Girls' football in England and Scotland has received a huge boost with new initiatives launching north and south of the border designed to get more girls playing the game.
As both countries look forward to competing at UEFA Women's Euro 2017 in the Netherlands this summer, both the Football Association and Scottish FA hope to capitalise on the success of their women's national teams and inspire more primary school-aged children to get involved in football.
The FA have launched SSE Wildcats - a series of weekly clubs running across England this spring and summer - whilst the SFA have unveiled dedicated Girls’ Soccer Centres across Scotland, both of which provide a fun and engaging environment for girls to perfect skills, build confidence and fall in love with football.
Wildcats on the loose
Last month the Football Association announced its Gameplan for Growth - a bold drive to double the number of women and girls playing football in England by 2020.
This strategy included the creation of a network of 200 girls’ football clubs to provide a safe, fun football programme tailored specifically for girls aged five to 11 in their local area.
The new SSE Wildcats clubs will run every week throughout spring and summer in conjunction with local County FAs. They will be run by qualified FA coaches and will provide football-fitness sessions and other activities for those bringing children too.
With Euro 2017 on the horizon, England's Lionesses hope to improve on their third-place finish at the 2015 World Cup and one of their stars, winger Karen Carney, has backed the SSE Wildcats to engage future Lionesses and get more girls active.
“I attended a similar FA initiative as a child and that was when I first fell in love with football," said Carney. "Hopefully the girls attending the SSE Wildcats clubs will get the same enjoyment I did and stay involved in the game for years to come.”
FA participation and development director Kelly Simmons has done as much as anyone to promote women's and girls' football in England over the last decade and she believes this is another step in the right direction for the game.
“SSE Wildcats is a great way for young girls around the country to get involved with the game at a crucial age," said Simmons.
“We know the sooner girls start to play and enjoy football, the more likely they are to stay involved as they grow up. These clubs provide a great resource across England’s County FAs so there’s an opportunity to play the game wherever you are.”
Visit The.FAcom/ForGirls to find details of your nearest SSE Wildcats session.
Centres to harness Scottish success
As Scotland prepare for their first appearance at a major women's football finals, the SFA hope to harness the team's success by launching a series of dedicated Girls' Soccer Centres to get more girls playing the game.
28 centres have been setup across the six Scottish FA regions, with more expected to follow in the wake of the national team's historic appearance at UEFA Women’s Euro 2017.
Girls aged five to 12 will be able to participate at the centres, which are run in partnership with local authorities and clubs to deliver weekly active sessions for girls in a relaxed and friendly environment.
Part of the SFA's 'Our Girls, Our Game' campaign, the launch of the centres aims to drive increased participation in football among young girls and in turn build confidence, develop teamwork and promote a healthy and active lifestyle.
Six of the Scottish women's team have been named as ambassadors for the centres within their home region, thus providing a visible female role model for the participating girls.
With the team set to make history in the Netherlands this July, SFA head of girls’ and women’s football Donald Gillies believes the team's success provides the "perfect opportunity" to grow the female game.
“We don’t want to see a spike in interest during the Euros that gradually fades away," said Gillies. "Instead we want to create a lasting legacy of participation among girls, and these soccer centres are intended to capture the imagination of girls at a young age so that they develop an enduring love of football.
“The centres also act as a stepping stone into club football for those girls that possess the talent to take their game to the next level. We’re very excited by the potential these centres have in growing the girl’s game in Scotland and look forward to seeing an increasing number of girls take their first steps towards enjoying the beautiful game with them.”
Contact your SFA regional office to find details of your nearest Girls' Soccer Centre.