It was the day she started out as a young teacher at Whalley Range Comprehensive in Manchester city center, with the intention of hosting netball sessions, which has always stuck in her mind. Baroness Sue Campbell.
She had been captain of the England Under-21 team, had won the British Universities Pentathlon Championship and was convinced, “standing there in my pretty white pumps, my tracksuit, with my clipboard, my bibs and my bag of balls, ”as the female students all poured in.
None have. “It wasn’t for them,” says Campbell. “It was, ‘No thank you. Netball is breaking your nails. We don’t do that “.
Baroness Sue Campbell explained how important it is for girls to start exercising early
It was only over the weeks that she found out that dancing was how these young women wanted to exercise. So she went with that – finding out, as they developed, how sport can build self-esteem and well-being without being a competitive concept. One of them, who had had some trouble with the school authorities, actually became a session leader.
“She knew better than I what they were trying to do,” recalls Campbell. “There is nothing more powerful than the young people themselves trying to show others how to do it. What I discovered through these women – and I will always be indebted to them – is that there are people in this world for whom sport is sport and they love it. And there are millions of people for whom sport is not their first love, but if you can deliver it the right way and listen to them, you can help them enrich their lives.
This experience turned out to be more valuable than she could have known. After a successful career in academia and sports governance, Campbell was appointed five years ago to lead FA women’s football, tasked with bringing the game to life in the lives of millions of girls.
Baroness Campbell was appointed FA Women’s Football Officer five years ago
The challenge was not easy. Not all schools were receptive to the idea. Not all girls wanted the same ultra-competitive ethic that playing the game means for boys.
But four years after launching the FA’s flagship game plan for growth, designed to double attendance, Campbell is now finding ways to make football as appealing to girls as it is accessible.
In primary schools, it’s about making the experience rewarding enough that they want to continue playing after school. This has generally not been the case.
“It’s not just about providing what the boys have,” says Campbell. “A little boy will probably have kicked a ball, God knows when. A little girl probably picked it up and threw it away. Much of girls’ participation is also related to trust. They will tend to feel a lot dumber than boys when playing.
Campbell seeks ways to make football as attractive to girls as it is accessible
“We want to help teachers – train them, without condescending them – to differentiate between boys and girls. To tap into the way some girls think, perhaps by making them realize that they can develop reading and writing skills as well as soccer skills while playing at lunchtime.
The FA involved business partners such as Disney, which developed a girls-friendly lunch program, and Barclays, which funded the creation of 100 school “partnerships” – groups of schools working to ensure gender equality. access for girls. In total, 9,500 schools have joined the clusters.
At the high school level, this is to convince school principals that the introduction of football into girls’ physical education programs that have traditionally involved netball and hockey is worthwhile. By finding a way to show that soccer lessons can also teach resilience, personal responsibility, and decision-making, the FA can bring soccer out the door.
“We are working with teachers to help them,” says Campbell. “These high school teachers are familiar with physical education, but it’s about helping them think about how other lessons might be applied in a session. If you practice a skill multiple times, we call it resilience. We never told the girls what it’s called, so we take it off. Improving dribbling skills comes down to improving resilience.
Getting boys to play football has never been so complicated or so challenging, although all the evidence suggests it was worth it. There is clearly an overwhelming appetite for football among girls.
Thousands of players play beyond school, in the FA’s network of 1,600 Wildcat clubs for those who still need to build their confidence and physique and who may be embarrassed to play. There are expected to be 3,400 Wildcat clubs by 2024.
AF has targeted those who still need self-confidence and physique and are self-conscious
The FA has also provided a toolkit and sent qualified staff to girls-friendly football clubs, to make it an environment they are interested in and will want to stick with. There are hundreds of clubs where women’s football thrives. Anchorians in Kent has 20 women’s teams for players aged eight to 18. Another of the country’s top teams for girls and women is Sandbach United in Cheshire.
One of Campbell’s biggest challenges has been providing coaches to meet this demand. It is for this reason that the FA last year launched an app with BT called Playmaker, designed to help potential coaches to show interest and take short courses.
The infrastructure makes it much more likely that the next generation of top female players will have risen through the ranks playing women’s football – not putting up with questionable appearances when they line up on a boys’ team.
Some of England’s top internationals, from Nikita Parris to Niamh Charles, describe male teammates being on hand to provide support in the event of a backlash.
Campbell hopes the school-level investment will trickle down to grassroots football clubs and ultimately professional women’s football.
Baroness Campbell (left) has set a goal for England to win the 2023 World Cup underneath
“School sport is essential for us,” she says. “You can do so much in the clubs, but you have to do it right in the schools if you are to have a chance at getting the kind of youth athletics you want. It is so important that people realize that athletic excellence depends on complete athletic ability.
But although she and the FA have set the goal for the England women’s team to win the 2023 World Cup, hosted in Australia and New Zealand, she is more than anything motivated by the memory of this group of Whalley Range in the late 1980s and the recreational activities they enjoyed.
“It’s about how to help people develop not only in sport, but also in sport,” she says. “How you can change lives for the better. I want more girls to play football. I want England to be okay. But I would be just as happy if someone told me, “We have changed thousands and thousands of lives for the better.”
The National Lottery helps fund women’s and women’s football at the local level, including a contribution of £ 1million to the legacy of participation in the UEFA European Women’s Championship in 2022.