Why we invest in women's football

We invest in women's football to help address the gender gap in physical activity levels

23 June 2019 Football Funding

Losing semi-finalists in each of their last two major tournaments, England’s women are in France this summer with only one thing on their mind, bringing football home.

While the men surprised the nation last summer with their run to the final four, their female counterparts go into their World Cup with realistic goals of lifting the trophy come Sunday, July 7, in Lyon.

So with the eyes of the world focusing on France and this feeling like a breakthrough moment for women’s football in the public consciousness, we’re going to take a look at some of our investment into the game.

Football investment

We've awarded more than £250m to football-specific projects in the last 10 years

In total, we’ve made 1,150 awards to football-specific projects over the last 10 years, with more than £250 million being invested into the beautiful game.

And the true figure of how much of our investment goes to benefitting football is actually more than that, with numerous other investments into multi-sport projects also contributing to football-related activities.

Over the years, we've invested in projects specifically focusing on men, with others benefitting solely women, and the rest bringing positives to both via the medium of football.

As a result, it's impossible to give a single figure for our investment into women’s football, but the reasons for a focus on women’s sport in general are clear.

Our Active Lives data shows that men are more likely to be active than women, with a gender gap of 258,000 in the English adult population.

So we’re going to spend the duration of the Women’s World Cup focusing on examples of our investments into the women’s game – one for every time the Lionesses play.

London Playing Fields Foundation

More than a decade ago the London Playing Fields Foundation (LPFF) noticed a worrying trend in the number of women and girls using their facilities.

The capital’s leading body for the protection, provision and promotion of playing fields in London had noticed a particular decline in the number of girls playing football in the South East London and Kent League (Selkent), which uses their pitches.

Research was commissioned into the area and they found a lack of female role models within the grassroots volunteer workforce, with the majority of adult coaches being men.

As a result, they applied to our Sportsmatch fund and, in 2009, received £11,476 towards their Female Coach Development programme.

Alongside funding from the Football Foundation, Nike, the London Marathon Charitable Trust and the Jack Petchey Foundation, they set up the programme aimed at helping women get a coaching qualification.

And it enjoyed great success, helping 85 women gain their Level 1 qualification and 33 obtain Level 2 – also increasing the pass rate of the London FA at Level 2 grade from 44% to 77%.

“What we always set out to do is work in partnerships and we had very strong partnerships with the county FAs who were very supportive of what we were trying to do,” said LPFF projects manager Jo McKenzie.

“We were able to work with them and ensure we had women coming into the project and then signposting them to other opportunities afterwards.

“We knew that a lot of women were doing their Level 1 coaching course but weren’t taking that step up to Level 2.

“So we wanted to know what we could do to assist them. For one, we wanted to build their confidence. And then the second point was making sure they were aware of the technical side of things, so they knew what they were going to experience on the course.

“We also put them on the course with our other candidates, too, so they had their own support network and it meant they had their friends and weren’t alone.

“The mentors then kept in touch with them throughout the course, so that if the coaches had any enquiries they could go back to them and ask for anything they needed.

“I’m sure they had the technical capabilities to do it anyway, it was just giving them the support and confidence to actually do it.”

Jo identified the female mentors recruited by the programme as a key aspect its success, as well as funding removing the financial burden of getting qualified.

Now, more than 70% of the women attaining the Level 2 Certificate in Coaching Football are working in the game, but Jo knows their work is not finished.

“I’d love to say that our pitches are fully booked with girls and women playing,” she added.

“But we’re not going to pretend that just because we improved the pass rate and got more coaches qualified, that we’ve solved all the issues and that the women’s game is now equal with the men’s.”

Hall Road Rangers FC

Growing at a rate of one team a season for almost a decade, Hall Road Rangers are leading the way for girl’s football in Hull.

Lee Myers, press officer and former vice chairman at the club, was involved in setting up the first girls’ team there around eight years ago, and has seen the section go from strength to strength.

In early 2015 we awarded the club £9,860 of National Lottery funding and this has allowed the girls’ game to flourish.

The club now has four girls’ teams, along with four others that have been formed and now play under the name of Kingswood United.

But Lee remembers it all being very different at the start of the decade.

“All investment we get into girls’ football has been very well received and put to very good use in getting girls to play football,” he said.

“I started the girls’ section about eight years ago when my daughter started playing. She played in a soccer school at five years old and people were like ‘huh, there’s a girl here, what’s she doing here?’

“But I ran the club, I was the vice-chairman at the time, so she was my daughter and she was blooming well going to join in if I said she was allowed to!

“Since she joined we’ve gone from girls playing in the boys’ section to producing upwards of eight, nine or ten teams over eight or nine years.”

Lee has just returned from the World Cup himself, having been in France to see the Lionesses beat Argentina 1-0.

And he is amazed at how much the women’s game has grown in recent times.

“There was no investment or opportunity at all back then,” he said.

“But we’ve gone from girls not being particularly interested, thinking it was a boys’ sport, to seeing England have success at international level, investment in the Women’s Super League, and that fuelling interest in girls.

“There are now girls flocking to us saying they want to play. It’s almost self-perpetuating. They’re seeking us out rather than us having to go and hunt for players.

“The money helps in every way. And what we’ve got now is girls that used to play for me, now coaching teams.

