There is no denying that 2015 was a landmark year for women’s football in England. The Lionesses captured the imagination of the public, becoming the country’s most successful team since 1966 with a third-place finish at the FIFA Women’s World Cup™. Their superb showing at Canada 2015 resulted in a dramatic 48 per cent increase in domestic attendances as supporters rushed to see the international stars ply their trade at home.
The domestic game also made a strong statement by hosting the FA Women’s Cup Final at Wembley for the first time – and again, records were broken. 30,000 supporters saw Chelsea defeat Notts County in the showpiece final, with a further two million tuning in on television.
But the impressive growth of the women’s game has not been limited to the top, however, as more than 16,000 took part in last year’s FA Girls’ Football Week, an event encouraging primary and secondary schools to put on football sessions for girls, tripling their original target. And this year, the grassroots initiative is set to be even bigger.
Expanding to two events after the success of 2015, this year's first FA Girls' Football Week will begin on 25 April, focussing on the participation of girls aged 5-16. Over 22,000 are registered to take part, an incredible 5,000 more than the FA's original target number. While the second week, taking place from 10-16 October, is centred on raising involvement at higher and further education establishments in the country.
For 101-time England international Jill Scott, grassroots events like the FA Girls' Football Week are integral when it comes to getting more girls playing the beautiful game.
“Things like this are crucial to get young players into the game and help them to realise that football is as much a sport for them as it is boys,” the England women's star said. “I know it was a success last year and I’m sure this year will be just as good.
“Women’s football is just getting bigger and better and it’s a privilege to be a part of it, especially during weeks like this.”
More than 200 schools have signed up to take part in next week’s event, which will be delivered in partnership with Independent Schools FA, English Schools FA, the English Premier League and the English Football League. It reflects the impressive strides that have been made in the women’s game in recent years, a growth which has been witnessed first-hand by Scott at one of the England and Manchester City star’s football schools.
“I’ve been doing my soccer camps for the last couple of years,” the midfielder said. “When I used to go to camps during the holidays I was always the only girl, but I can get up to 40 girls coming along to my camps which is fantastic.”
“There was a camp going on beside us one week. They had 35 boys and I had 40 girls. That was one of those moments when I realised how much women’s football has grown in this country.”
Part of the Lionesses’ bronze medal-winning side at Canada 2015, Scott has enjoyed considerable success at club and international level, and even holds the accolade of being one of just 10 players to have earned 100 England women’s caps. The Sunderland-born star is now looking to give back to the sport that has given her so much by helping shape the next generation in England.
“I always wanted to be outside playing and I’d go to the park with my brother and my dad at every opportunity,” said the 2010 FA Women’s Cup winner. “I can’t remember my life without football in it, so I’d just like to think that I’m giving young girls even more of an opportunity than I had, to play alongside other girls. It’s nice that I’ve got the chance to help those girls and offer them my advice.”