How to get involved in girls' football in Shropshire with England women flying

About 7.6 million people watched England's Lionesses come from behind to beat Spain in their Euro 2022 quarter-final, equalling the numbers for the same stage of the 2019 World Cup - and potentially igniting a new wave of excitement in English women's football.

England's Georgia Stanway celebrates scoring her side's second goal of the game during the UEFA Women's Euro 2022 Quarter Final match at the Brighton & Hove Community Stadium. Photo: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire
England's Georgia Stanway celebrates scoring her side's second goal of the game during the UEFA Women's Euro 2022 Quarter Final match at the Brighton & Hove Community Stadium. Photo: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

The hype for the England women's team has reached fever pitch ahead of tonight's semi-final against Sweden, with hopes that the Lionesses will reach a final for the third time in the team's history, and perhaps even go further still.

Women have been playing international matches for England for 50 years, and it has been a long and arduous journey for the women's game to escape the unfair prejudice and derision it once provoked - but now, with the Lionesses flying through a home tournament (they scored 14 and conceded none in the group stage, before the nervier 2-1 comeback win against Spain in Brighton) and inspiring millions of young girls, where can aspiring players go to start their football journeys in Shropshire?

The Shropshire Star spoke to some of the tireless volunteers who help facilitate girls' and women's football in Shropshire and have been helping develop young female players for years, to ask them whether England's high-profile home campaign could mean a new surge of young girls wanting to get involved in the beautiful game.

Pete Gough is the chair of Meresiders FC out of Mereside in Shrewsbury, who are celebrating their 25th birthday this year.

Pete has been chair for the last nine of those years, and over the last eight has helped establish five age groups for girls. He first set up a girls' team for his own daughters when they became interested in football and were looking for a club.

"I said 'If they're going to play football, they're going to play football for me'," he said. "I'm a stubborn fella!

"We have the under-8s - they're new - the under-11s, under-12s, under-13s and under-15s.

"We're hopeful that all of them will be playing in leagues this season, they're fully registered and it's just hoping there are enough girls that turn up to play."

The current under-15s side in fact joined as under-8s and have progressed through the club over the years, and though some of the cohort have moved away or dropped out, the structure is now strong enough that the team as a whole can continue.

"Like every club, they have come and gone but over the years we've been able to build up what we have as a foundation."

Pete, like almost everyone involved in grassroots football, is a volunteer and puts hours of his own time into organising, coaching and mentoring young players every week.

He said that some of the trends in girls' football and the ways in which it differs from boys' football have been interesting - in his experience it can be harder to convince girls to join a team in the first place, but once they find a place in a team, feel welcome and make friends, they may stick with their team longer than some boys.

"There does seem to be a bit more loyalty in girls' football, it's interesting," he said. And he hopes that, with the high-profile success of England's women, and with Ella Toone and Ellen White becoming household names, girls will be able to see a path for themselves to make their own way in the beautiful game.

"It is better usually to get children in when they're young - with boys as well, as they get older they get interested in different things and priorities, but if they've got into football younger they will still have that.

"We're all volunteers that give up an awful lot of time and effort - not just our club but every club. It's out of the goodness of our hearts. I'm always happy to promote girls' football, and there's no better time to get girls interested in football than now, when they're watching England play the excellent football they have been."

Contact Pete on 07837 404542 or visit facebook.com/meresiders.

Jo Smith has been flying the flag for women's football in Shropshire for several years, and has headed up Wem Town Ladies as the club's ladies secretary for the last two.

Wem Town Ladies play in the Women's National League, while several girls play in youth teams.

Jo says she has noticed an encouraging heightened interest in football among younger girls, and is hopeful the England team's success could spark even more interest this summer.

"I think England have a good chance - and they are inspiring a nation of young girls to see it’s not unobtainable for them.

"It's nice to have female football role models for them."

To contact Wem Town ladies, email Wemtownladiesfc@outlook.com, call 07505 361731 or visit facebook.com/wemtownladies.

Scott Marshall, secretary of NC United in Muxton, Telford, said the club started up their first girls' team last year, an under-11 cohort that has since progressed to under-12s.

He said that having a spotlight on women's football in England will hopefully boost the uptake of football among girls down the pyramid.

"With the England team doing as well as they're doing at the moment, hopefully it gets more girls interested in football.

"Our under-12s play in the Shropshire Girls' League.

"We've got a lot of younger girls in mixed groups - it can be a struggle to get a whole team together.

"We're all volunteers, and nine times out of 10 it's the parents who are going to be doing the coaching."

To contact NC United, call 07900 240181 or visit facebook.com/NCUnitedFC.

This is just a small selection of clubs in Shropshire that run teams for girls or ladies - find football near you on the Shropshire FA's website at shropshirefa.com/players/youth/girls.

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