With the Women’s World Cup kicking off on July 20 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 Willa Bailey, who sits on the Board of Directors for Lewes FC and is one of the youngest football directors in the country discusses the importance of grassroot funding, the need to break down barriers, and plans to celebrate the Women’s World Cup in Sussex.
“We still have a long way to go” – that is the verdict from Lewes FC director Willa Bailey on the future of women’s football.
With the Women’s Euro tournament held in the UK last year and now the Women’s World Cup starting this month, women’s football has been thrust into the limelight and given a much bigger platform.
Yet there is still a lot more to be done before it can be regarded as equal to the men’s game.
“It’s been astonishing how much has changed since the Euros, but we still have a long way to go,” says Willa.
“I really hope that the Women’s World Cup can provide a boost to the movement that was started last July.
“Funding remains a huge issue in women’s football, and it is vital for the good of the game that investments benefit the whole pyramid, not just the big money makers at the top.
“None of the Lionesses would be where they are today without the formative years spent with their hometown, grassroots clubs.
“It is essential that these sorts of clubs are funded and that we are investing in and nurturing pathways.
“The World Cup is a chance to prove on the world’s biggest stage that this is our game – and we want a sustainable future for it.”
Across Sussex, work is steadily taking place to encourage more young girls to take up the sport.
But as Active Sussex recently discussed at a This Girl Can webinar on ‘Breaking Barriers’ there are many things getting in the way of equality, aside from just all important funding.
“Assuming that young girls can just walk onto a pitch and start playing football without any extra support is naïve,” agrees Willa.
“I don’t say that because I think girls are weak or need extra help, I say that because for the whole of their lives they have been directly or indirectly told they don’t belong in football, that it is a ‘man’s world’.
“I think we have to take this into consideration and proactively go into their worlds, working to engage and support them as they break through those barriers.
“Having role models in the sport is a massive part of this too. That saying ‘If you can see it, you can be it’ has never been more relevant for this generation.”
And it is not just young girls who face challenges when accessing the sport, older women do too, which is why so much work is going into opening up the sport.
“I think even as you get older those feelings of embarrassment and not thinking you belong can still be huge barriers to participation,” explains Willa.
“A huge range of people have been excluded from the male dominated world of football, and we are seeing a range of inclusive grassroots teams emerge in opposition to this.
“They involve players of all abilities, even if you are the least sporty person in the world or haven’t kicked a ball in 30 years, you are celebrated and included.
“It is wonderful to see how they are actively opening the game up to older women, non-binary players and members of the LGBTQ+ community. There are some great local teams, such as Brighton Seagals, who embody these values.”
To help break down barriers, Lewes FC is working hard to include women off the pitch too.
“At Lewes FC we run a free workshop called ‘The Offside Rule and all That Jazz’, for anyone who might want to learn more about football and its rules but have never felt comfortable to ask,” reveals Willa.
“We spend the evening decoding the game and all its quirks in a safe space – no question is too silly or too small.”
To mark the World Cup, Lewes FC is hosting a selection of free events at The Dripping Pan, including screenings of all the England games and the World Cup Final on August 20.
They are also running a number of wider initiatives during the six weeks, including a clothes swap and a networking event on Friday, July 28, with sponsors SumUp. This will include fundraising for Brighton-based domestic abuse charity and one of Lewes’ Sisterships, Rise.
The next ‘The Offside Rule and all That Jazz’ workshop is on August 4. Tickets can be booked here.
You can find out more about the events around the Women’s World Cup in Lewes here.
Find out more here about the This Girl Can campaign in Sussex and our next event – The Perinatal Period & Physical Activity on Tuesday, September 19.