FOR decades women’s football has been considered by some as the poor relation to its male counterpart.
In fact, for 50 years, The Football Association banned women from playing on league grounds on the basis that “the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged”.
But women’s football – which boasts a history of more than 115 years – is now becoming more popular, with increasing numbers of people watching it.
In 1993 there were 10,400 women players but today there are about 150,000, while players including Kelly Smith and Faye White are how household names.
In 2011 the FA launched the Women’s Super League to help boost the female game and this has been supplemented this season with the launch of the competition’s second tier – which includes a team from Oxford United.
Lauren Major, left, and Jessica Witcher from the Tower Hill Ladies’ team
Fifty-year-old Amanda Bevan-Talbot was spurred on to take up a new sport by the idea of getting fitter and meeting new friends.
The window cleaner from Witney started playing in goal eight years ago and has been hooked on the game ever since.
She now plays football for Witney’s Tower Hill Ladies club with her partner Samantha.
She said: “I started playing eight years ago because a group of friends decided to start up a team to keep fit.
“At the time, I was 42. We did it for fitness and then it developed into a team.
“It has changed my life. I have gone from doing nothing, and doing the same old mundane things, to going into a sport that has opened up a social life that I never had before.
“It has opened up a friend base and I do see the majority of them as friends for life.”
There are 20 women’s teams registered in the county and clubs hope that more women will join the sport.
Oxfordshire FA Football Development Officer Sarah Wood has played football since she was 11.
The 30-year-old from Carterton said that one of the FA’s priorities is to develop women’s football and help volunteers to set up new teams.
Sarah Wood, centre, in action
She said: “One of our priorities is female football. We’re driving a lot of funding into creating new football teams.
“For women’s games, we would only get family and friends coming to support them.
“The Oxford United women now get a few hundred people coming to watch them, which is a big step in the right direction.”
The Oxfordshire FA has funding from the Football Foundation to give 11 grants to help clubs across the county set up new teams.
Each Grow the Game grant is worth up £1,500 and so far 18 clubs have applied for funding.
Ms Wood stressed the importance of getting more schools to encourage young girls to play football.
And officials hope that the strength of the Oxford Mail Girls’ League will keep young women involved with the beautiful game.
The girls’ game has gone from strength to strength over the past few years, and there are now 46 registered teams in Oxfordshire.
And it was smiles all round in Didcot last month when the Didcot Girls’ School’s Under-14 football team celebrated national success.
The girls won 5-2 against Kibworth High School, from South Leicestershire, at Reading FC’s Madejski Stadium, in the English Schools’ Football Association PlayStation Under-14 Schools’ Cup for Girls.
The Didcot Girls’ School’s Under-14 football team
Freeleigh Parnell scored inside three minutes before a quick-fire double from Molly Dyer.
Kibworth High School scored two goals either side of half-time, before Molly grabbed her hat-trick.
And Captain Katie Miller sealed a convincing victory by making it 5-2.
As Witney’s own Mrs Bevan-Talbot found, it is never too late to take to the football pitch.
She said: “I got into football and never looked back. I like the energy that I feel when I step out onto the pitch, but it is quite nerve-wracking.
“I used to be sporty when I was younger, but when I had my daughter Amy, I just fell into not doing anything. I do love sport and when the opportunity came up that I could do this, I just grabbed it.”
Mother to 16-year-old Amy Beecham, her fearless attitude on the pitch has left her with a number of injuries.
Mrs Bevan-Talbot said: “They tell you that you have to be mad to be a goalkeeper. I learnt that the hard way.
“When you are in goal, you have people running at you. That’s how I broke my hand.
“I dislocated my shoulder trying to save a goal and it was a very hard shot.
“When I play in goal, I come away with lots of bruises.”
Her partner Samantha Bevan-Talbot plays on the wing for Tower Hill Ladies and has urged more women to take part in the sport.
The 35-year-old said: “We start the season with 17 or 18 players, but when we get to the end of the season, we have 13.
“I think we have been fortunate because we have younger girls that are always coming through.
“It really does make a difference when you have a club with a good structure – girls’ football is becoming more acceptable.”
The team is looking for new players and is also seeking sponsorship for the next season.
To register your interest in playing visit towerhillfc.org
BRINGING IN THE YOUNGSTERS
PLAYER numbers are still the main obstacle to success in the women’s league.
Launton Ladies know more than most how hard it is to keep a team going.
The team had to drop out of the Southern Region Premier League because they did not have enough players to field a team.
Life-long footballer Sarah Clutterbuck said the team has faced the added pressure of injuries, but hopes it will be able to re-enter the Thames Valley County League next season.
The 35-year-old player manager from Bicester said: “At the moment we’re trying to re-launch the ladies. We need at least 15 players for the league to accept us in
“We are one of the oldest women’s clubs in the country. We were playing in the Southern Region Premier, but the team had to have a year out.”
The club has started up a girls’ scheme and hope this will build a grass roots system to keep more girls involved in the sport. More than 40 girls come to training sessions each week.
Sarah Clutterbuck from Launton Ladies. Picture: OX67576 Steve Wheeler
But Ms Clutterbuck said: “Some girls will drop out between the age of 16 and 19. That is the age we will struggle the most with.”
A buying administrator at Morleys of Bicester, she started playing football when she was 11 and has been playing for the club for the past 24 years.
She said: “I enjoy the competitiveness of it and the set-up has been really good. It is just something that has been in my blood since I was a kid.”
But she has been faced with injury and has torn her cruciate ligament twice in 2010 and 2012.
The club runs Monday training for eight-year-olds upwards at Launton Playing Fields. And its annual memorial five-a-side contest is on Sunday, July 6, in memory of club founder Judy Fry.
To find out more email firstname.lastname@example.org
UNITED THEY STAND
- THE Oxford United team was founded in the 1990s and is now under the leadership of manager Les Taylor
- The U’s took home the Oxfordshire FA Cup three seasons in a row in 2011, 2012 and 2013
- The team plays in the FA Women’s Super League Two
- Their next match will see them take on Durham Women FC on Sunday, June 29 It will kick-off at noon at New Ferens Park in Durham
- The U’s will also face Birmingham City Ladies in the FA WSL Continental Cup on July 2 at the Solihull Moors FC ground. Kick-off is at 7.45pm.
THE WHISTLE BLOWER
- OXFORDSHIRE referee Sian Piret made the headlines in 2011 for being the first female Oxfordshire FA referee to officiate at an international tournamen
- The Marston referee, who has been the county’s senior female match official, qualified in 2007 and was an assistant referee in Group 7 of the Women’s Under-17 mini tournament in Serbia in 2011
- She has since officiated at the FA Women’s Cup Final in 2012 and at the Women’s Champions League tournament
- And she was the referee at The FA Women’s Premier League Cup Final which saw Sheffield beat Cardiff City 6-2 on Sunday, May 4
- According to statistics from the Oxfordshire FA, there were eight female referees in the 2010/11 seaso
- The next season saw 12 female referees take to the pitch and numbers soared to 17 in the 2012/13 season
- Last season there were 13 female referees officiating at different levels of the sport.
LEAGUE OF LADIES
- FOOTBALLERS will take to The Community Arena on Marsh Lane in Marston today from 7.30pm for the start of the Women’s Summer League 2014
- The league lasts for up to 12 weeks and includes 10 teams and 140 players
- All fixtures in the League last 40 minutes and will be officiated by FA qualified referees.
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