Let's make women's football the 'forethought' of new pitch investment
Robert Sullivan, CEO of the Football Foundation:
Last week Karen Carney published her independent review of women’s football after months of hard work digging under the skin of the domestic women’s game. Karen and her team heard from individuals and organisations across the professional and grassroots game, combined their feedback with her wealth of experience and wrote up a comprehensive set of recommendations that’ll support women and girls to get the game they need and deserve.
The publication comes as our victorious UEFA Women’s EURO 2022 Lionesses undertake their final preparations in Australia for their opening game of the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023. I was really pleased to see that the case for further investment into high quality facilities is made so clearly within Karen’s report.
The importance of having access to a great place to play is clear to see – over half of England’s World Cup squad kicked off their playing career on facilities that have been funded by The Premier League, The FA and Government’s Football Foundation. This includes newcomer to the squad, Katie Robinson who honed her skills at a Foundation funded pitch at Newquay Tretherras School.
At the Foundation, we know the importance of providing inclusive places to play. This year I was honoured to be at the opening of The Jill Scott Pitch, the first of 23 Football Foundation funded pitches being named in celebration of The Lionesses, at Bolden Girls’ new home ground in Jarrow.
The opening of the pitch provided us with a great opportunity to launch our ‘HERe to Play’ campaign which showcases our mission to provide equal access to quality places to play for women and girls. It was amazing hearing from the girls playing just how influential Jill and the squad were in them taking up football. Having this new pitch to play at made that inspiration a reality for these youngsters. Last season over 8,500 female football teams were playing at facilities that have received Foundation funding, whether that be for new goalposts, improved grass pitches or brand-new changing pavilions and 3G pitches.
But we know there’s more to do. We know that badly lit pitches and late-night kick-off times put women and girls off taking to the pitch. All the facilities that the Foundation funds are now designed in a way that supports women and girls – that means being well lit so that women and girls feel safe on their way to and from training or a game, providing changing facilities and toilets that are suitable and accessible for women and girls, and offering sessions to women and girls at appealing and accessible times once they open. All of this will ensure everyone feels comfortable and confident when they step onto the pitch. This is not just about future funding, but also a challenge to collectively change the culture at existing facilities – ensuring appropriate, fair, and welcoming access for women and girls to play. That does not just mean an hour here or an hour there for the women and girls’ teams. It means use of regular prime playing times, and a culture within the club of community organisation that it’s not just ‘sort the boys and men out first, and then fit the girls around them’. It’s a behavioural change we can help drive with our investment but it must also be one owned by the game itself.
"As Jill said when she opened her pitch, women and girls need to be “a forethought, not an afterthought.”
The Foundation will continue to build on the legacy of the Lionesses long beyond this year’s World Cup competition. Karen’s review rightly highlights the need to review and refresh our Local Football Facility Plans – our detailed roadmap that will deliver the grassroots facilities that every community deserves - in the light of both the exceptional growth in the women’s and girls’ game and the recent cost challenges in the construction sector. This is a vital piece of work that the Foundation is already undertaking with its partners; the Premier League, The FA and the Government. The results of this work will drive our future investment priorities and allow us to maximise the opportunity set out not only in this review, but also by the Lionesses taking to the Suncorp pitch in the heat of Brisbane this Saturday.