21st July 2023
Girls team training session at the Elite Football Performance Centre in Lancing. 3rd April 2023. Picture by James Boardman – Brighton & Hove Albion FC
Women's football: 'an amazing time to be involved'
With the Women’s World Cup currently taking place in Australia and New Zealand, Active Sussex are running a series of articles looking at women’s football and what can be done to help develop the game further.
Here Nathan Casselton, the Women and Girls Development Officer at Albion in the Community – soon to be called Brighton and Hove Albion Foundation – discusses the huge growth in women’s football in recent years and how the foundation is working hard to give women and girls equal opportunities in the game.
“It is an amazing time to be involved,” says Nathan Casslton as we catch up to discuss the growth and future of women’s football.
“I have been the Women and Girls Development Officer at Albion in the Community (AITC) for four and a half years and from the time when I joined to now the change in the women’s and girl’s game is completely different, in a positive way.
“Following the Women’s Euros and their success, there was a national boom in terms of participation levels at AITC and across the country.
“When I started we were going out to find girls to play – now they are coming to us. It is brilliant.”
The foundation offers the chance for girls as young as five to play football, through a series of different pathways and projects that covers a large part of Sussex, from Crawley in the north, to Chichester in the west and Eastbourne in the east.
At the entry level, the foundation offers school lunchtime and after school club programmes, which are free or subsidised, plus there are soccer schools and Amex days.
The next level are the Pathway sessions. There are five of these across Sussex – Crawley/Horsham; Eastbourne; Falmer; Worthing; and Chichester.
These then feed into one centralised advance centre session held at the clubs training ground, which replicates what they will experience in an academy environment with a games programme, regular reports, workshops, and a coaching syllabus.
The centre includes lots of interaction with academy staff, including takeover over evenings and regular visits to support the local talent in the female football pathway at AITC.
“Because of the programmes we run we are having to expand and get bigger to facilitate the amount of girls who want to play,” reveals Nathan.
“It is a really exciting time for young females coming into the game. They will not find as many barriers in place for them as older players may have experienced when exploring their first experience of grassroots football in previous years.”
The strong relationship with Brighton and Hove Albion Football Club also makes a big impact on those coming through the foundation’s programmes.
“In Brighton, as a football club we have a very joined-up approach in terms of the foundation and both the women’s and men’s sides.
“We are trying to create a pathway for girls from entry level all the way to the elite girls academy.
“We have got a lot of success in terms of girls coming through our programmes into their academies.”
The training hub is located in the state-of-the-art Elite Performance Centre in Lancing and Nathan says the reaction from the young girls and boys as they realise they are training near the first teams is amazing.
The foundation ran a special football training camp on one of the school strike days earlier this month for young girls and boys and goalkeeper Robert Sánchez was seen running out on the training ground.
“The girls are in awe of what is going on,” said Nathan. “It is a really together club.
“Within Brighton as a whole they are very supportive of what we are doing. You only have to look at the investment to see that.
“It brings a real positive connection between the community and the club.”
To make sure girls from all backgrounds can be involved in playing the game, subsidies and bursaries are provided.
“We get a lot of funding from the Premier League, which enables us to offer free football to girls, bursaries etc,” Nathan says.
“After school programmes and lunchtime programmes give us the opportunity to go into schools and offer free sessions and encourage girls who have not had the opportunity to engage with football.”
But Nathan admits ‘there is always more that can be done’ to attract marginalised groups.
One focus is now on the travelling community.
“They have lots of different rules within their community that might prevent them from having access,” says Nathan. “We are trying to break down barriers to provide them access.”
There are many different barriers that can face girls and women playing football, but one that is still causing a big problem in grassroot football is the kick off times.
“Early morning times are taken up by boys or mixed sessions and in the winter months the pitches get churned up so by the time the girls play the pitches are knackered,” explains Nathan, going on to say that many sessions are then cancelled.
The kick off times also often clash with women’s league football being played meaning the girls cannot go along to watch
“That is an area where a change could really help breakdown barriers for girls,” he adds.