“The ones from the start are 18 or 19 now and they’re looking to carry on in a women’s team, and also to develop their coaching and run their own teams – the girl currently running our under-8s team started with us and we’ve been able to fund her Level 1 coaching qualification.

“The funding has allowed us to provide kit, match day fees, loads of things – just put on a smooth path to develop as a player and go into coaching if they want to. It takes a big burden off their shoulders.

“The girls’ section isn’t totally self-sustaining yet, but it’s definitely getting there. The level of buy-in from parents and sponsors, as well as funding organisations, is there.

“It’s still a ‘boy’s’ sport, which will hopefully change eventually, but it’s getting there.”

AFC Stoke Newington

More than a decade ago the London Playing Fields Foundation (LPFF) noticed a worrying trend in the number of women and girls using their facilities.

The capital’s leading body for the protection, provision and promotion of playing fields in London had noticed a particular decline in the number of girls playing in the South East London and Kent League (Selkent), which uses their pitches.

Research was commissioned into the area and they found a lack of female role models within the grassroots volunteer workforce, with the majority of adult coaches being men.

As a result, they applied to our Sportsmatch fund and, in 2009, received £11,476 towards their Female Coach Development programme.

Alongside funding from the Football Foundation, Nike, the London Marathon Charitable Trust and the Jack Petchey Foundation, they set up the programme aimed at helping women get a coaching qualification.

And it enjoyed great success, helping 85 women gain their Level 1 qualification and 33 obtain Level 2 – also increasing the pass rate of the London FA at Level 2 grade from 44% to 77%.

“What we always set out to do is work in partnerships and we had very strong partnerships with the county FAs who were very supportive of what we were trying to do,” said LPFF projects manager Jo McKenzie.

“We were able to work with them and ensure we had women coming into the project and then signposting them to other opportunities afterwards.

“We knew that a lot of women were doing their Level 1 coaching course but weren’t taking that step up to Level 2.

“So we wanted to know what we could do to assist them. For one, we wanted to build their confidence. And then the second point was making sure they were aware of the technical side of things, so they knew what they were going to experience on the course.

“We also put them on the course with our other candidates, too, so they had their own support network and it meant they had their friends and weren’t alone.

“The mentors then kept in touch with them throughout the course, so that if the coaches had any enquiries they could go back to them and ask for anything they needed.

“I’m sure they had the technical capabilities to do it anyway, it was just giving them the support and confidence to actually do it.”

Jo identified the female mentors recruited by the programme as a key aspect its success, as well as funding removing the financial burden of getting qualified.

Now, more than 70% of the women attaining the Level 2 Certificate in Coaching Football are working in the game, but Jo knows their work is not finished.

“I’d love to say that our pitches are fully booked with girls and women playing,” she added.

“But we’re not going to pretend that just because we improved the pass rate and got more coaches qualified, that we’ve solved all the issues and that the women’s game is now equal with the men’s.”

Women in Sport - Daughters and Dads

Participants at Women in Football's Daughters and Dads project

While developing football skills may not be the primary focus of Women in Sport’s new Daughters and Dads programme, it's using football clubs as an entry point to get more families active and teach fundamental movement skills.

Following work done at the University of Newcastle in Australia, where they had great success with their Dads and Daughters Exercising and Empowered initiative, Women in Sport has teamed up with the Fatherhood Institute, Fulham FC Foundation and the EFL Trust to try and improve the lives of girls by strengthening relationships between them and their father, or father figure – whether that be an elder brother, uncle, grandad, step-father or anyone else taking on a fatherly role.

Supported by our Families Fund with an initial investment of just over £118,000 of National Lottery money last October, the project is now approaching the conclusion of its pilot phase and has secured a further £306,000 to continue for another two years.

So far, the pilot has seen 14 families sign up to take part in one of two hour-and-a-half sessions a week, for 11 weeks. Each session involves a class-based theory element, as well as practical-based play designed to teach fundamental movement skills, increase activity levels and develop the bond between father or father-figure and daughter.

“What we’ve seen is that a lot of girls don’t have the confidence and competency to enjoy being active. A lack of exposure to fundamental movement skills can prevent them transitioning into different sports throughout their lives,” said Women in Sport innovation manager Lee Warren.

“Girls’ movement skills are often developed through stereotypically female sports such as gymnastics and dance, this can mean they miss out on developing movement skills such as striking, throwing and kicking.

“It’s not a football-specific programme but it uses some of the actions and movements which are performed in football to develop skills that can then be used, potentially for football or other sports at a later age.”

The ultimate aim is for, at the end of the programme, the family’s lives to be enriched and for the father and daughter to self-sustain their physical activity levels within their family and community, and to improve the retention and experience of girls in physical activity.

Now the pilot has been successful, the project will be rolled out to create two hubs, each working with three football clubs – three in London and three at a second hub further afield.

“We’re trying to challenge the gender stereotypes that are out there. We deliver educational classroom sessions around topics such as the importance of positive role models, pinkification, and being adventurous,” Lee added.

“The practical sessions give support and strategies to families to overcome challenges and fathers to be positive role model for their daughters.

“Then we go out into the field, do fitness-based activities, practice fundamental movement skills, rough and tumble play – that helps to build the social and emotional bond between daughter and dad.

“What we do find is that, for some dads this is a new way of interacting with their daughters and they can be a little hesitant about it, but we’re starting to work though those barriers and fathers find that it is ok to do it, and in fact is great fun.”