England Lionesses’ Euro 2022 triumph is already having an impact in Cambridgeshire
Cambridgeshire FA chief executive officer Jo Bull has described an immediate impact of England’s historic success at the UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 finals.
The Lionesses captured the nation’s hearts by beating Germany 2-1 in extra time at Wembley on Sunday to become the first England side to win a major football tournament since 1966.
It has been described as the breakthrough moment for the women’s game in this country, and their achievements have been making an impression at the grassroots.
“We’ve already noticed a rise in queries from parents looking for places for their girls to play,” explained Bull.
“We’ve also had more clubs looking to provide female football, whether that’s starting a team, becoming a Weetabix Wildcats provider, or offering Squad Girls sessions. Cambridgeshire is in an excellent position to support girls and women’s football.”
She explained that there were more than 3,000 players registered in the female pathway in the county last season – and that was before the Lionesses’ win.
The Alan Boswell Group Cambridgeshire Girls’ and Women’s Football League has a record 215 teams for the forthcoming season, with a further 24 Weetabix Wildcats providers in the county for football fun sessions for girls aged five to 11.
“This season, following the success of Wildcats, Squad Girls is being introduced,” said Bull.
“This will provide recreational football for girls aged 12 to 14. Both Cambridge United and Peterborough United have been granted licences to run Emerging Talent Centres and will be providing opportunities for girls showing potential and we’re hopeful these centres will produce some future Lionesses.
“As well as players we’re also looking at how we can support more females into coaching and refereeing.”
Amy Newell, who is the Cambs FA football development officer, was at Wembley on Sunday, and described the win as “amazing, nail-biting but amazing”.
And Bull added: “It has definitely inspired the nation. People are more aware of women’s football and the opportunities in general, whether that’s playing – at all levels – or managing/coaching like Sarina Wiegman, or refereeing.”
There are so many areas of the game that could be changed by Chloe Kelly’s goal that gave England victory, after Ella Toone’s second-half effort had been cancelled out by Germany’s Lina Magull.
It is anticipated that it will take women’s football to another level, something that Cambridge United Women’s stalwart Liz Pamplin, who made 500 appearance for the club, could only have dreamt about when starting out around 30 years ago.
“When the tournament started, I didn’t think I would feel quite so emotional watching it happen,” she said. “I actually went to watch the game with Sarah (Wiltshire, United’s new signing), at her place and we watched with her five-year-old daughter and eight-month-old son.
“One of her neighbours knocked on the door as soon as it finished and said ‘I just came to see you because I know you’ve been involved in women’s football for so long and it’s so much more important for you than anybody else’, and gave her a glass of wine to say well done.
“That’s what it is – we fought and we battled for so long to get some recognition and it changes everything. It’s so big for us really.
“I was thinking about a story during the game when I was at university and playing women’s football and we went to it must have been Newcastle, I think – I was at university in Sheffield – and no-one had told us where to go.
“We started warming up on the pitch, and somebody from the university came over and said ‘no, move off there’.
“I said ‘well, why, this is the pitch, we’re warming up and we’ve got a game?’. They went ‘no, this is the men’s first-team pitch, your pitch is over there’. Their pitch had barriers and corner flags, and everything, and they sent us off to a random park pitch over the way.
“That was what it looked like while we were playing.”
Pamplin described it as just the beginning, and one of those who will hopefully benefit is 15-year-old Serena Cobb.
“Witnessing England progress and then win the Euros in front of sold out stadiums and on prime time TV is a magical moment,” she explained.
“These women are real role models for girls. They are strong, confident and determined and I am filled with pride, excitement and inspiration for the future of our game.
“I first played organised football aged four. It was run for pre-school children by Cambourne Eagles.
“After this I joined a boys’ team in Cambourne. There were a few other girls that played but at the time there was nothing to actively encourage girls to get involved in football.
“When my parents later looked for a girls’ team for me to join, there were no teams exclusively for girls in Cambourne.
“However, fast forward 10 years and there is now a team for every age group – and even waiting lists for these!”
Cobb had to go St Ives, first with St Ives Rangers then St Ives Town, and progressed through the Cambridgeshire advanced coaching centre (ACC) from 10 to 15 to move to Cambridge United Women this season.
She added: “I know how brilliant it is to be part of a football team, to make great friends, to be active and have fun.
“Having just witnessed history, I can’t wait to see what the future holds for girls and women in football.”
That is one of the hopes of Cambridge City Ladies captain Sarah Hudson.
She highlighted the awareness that the Lionesses have brought to girls’ and women’s football, and the different demographic that it has attracted, with all parts of society represented.
“We are a local club punching above our weight,” said Hudson.
“We’re playing in the national league, but we’re a self-funded club so the awareness of the game for us is potentially really good because it makes businesses think I can help the women’s game or the local game.
“Any amount of money to help us keep succeeding is really beneficial for all the girls, whether that’s the under-11s or myself and the senior players. I think it’s going to entice younger players.
“Twenty-five years ago when we were kids, you were probably one of only very few girls that played.
“But now girls want to play football at a really young age.”
The Wildcats programme helped City establish an under-11s team last year, and the Lilywhites’ vision is to use the programme to develop future generations of players, creating a pathway at the club.
It would then be the hope that as players retire at the other end, they would take up coaching to nurture the next wave of players.
“If you don’t have the youth players coming through, the senior teams struggle as the years go by,” said Hudson.
“For instance, this year we’ve got three senior teams and they are absolutely swamped with really talented youngsters.”
To find out how to get involved in girls’ and women’s football in Cambridgeshire, visit cambridgeshirefa.com/players/women.