Why we invest in women's football

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

09 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.

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.”

AFC Stoke Newington

Four years ago there was no women’s football team in Stoke Newington, now there’s a thriving setup with an adults team that have achieved three promotions in four seasons, as well as three junior sides.

In 2015, around the time of the last Women’s World Cup, we invested £1,370 from our Small Grants fund into AFC Stoke Newington, the brainchild of local teacher Ian Bruce.

Fed up with hearing that his Year 11 pupils were giving up on football because they had nowhere to play after leaving school, he came to us for funding.

A difficult first year ensued, growing frustrated at the difficulty of obtaining funding, but now, four years on, he is dealing with daily emails of interest in the club.

“The money was essential, whenever you start up a grassroots project you don’t have anything to go on other than your previous reputation,” he said.

“The money was paying for training, paying for match facilities, buying equipment, making those first few months a lot easier.

“Whenever you set new projects up you’re always thinking about the financial burden.

“That money allowed us to get lots of the target groups involved, it allowed us to offer inclusive football – people weren’t priced out by it.

“In the first year I was quite frustrated by the amount of bureaucracy and was looking at the amount of money sloshing around in the Premier League.

“If Arsenal are paying players £350k a week, why can’t I have a bag of footballs?!

“Players earn £200k a week and sit on the bench for a lot of the season, couldn’t they pay for a 3G pitch, name it after them and they’d be a hero for giving kids more space to play football.

“It shouldn’t necessarily on the players, but the amount of money in the men’s professional game is obscene and then there are people like us scrabbling around to pay for a trophy at the end of the season.

“So the first year was tough, the SE grant really helped, but over the past few years, as the women’s game has developed, there are a lot more opportunities to save a bit of money here and there.”

The Football Foundation, an organisation we also invest in, have been another funder of Ian’s dream and, along with some of their own fundraising, investment from Arsenal themselves and Aviva, AFC Stoke Newington is now a sustainable club.

Alongside their own growth, wider investment into the women’s game has seen more projects pop up in Hackney and north London, providing plenty of options for local players.

“I’ve anticipated these few weeks will be busy with the World Cup and people wanting to get involved, which is fantastic, and the emails have been coming in on a daily basis,” Ian added.

“But what’s really nice is that within Hackney and north London there are now quite a few different clubs doing slightly different things.

“Hackney Laces offer something completely different to us, so sometimes we’ll get a player along and it won’t quite work with us, but we can send them to the Laces and it might be a perfect fit – the same with other projects, like Goal Diggers.

“When I set up AFC Stoke Newington we were the only club other than Hackney Women.

“Now there are so many different opportunities that if you’ve got too many players, or can’t accommodate someone in a particular way, or you need to give someone more training or development, someone else within north London can still do it.

“That’s amazing, you don’t have to take on all the burden yourself because we work together.”