The Lionesses have illuminated the gaps in grassroots – here’s how we’re helping to close them.

After the victory of the UEFA Women’s EURO 2022, the Lionesses were thrown into the limelight. But many don’t realise that, years before the glitz, it all started with grassroots for the England women’s football squad; sodden Sundays, frozen fingertips and tatty kits.

Following Starling’s sponsorship of the 2022 tournament, in partnership with Gift of Kit, we’re helping to grow the women and girls’ football community by giving grassroots clubs and schools the chance to apply for free football kits and coaching vouchers. For many clubs, including Astley & Tyldesley FC in Manchester, these programmes are vital to help them keep going.

We’re helping to grow the women and girls’ football community.

When we surveyed grassroots football clubs, we found that 73% of them have seen a surge in demand in women and girls’ football following the UEFA Women’s EURO 2022. But 72% are struggling to fund football kits.

We visited Astley & Tyldesley FC to speak to the parents, players and coaches to hear what Starling’s grassroots football partnership, Kick On with Starling, means to them, while former Lioness Jill Scott put them through their paces with a coaching session. Lioness and game-changing goal-scorer, Ella Toone, started her career at the club, so here the record-breaking tournament really hit home.

Amy Andrews, mother of football player Olivia, 12, explains: “There was something about the EUROs. The girls came back stronger than ever, so determined. They’re like a different team,” she continues, “The women commentators and presenters also made a huge difference – that made the girls want to watch it.”

Other parents spoke of the effect football has on their girls’ confidence during a time when, in the preteen years, self-consciousness pervades. Sarah Johnson explains how football has helped her daughter Florence, 12: “In high school she wasn’t confident making friends, she was very shy and talking really negatively about herself.” Then she found football.

Football helps girls with confidence as they approach teenage years.

Gail Dowyer, mother of Halle, eight, says: “I love the bond between them – they’re a proper team. It’s important for girls this age to have that. Plus, football is giving her confidence to try other sports.” She continues, “I think the discipline of the game is also important – girls get to this age and they get lost and rebellious. She’s learning to follow instructions!”

Kate Pentrick echoes this: “There can be so much drama between girls this age, but here it’s all so positive.”

“I love the bond between them – they’re a proper team.”

Brian Worthington, father of two girls and a boy, who all play football, fits in coaching around his other commitments because he loves watching them play: “It’s a priority for me. For us as a family it’s second nature. It’s how we spend our time together.”

When speaking to the mothers on the sidelines, as their umbrellas bend defiantly in the wind, there was a common sentiment that, had this cajoling existed when they were young, things would’ve been different.

For Sarah Johnson, her love of football was marred by the lack of opportunities for girls: “I’m a football fanatic but I didn’t have the opportunity to play when I was younger. It was a hobby that died away.” Amy Andrews agrees: “I wish I’d had the opportunities they’ve got.”

Most of the parents agreed that their daughters approach football in the same way as the boys – as far as they’re concerned, gender doesn’t get in the way of the game. As for Vicky Shaw’s daughter, nine: “She used to watch her brother play on the weekends. One day she said ‘why can’t I do something like that?’ and the rest was history. She’s used to playing with him, she just gets stuck in.”

However, the parents admit, safety is an entirely different issue when it comes to girls. Mother Maxine Expinol believes football is the answer: “When we were kids we would run around the streets and hang about on our bikes. These days parents are worried about their kids’ safety. With football, my daughter is getting outside a few times a week, mixing with other kids, and it’s in a safe space. It’s amazing for her health and fitness.”

“It’s amazing for her health and fitness.”

Despite the new wave of budding football stars, there’s still work to be done to level the playing field. Sarah Matthews explains: ”The winter months are especially hard because all the indoor pitches are taken up by the boys first. A lot of the girls’ games are cancelled and they can lose momentum. They really get upset – it’s all tears, heartbreak and ruined weekends.”

So how can we tackle this? On top of programmes like Gift of Kit, coach Mark Crampton believes we need to fill in the gaps: “We need more open age women’s and girls’ teams. Girls play till 15 – then stop. Between that and going professional, there’s not much available; there’s nothing to work towards.” As the adage goes: ‘You can’t be what you can’t see’.

Last summer, something shifted. But changing the course of a deep-rooted culture takes time. In this football-frenzied corner of the country, at least, it seems grassroots footballers are no longer divided by gender, but defined by how they play. As Kelly Williamson puts it: “There was a time when a girl had to earn the respect of the boys to play football, I don’t think that’s the case anymore.”

Following Starling’s national sponsorship of the UEFA Women’s EURO 2022, we’ve partnered with Gift of Kit to help grow the women and girls’ football community. Clubs and schools across the UK can apply for free Starling-branded football kits, equipment and FA affiliated coaching vouchers. Players within chosen teams that identify as trans or non-binary are eligible. T&Cs Apply.

Choose a Starling-sponsored team pack (grassroots football kits, training equipment and a coach’s tracksuit) or a coaching course voucher – or both!

Applications close on 16th February and successful applicants will be chosen at random.

Availability is limited. Apply here.

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