SSE Wildcats the latest move to break down the barriers blocking girls from football in England

tom dutton

England's Lionesses beat the odds to finish third at the 2015 World Cup, but perhaps their greatest success was shining the spotlight on the women's game.

Chelsea midfielder Karen Carney, who scored twice at the finals, put their run to the semi-finals down to "strength of spirit" and has since been encouraged by shifting perceptions.

"I definitely think [women's football] has got a lot more media recognition, I think participation has increased," she told Standard Sport.

"More players have been recognised; there was definitely momentum after the World Cup, quite a positive change."

But head of football participation at the Football Association Kelly Simmons explained that dads are still five times more likely to encourage their sons to play football than daughters, while Carney pointed to a need to continue shattering "barriers".

"I'll always use my niece as an example, I don't want her to have any barriers, I don't want to tell her that she can't play or can't have an opportunity."

Photo: SSE Wildcats/The FA

And by targeting five to 11-year-olds, initiatives like SSE Wildcats are focused on ducking such barriers and getting girls playing early before the misconception of football as a boys sport sets in.

It was at this critical stage that Carney says she fell in love with the game after attending a similar event.

The FA's plan is to create 200 clubs across England with the aim of doubling girls' participation by 2020 and establishing football as an environment for women on and off the field, and from the top down.

Simmons added: "[There's] a real action to increase the number of women, particularly coaching and refereeing - we've just appointed a head of women's coach education and a head of women's referee development to really focus on getting more women into all levels and also more women in leadership."

The Lionesses return to major tournament action this summer when the European Championships begin in the Netherlands in July, and Simmons is relishing the "more sociable" kick-off times.

Channel 4 will broadcast every England game live with matches scheduled to suit European audiences, unlike in Canada, where three England games kicked off at midnight UK time.

The fight for the television rights, which saw Channel 4 outbid the BBC, signifies a major step forward for the women's game, and Carney expects enticing group games against Scotland, Spain and Portugal to capture the nation once more.

But she believes more support is needed from the media to continue raising the profile.

"We can't control who decides to televise, put it on radio or in the press," the 29-year-old said.

"The only thing we can do is play. We're working hard, ultimately we just want girls to be able to play and if people decide to follow it and jump on board with it, then great."

Photo: SSE Wildcats/The FA

Carney, who is one of only four players to be capped 100 times by England, last week received an MBE at Buckingham Palace for her services to football, capping a fine month in which she was also named in Mark Sampson's Euro 2017 squad at the beginning of April.

But can she and her fellow Lionesses add European gold to their World Cup bronze?

"For me personally Euros are always harder than the World Cup," She concluded. "Teams have similar styles of play in Europe as opposed to world football.

"We're going to aim for gold and hopefully bring it back, give our best and inspire more people like we did at the World Cup."

SSE Wildcats Girls’ Football Clubs are a joint initiative between the Football Association and SSE for girls aged 5-11. They are part of the FA’s Gameplan for Growth which aims to double female participation in football by 2020. For further info on SSE Wildcats and to find a session near you today visit www.thefa.com/forgirls

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