Megan Todd is putting down foundations for success at Cambridge United
Shaping the future of girls' football
Seizing the initiative has been the theme of the growth of women’s and girls’ football.
Rather than waiting for opportunities to come its way, the sport has had to fight for wider recognition while growing at the grassroots level.
One of those to grab an opportunity with both hands is Megan Todd, and she is now focused on providing those same chances to others with Cambridge United.
Having played football from a young age at Heversett, Todd threw caution to the wind in her late teens to apply for a scholarship in America.
And after four-and-a-half years in California, the 22-year-old is bringing that wealth of experience to the U’s as female football development officer.
Heading Stateside to study sports science, Todd had already got her Level One and Two coaching badges with Norfolk FA and was able to build on those skills.
“In the States, you do a lot of community stuff so I did a lot of individual training with girls, a lot of girls’ tournaments; and the number of girls they have playing compared to us is a big difference,” said Todd.
“Something that I noticed is that girls in America have a purpose to play because they can go on, get education, get money and a scholarship out for it.
“When I came back, I just really wanted to create an opportunity and a pathway for girls. The chance at Cambridge United came up and it just seemed like a perfect fit.”
The U’s are setting up a girls’ development centre which will cater for aged from under-sevens to under-15s, with the transition to ladies’ clubs usually made at 16.
But Todd is eager to stress that it will not be to the detriment of clubs, and she is hopeful that the extra training will have a galvanising affect and rub off on local teams.
Trials have been hugely popular, with big participation numbers – another clear sign of the growth of the sport in the region – and Todd believes the involvement of professional clubs is crucial to developing the game further.
“We need more role models for girls in the game,” she said. “It’s why we are setting up this girls’ centre, we’ve got a lot of girls who want to be involved.
“Cambridge United Football Club are going to give girls an opportunity and going to give them a pathway. We want them to come and play on the field, we want them to be mascots and we want to go into schools.
“I think that’s where it comes from, when big football clubs step up and say ‘we’re going to provide this, we’re going to make it as professional as the boys, you’re going to get the same opportunities’.
“And girls won’t think they’re second best.
“It’s a development centre to provide girls that extra professional training and just being in a professional environment and playing around other girls in the area to get better.
“That also helps your local clubs, their players are getting better, our local clubs are getting better and I just think it’s a whole big community boost.”
The focus at the centre will not just be on honing football skills though, it will be helping the girls develop their life skills.
Todd believes that is a crucial element, especially currently, when women’s football is not going to singularly provide a living, except for the elite few.
“Something that we’re going to emphasise at the girls’ development centre, is we’re not only developing girls’ football and them as players but as people too,” she said.
“I think that’s key. Life skills is what I’m huge on. Girls play football because they enjoy it. We have to make sure that we emphasise and push that as much as possible but we need to challenge them.
“They’re going to face many challenges and if we give them the coaching tools and professionalism they will grow and mature.”
But when Todd was taking that route, it was never with dreams of a professional career – her vocational calling was always in coaching.
“Every time I coach younger girls or teenagers, I just love it,” she said. “I love when they learn something and you’ve helped them achieve that.
“I think girls are getting a lot better these days and it’s just helping them with the confidence too.
“There are some fantastic girl players out there, which is just brushed over because they don’t believe it and obviously there’s lots of focus on the boys so it’s just giving them that belief they can go and do this.
“Sometimes they just need that push. It’s not just about football, it’s about the confidence, the social skills, and helping them go off and achieve what they want to do.”
The girls’ development centre at Cambridge United starts this September, and Todd knows what she wants to achieve.
“We will journey together, and I hope in two to three years we have created a really good pathway for girls here,” she said.
“Hopefully, the girls that start playing in the next few years can say ‘this is what I do, I can go here to here to here’ and I hope we get to see some girls at a really top level from Cambridge and that would be fantastic.
“Or going off to university or getting really good careers – it will be those sort stories that we want to look for.”