Kerrie Bates, Oxford United in the Community’s Operations Administrator, discusses on International Women's Day how female football has changed for good.

When International Women’s Day was first formally celebrated in the UK in 1975, women’s football was a shadow of the operation we see today.

Terrestrial television coverage coupled with record attendances, competition finals at Wembley Stadium and the creation of household names have all contributed to an explosion in the female arm of our national sport.

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But pay attention to detail to the foundation stages of participation, and you’ll start to understand the overwhelmingly positive impact that change to the professional women’s game is having on the next generation.

I’ve been an Oxford United supporter all my life, and my ambition to want to play started at the end of the 1990s. At this time, there was not one age appropriate girls team for me to train and play with, either at school or grassroots.

Aged 12, I joined Carterton Ladies FC and signed on a year later when I was old enough to do so. Although I was welcomed by the team with open arms and affectionately nicknamed ‘Little’un’, it was difficult to get any game time against older and stronger players.

There was also the issue that no kit would fit me correctly – we used to wear men’s kit! As the team progressed up the leagues and matches were played outside of Oxfordshire, I decided to stop playing football.

A report published by Women in Sport only last month confirmed over a third (39 per cent) of girls are not encouraged to excel in sport – compared to 12 per cent of boys.

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This year’s theme for IWD is accelerating progress, and the above statement shows there is still so much work to do for the next generation of female players.

Oxford Mail: Easington Sports FC ladies teamFollowing its launch last year, our dedicated girls only holiday camp welcomed a record number of participants last month – and during Easter we’ll be delivering two more weeks of girls only football programmes suitable for players of all abilities and experiences.

Excelling in sport doesn’t mean becoming the next Mary Earps or Chloe Kelly. How football – and sport generally – allows someone to excel is not exclusive to performance or talent. It can mean learning new skills which can be applied on and off the pitch, developing self-confidence and building connections which lead to new opportunities and experiences.

I sincerely hope the provisions our Community Coaches and Programme Leads provide to young girls across Oxfordshire can prompt them to start a lifetime of enjoyment from football.

Football is about family and friends – and going to watch Oxford for me means spending time with my dad and brothers. It’s allowed me to create friendships, and it’s key we do everything to ensure everyone feels at home and included in the stands.

We have a number of provisions appropriate for young female football enthusiasts operating across Oxfordshire.

From Girls Only Premier League Kicks in Banbury – a fully-funded weekly programme delivered during school term time – to our Easter Holiday Girls Only Camps running from Tuesday, April 2, until Friday, April 12.

You’ll find more details through our website, and we hope to see you or your little one pitch side soon!

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About the author 

Andy is the Trade and Tourism reporter for the Oxford Mail and you can sign up to his newsletters for free here. 

He joined the team more than 20 years ago and he covers community news across Oxfordshire.

His Trade and Tourism newsletter is released every Saturday morning. 

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