.

“The mentors then kept in touch with them throughout the course, so that if the coaches had any enquiries they could go back to them and ask for anything they needed.

“I’m sure they had the technical capabilities to do it anyway, it was just giving them the support and confidence to actually do it.”

Jo identified the female mentors recruited by the programme as a key aspect its success, as well as funding removing the financial burden of getting qualified.

Now, more than 70% of the women attaining the Level 2 Certificate in Coaching Football are working in the game, but Jo knows their work is not finished.

“I’d love to say that our pitches are fully booked with girls and women playing,” she added.

“But we’re not going to pretend that just because we improved the pass rate and got more coaches qualified, that we’ve solved all the issues and that the women’s game is now equal with the men’s.”

Hall Road Rangers FC

Growing at a rate of one team a season for almost a decade, Hall Road Rangers are leading the way for girl’s football in Hull.

Lee Myers, press officer and former vice chairman at the club, was involved in setting up the first girls’ team there around eight years ago, and has seen the section go from strength to strength.

In early 2015 we awarded the club £9,860 of National Lottery funding and this has allowed the girls’ game to flourish.

The club now has four girls’ teams, along with four others that have been formed and now play under the name of Kingswood United.

But Lee remembers it all being very different at the start of the decade.

“All investment we get into girls’ football has been very well received and put to very good use in getting girls to play football,” he said.

“I started the girls’ section about eight years ago when my daughter started playing. She played in a soccer school at five years old and people were like ‘huh, there’s a girl here, what’s she doing here?’

“But I ran the club, I was the vice-chairman at the time, so she was my daughter and she was blooming well going to join in if I said she was allowed to!

“Since she joined we’ve gone from girls playing in the boys’ section to producing upwards of eight, nine or ten teams over eight or nine years.”

Lee has just returned from the World Cup himself, having been in France to see the Lionesses beat Argentina 1-0.

And he is amazed at how much the women’s game has grown in recent times.

“There was no investment or opportunity at all back then,” he said.

“But we’ve gone from girls not being particularly interested, thinking it was a boys’ sport, to seeing England have success at international level, investment in the Women’s Super League, and that fuelling interest in girls.

“There are now girls flocking to us saying they want to play. It’s almost self-perpetuating. They’re seeking us out rather than us having to go and hunt for players.

“The money helps in every way. And what we’ve got now is girls that used to play for me, now coaching teams.

“The ones from the start are 18 or 19 now and they’re looking to carry on in a women’s team, and also to develop their coaching and run their own teams – the girl currently running our under-8s team started with us and we’ve been able to fund her Level 1 coaching qualification.

“The funding has allowed us to provide kit, match day fees, loads of things – just put on a smooth path to develop as a player and go into coaching if they want to. It takes a big burden off their shoulders.

“The girls’ section isn’t totally self-sustaining yet, but it’s definitely getting there. The level of buy-in from parents and sponsors, as well as funding organisations, is there.

“It’s still a ‘boy’s’ sport, which will hopefully change eventually, but it’s getting there.”

AFC Stoke Newington

What started as an idea between two friends when they were both made redundant almost a decade ago, Target Football now has ambitions to become the go-to place for women’s football in Liverpool.

Based in the heart of Toxteth at Admiral Park, Paul Hurford and Reg Standish’s goal for their idea was for football to provide a unifying force for the people of Toxteth, to allow them to participate in safe, structured and healthy activities that contribute to educational development and improve connections within communities.

The Community Interest Company works with people of all ages, including military veterans, while running a school league and elite development centre at their Admiral Park home.

They now have funding from the Football Foundation and Mersey Rail to expand their facility and build what they think will be the biggest centre for women’s and girls’ football in the area.

That would not be possible though, were it not for £7,935 of National Lottery funding provided by us back in 2016 that allowed Target Football to run the Goals for Girls programme that engaged girls from the community in football.

“We went around some of the local secondary schools in Toxteth, delivered some sessions and also did am after-school community session where people from anywhere in Liverpool could come and join in – it was all ages, all abilities,” said Paul, Target Football’s youth inclusion officer.

“We ran that for about a year and, at the end of it, we had a small tournament with four of the schools that we’d worked with, on our pitch in Toxteth.

“We also had a bit of money to take the girls to some football matches and on stadium tours.

“We took them over to Tranmere Rovers to watch Liverpool vs Everton, which they all thoroughly enjoyed, and we also got a couple of girls onto their Level One coaching course.

“The project lasted for about a year, but as a result we’re still working with one of the schools, doing some lunchtime clubs for them.”

Admiral Park’s location, in Toxteth, provides a facility within walking distance for football players from many different communities.

And Paul is hopeful that their initial work with Goals for Girls will now lead to a new hub for women’s football in Liverpool.

“It’s going to be the first site we know of in the region that will be a dedicated facility for girls and women’s football,” he added.

“It will be the home of Mersey Rail Ladies and we’re going to have a programme of U14s and U16s coming through to feed into the first team.

“So we hope the work we’ve done in the secondary schools, and we’ve also done a girl’s football league twice a year for primary schools, will feed into Mersey Rail Ladies to create a real home for them here.”

Women in Sport - Daughters and Dads

Participants at Women in Football's Daughters and Dads project

While developing football skills may not be the primary focus of Women in Sport’s new Daughters and Dads programme, it's using football clubs as an entry point to get more families active and teach fundamental movement skills.

Following work done at the University of Newcastle in Australia, where they had great success with their Dads and Daughters Exercising and Empowered initiative, Women in Sport has teamed up with the Fatherhood Institute, Fulham FC Foundation and the EFL Trust to try and improve the lives of girls by strengthening relationships between them and their father, or father figure – whether that be an elder brother, uncle, grandad, step-father or anyone else taking on a fatherly role.

Supported by our Families Fund with an initial investment of just over £118,000 of National Lottery money last October, the project is now approaching the conclusion of its pilot phase and has secured a further £306,000 to continue for another two years.

So far, the pilot has seen 14 families sign up to take part in one of two hour-and-a-half sessions a week, for 11 weeks. Each session involves a class-based theory element, as well as practical-based play designed to teach fundamental movement skills, increase activity levels and develop the bond between father or father-figure and daughter.

“What we’ve seen is that a lot of girls don’t have the confidence and competency to enjoy being active. A lack of exposure to fundamental movement skills can prevent them transitioning into different sports throughout their lives,” said Women in Sport innovation manager Lee Warren.

“Girls’ movement skills are often developed through stereotypically female sports such as gymnastics and dance, this can mean they miss out on developing movement skills such as striking, throwing and kicking.

“It’s not a football-specific programme but it uses some of the actions and movements which are performed in football to develop skills that can then be used, potentially for football or other sports at a later age.”

The ultimate aim is for, at the end of the programme, the family’s lives to be enriched and for the father and daughter to self-sustain their physical activity levels within their family and community, and to improve the retention and experience of girls in physical activity.

Now the pilot has been successful, the project will be rolled out to create two hubs, each working with three football clubs – three in London and three at a second hub further afield.

“We’re trying to challenge the gender stereotypes that are out there. We deliver educational classroom sessions around topics such as the importance of positive role models, pinkification, and being adventurous,” Lee added.

“The practical sessions give support and strategies to families to overcome challenges and fathers to be positive role model for their daughters.

“Then we go out into the field, do fitness-based activities, practice fundamental movement skills, rough and tumble play – that helps to build the social and emotional bond between daughter and dad.

“What we do find is that, for some dads this is a new way of interacting with their daughters and they can be a little hesitant about it, but we’re starting to work though those barriers and fathers find that it is ok to do it, and in fact is great fun.”