WOMEN’S sport in England is riding high at the moment. The country’s rugby team have just been crowned world champions while the football side have confirmed their qualification for the World Cup. In a series of special features, the Echo looks at three tradtionally male-dominated sports where girls are now flying the flag. We start with football and ask whether the success at the top level of the sport has filtered down to those playing in south Essex.
A SENIOR figure in women’s football in Essex has said participation in the ladies game is dwindling and has called on budding young stars to don their boots and get involved in the game.
Kim Coster, manager of the successful Billericay Town Ladies team and representative manager for Essex County Ladies Football, has long championed participation for girls and women in the sport, but says keeping the game accessible and exciting for youngsters was crucial for its longevity.
In the last few months, women’s teams in Witham, Peterborough and Cambridge have disbanded and Coster admits that is a big worry – as clubs at the top of the women’s game are able to progress due to funding.
“It is something that needs to be recognised,” she said. “A number of teams have just stopped due to poor participation and that is no surprise. There needs to be a provision where girls are encouraged to continue with the sport as they get older. And that won’t happen unless things change.
“The Women’s Super League and Women’s Premier League are developing, but they are significantly ahead of the other leagues.
“One of our main problems is changing the mindsets of people towards the women’s game. We have excellent support from the Essex County FA which is positive but we need more participation.
“Grass roots clubs are desperately looking for players and I would say to girls thinking of giving it a go, ‘why not?’ We need more people playing and we want them to go as far as they can – it is about keeping them there and making sure they enjoy it.”
However, girls and women playing at grass roots level have to pay to play, and Coster said that makes it difficult to encourage new players to take up the sport.
“I have been on the waiting list to use 3G pitches for four years (with Billericay Town Ladies and Girls) but it will cost more than our annual income to use it for two hours a week for one year.
“We would never be able to afford that.”
One of the recent success stories is C&K Basildon, who only came into being 10 years ago. They have since won six promotions in that time and are currently playing in the Women’s Premier League Division One South East.
The Town manager says she thinks her Billericay side can achieve whatever they want this season, with the league, county cup, league cup and women’s FA Cup all targeted, and she said she would never hold her players’ back if they wanted to develop at a higher level.
“I want my girls to do the best they can,” she said. “We will always support them and encourage them to better themselves.
“Look at Keegan Russell (who recently moved from Town to join Charlton Athletic) and I am sure there will be more to follow her.”
Billericay Town Ladies next match is on Sunday against Great Shelford Ladies, at the home of Billericay Town (kick-off 2pm).
l Visit the Essex FA website for more details on girls and ladies football.
ONE of England’s most famous female players grew up learning the game on the streets of south Essex.
Former England skipper Casey Stoney, who also skippered the Great Britain team at the London Olympics, grew up in Wickford.
She told the Echo she started kicking a ball at about three and developed her game playing in the cul-de-sac she grew up in with her neighbours.
“It was brilliant because, from about 11, it meant it was safe for us to play football outside whenever we wanted.
“I must have been quite good, because the boys let me play and thinking back we never stopped practising.”
Stoney left Wickford and moved to London at 15.
She had already been signed by Chelsea Ladies at that point where she stayed until moving to Arsenal. She then moved on to join Charlton Athletic Ladies in the summer of 2002 before signing for Lincoln, a move which really kickstarted her career.
She became England captain while at Lincoln and was also given the honour of leading Britain at the Olympics.
A move back to Arsenal followed that.
WHAT DO THE FIGURES SHOW?
DESPITE the seeming increase in popularity of women’s football, Essex FA statistics show, if anything, numbers are slightly decreasing.
Though there are more Essex clubs affiliated to the county FA than 10 years ago in both women’s and girls’ football, both have lost numbers since 2009 to 2011.
These figures could be slightly misleading, however, as they only apply to clubs and not sides affiliated to the FA.
So, if clubs have more than one side then they won’t all be on the figures.
Clubs affiliated to Essex FA. Note the cut off for this season has not yet been reached so numbers may increase.
YEAR 2004 , WOMEN 25 GIRLS 49
2005 WOMEN 31 GIRLS 60
2006 WOMEN 33 GIRLS 68
2007 WOMEN 32 GIRLS 70
2008 WOMEN 35 GIRLS 70
2009 WOMEN 37 GIRLS 70
2010 WOMEN 36 GIRLS 71
2011 WOMEN 45 GIRLS 66
2012 WOMEN 38 GIRLS 65
2013 WOMEN 37 GIRLS 59
2014 WOMEN 33 GIRLS 53