THE success of the England Women’s Football team has got everyone talking.

More and more people than ever watched the Lionesses as they battled it out in the European Cup recently.

They might not have made it to the final but a cracking run to the semi-finals has raised their profile hugely and thousands are expected to flock to the Weston Homes Community Stadium in November when they are scheduled to play one of two crucial World Cup qualifiers.

And it has sparked a healthy debate over the state of the women’s game, how much they earn in comparison to the men and their status alongside their male counterparts.

Dawn Hyde, who lives in Colchester, has three daughters.

Her eldest daughter, Tilly, is ten and the only girl currently playing in her mixed age level team at Stanway Villa Football Club.

“She is quite a tomboy anyway and has had her hair cut short and has always loved playing football with the boys at school.

“Neither of the other two have shown signs of wanting to play yet.

“Tilly started asking me if she could play for a club and we found out about that club because it was the nearest to where we live.

“She plays in competitive matches with them and I think sometimes she does get a bit of stick but she puts up with it and is doing really well,” she says.

Dawn explains Tilly will not be able to play in a mixed team beyond the age of 12 where she currently plays but is not sure about playing in an all-girls team as she has been used to playing with the boys.

Kim Farmer, chairman of Colchester Town Ladies team, says FA rules mean girls can play in a mixed team up to the age of 18 but different clubs have their own way of organising this.

Colchester Town Ladies was set up a quarter of a century ago and takes girls from as young as eight up to women who themselves currently have a very successful league team.

He says the success of the Lionesses can only be a good thing, explaining the club began after there was seen to be a need for girls and ladies wanting to play.

“There was a group of girls that wanted to play football and there was nowhere for them to play as a team.

“So the club was started and it has gone from strength to strength since then.

“But I think there needs to be an increased emphasis in schools so that you are getting the girls involved when they are younger and then interested in competing at a higher level.”

Kim, who is also chairman for Essex County Girls, says there are a number of issues which contribute to lower numbers of girls playing.

“One of the issues is that until the girls reach 11, when they are playing in the under nines and the under elevens, they are non-competitive and as a result most of the fixtures are fairly close to Colchester and Clacton.

“But once you get above that and you are playing in the competitive leagues it means you are having to go all over the county and sometimes as far as London to play and this involves their parents having to take them to and from the games.

“That is quite a commitment and can be difficult,” he adds.

Once they get into the league area of the game the girls play for three cups each year, the league cup, winning the overall league and the presidents’ cup.

He says this level of travel and commitment can contribute to a lack of numbers as the players get older - the club is on the lookout currently for players for their ladies and under 16s side.

The under 16s side is getting ready to support its captain Leia Rudge who has become the first Essex-based female player to win an FA Respect award.

Leia will receive the accolade, given to her in the individual players category, during a England’s World Cup qualifier against Slovenia in October.

Leia joined Colchester Town Ladies at the age of seven and has played for all of their age groups - making more than 100 appearances for the team.

A quartet of girls from Essex are set to attend the latest England under 16s training camp this week at St George’s Park.

Maria Boswell, Eloise King, Paige Peake and Blue Wilson were all regulars in the Essex Regional training Camp’s Under 15.

Steve Downey, Essex Regional Talent Club (RTC) Technical Director, says : “This is a testament to our commitment to the long-term development of young female players, where the learning environment is player-centred.

“This achievement has not happened overnight. The players and the staff have worked incredibly hard over many years.

“I must thank all our staff for their consistent work in developing players.

“We continue to offer all grassroots coaches developing young females an opportunity to nominate players with potential and to attend our training sessions and fixtures so they can see the great work that is taking place here at the Essex County FA’s RTC.”

Nikita Runnacles, education development officer at Colchester United, says the key is getting girls involved in the sport at a young age.

“The earlier start the better but we are still seeing older girls come to it and that is great too.

“If we are seeing girls from around the age of five then we can really develop that talent.

“In April we launched our Wildcats programme for girls aged five to 11 and we have 43 girls regularly attending once a week.

“It’s a very social, fun session and a great introduction to the game. The funding for that is actually about to finish but we are carrying on with it as it has been so popular.

“We are also introducing a similar group for 12 to 14-year-old girls where it will be 30 minutes concentrating on ball control and 30 minutes game related,” she adds.

Colchester United also has a Female College Programme for girls aged 16 to 19 who are specially chosen to train with an represent the club competitively at fixtures while studying full-time at Thurstable School in Tiptree.

“We launched that in February and it is going extremely well.

“We don’t have a women’s team currently at Colchester but we have had in the past and we do hope that will happen again in the future.”

The club also puts on regular holiday camps teaching skills and spotting talent which are in single sex and mixed groups.

“We find the girls do often prefer to be in a group on their own and it helps them come out of themselves a bit more as they might feel the boys aren’t passing to them as much as they think they should,” adds Nikita who also coaches with the Essex FA to help nurture future talents.

Kim Farmer backs up this view that much is being done to try and encourage more and more girls start playing football from a young age and as well as doing this in school he says there is a move towards encouraging girls to play Futsal first which will help with establishing initial skills.

This is an indoor version of the game played using a smaller ball and with slightly altered rules.

“The ball doesn’t bounce in Futsal, it is a really good way to teach girls to take the ball and we hope that is going to be launched in Essex next season and there will be a league as in other areas of the country.

“I think that will encourage a lot more girls to go on to join football teams.

“And having the England women’s team doing so well is obviously another really encouraging factor.”

Tickets are on sale for the Lionesses match on Tuesday, November 28 against Kazakhstan at or call 01206 755 161.

n Anyone interested in playing for Colchester Town Ladies should contact Kim Farmer on 07914 983179.