Thursday, 28 April 2011

Women's Football and University

University might not seem the most natural home of a footballer. But for women's football in the UK it is an extremely important institution. Whilst interest and participation in women's football is growing all of the time, it does not have anywhere near the facilities of the men's game, which makes the development of young talent a lot trickier for the women's game. With virtually all of the players in the UK being semi-professionals, the players must have another job in order to have a good standard of living. Naturally many will turn to university as a way of getting a higher paid job, but it does not mean the end of a budding young women's footballing career. University can, in fact, be a stepping stone into the top clubs in the UK and its national teams.

To understand why university is an important part of the women's game, let us consider how a boy ends up playing for England, then how a girl would do the same thing. In extremely simple terms- the boy would naturally enjoy football and would join a local club, he would then be scouted by a bigger team, sign schoolboy forms with that team and start to train with them, perhaps at a centre of excellence. Once the boy turns 16 he would be able to join a team's youth set-up and eventually, if good enough, he would sign professional forms, work his way into the first team and then national squad.

The girl on the other hand would probably start off in the same way, enjoying football and playing for the local club, but the middle part of her journey onto football's top stage would be very different. The girl may also be signed up to play for a bigger team, and attend a centre of excellence just like the boy. When the girl turns 16 she would be able to join the team's youth team set-up, but it would not be the same as the boy's. It would not be full-time and the girl would either have to get a job to supplement any income she receives, or would stay in education and have to go to college to be able to balance her football and studying commitments.

It's at this key point where university comes in. When a girl is of school leaving age they must consider what they want to do with their life. As playing full-time professional football is only really an option in America, they must make a choice between part-time football and work, or part-time football and part-time study. With the qualifications one can gain at university, it is the obvious choice for many young girls to go down that route in the hope of a well paid job in the future, which will guarantee a good standard of living, whilst still being able to play football at the highest possible level.

Once a girl has decided to go to university there are many opportunities available for her to develop as a footballer. Just joining the women's football team at their respective university is enough for many young women. The British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS) organises a women's league which currently has 157 teams spread across 25 leagues and four tiers of divisions. For the very best players across all the divisions there is an opportunity to represent Great Britain at the World Student Games, something which current England international Dunia Susi did. Last year the women's team achieved their best ever finish of 3rd place, beating France 4-1 in the third place play-off (a very satisfying result I think you'll agree).

For those girls who might have already started playing football for semi-pro clubs before arriving at university there is an alternative route to continue playing football whilst in education; the government funded Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme available to them. This is the same scheme that young, aspiring Olympians will go on when they attend university. Its aim is to support athletes at university and reduce the drop-out rate of talented athletes due to financial and/or academic pressures. This means that women footballers can attend university at the same time as playing for a women's team. For example, two players who were playing for Birmingham City, Kaz Carney and Amanda Barr, and were called up to the 2005 European Championship, were attending Loughborough College at the same time. Current England players such as Casey Stoney, Anita Asante and Laura Bassett all took the scholarship route through university and have benefitted greatly from it.

There is a similar scheme in place north of the border too, Winning Students has enabled four Scottish internationals (Rachel Corsie, Frankie Brown, Jane Ross and Jo Hutcheson) to study for degrees at the University of Stirling, in subjects such as Accounting and Finance and Sport and Exercise Science whilst being able to play for football clubs.

Whilst the path for women footballers to follow may not be as obvious as their male counterparts, it is one which is reasonably well established. The development of women footballers will only improve as the games popularity increases. FA figures suggest that there has been an increase of 140,000 players since 1993. With more and more people becoming involved with women's football, as well as the new summer Super League competition, there will be more money available and perhaps professionalism will again be attempted by the women's game in England. Until then the importance of British Universities to the women's game will remain as strong as it is currently.

Thank you for reading.

No comments:

Post a Comment