Girls' Football, The World of Schools' Football

Record numbers of schoolgirls are registered and ready to be inspired by the Lionesses

Girls’ football continues to grow in schools across England as the ESFA receive record entries for their 22/23 National Schools’ Cup competitions

Shenfield High Schools' U16 Girls' team in their yellow and black kit, lifting the trophy and celebrating as they win their National Cup title at Stoke City FC

The English Schools’ FA has seen the number of girls’ competition entries across their U12 – U18 age groups grow steadily, since the first ESFA Girls’ National Cup was hosted in 1996. The latest figures of girls’ teams entering competitions for the coming 22/23 season is a record-high and will provide opportunities for over 29,000 girls in National Cup competitions from September. There is a total of 1,872 girls’ teams registered, which is a record number for the second consecutive season for the ESFA. The Association runs National Competitions for girls at every age group from Under 11 (primary) to U18 (sixth form).

The Association’s research on the 21/22 season has shown that 31% of its local Association activity is undertaken by girls’ teams, meaning that approximately 210,000 girls benefitted from schools’ football in the last season alone.

67% of secondary schools taking part in ESFA competitions for 22/23 are running girls’ teams, which shows that a large majority of those secondary schools that are committed to a schools’ football programme, are creating inclusive opportunities for both boys and girls. Of the 3,448 secondary schools in the country, 38% of them (1,312) take part in ESFA National Cup competitions, meaning that over 100,000 pupils are able to develop their game, with their school friends, each season.

The success of the Lionesses, at the most elite level of women’s football, has come at a time where the ESFA is seeing more girls than ever take to the pitch. The European success of the women’s team provides a huge platform from which young female players can be inspired by their triumphant and historic international season. For these pupils entering into the new school year and schools’ football season, they will be able to relate to Hannah Hampton, Georgia Stanway, Chloe Kelly, Beth Mead, Ella Toone and Leah Williamson, who all represented their schools and played in the ESFA’s PlayStation F.C. Schools’ Cup competition. Chloe Kelly and Kiera Walsh both played in the U16 Schools’ Cup competition, sponsored at the time, by the Premier League and furthermore, with mixed football permitted up until the U18 age group, it might be a comfort to know that both Ellen White and Alessia Russo played in their boys’ teams, with Alessia known as her team’s ‘Lethal Weapon’ during schools’ cup fixtures.

ESFA Chair, Stuart Botham said “Whilst we welcome the passionate messages encouraging a continued support of women and girls’ football, following the Women’s EUROs competition, we think it’s important to highlight the fact that the ESFA has been working tirelessly for many years to provide numerous opportunities for girls in England to play schools’ football. The ESFA often gets overlooked when conversations about school sport take place, but as the National Governing Body for Schools’ Football we are providing over 2 million playing opportunities for pupils in this country, across an array of competitive and non-competitive activities. It is fair to say that Schools’ Football is where the majority of English footballers’ careers have started – with this providing a positive introduction to the sport, allowing them to play with their friends and form team bonds that cements their connection and commitment to their school and to the game.”

The ESFA is consistently promoting the importance of Schools’ Football and the benefits it brings for all schools’ players from U11 – U18. The Association continues to develop its opportunities for different age groups and provide fantastic experiences for all schools’ football participants. The 2022 Schools’ Football Week campaign, which took place from the 7th – 13th February, had a focus on girls’ football and in itself, created opportunities for football activity for over 56,000 girls and 142,000 school pupils.

The charitable status of the Association means it relies on partners, sponsors, ambassadors and support to ensure its football provision can continue and, more importantly, grow and improve. This way, the ESFA can help to ensure the legacy created by the England Women’s team in 2022 is continued for years to come.

Photographs courtesy of 353 Photography

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Throwback Thursday- A trip to Devon for some 21/22 National Schools’ Cup fixtures

For this Throwback Thursday we travel back to the start of the 2021/22 season with ESFA photographer Garry Griffiths (353 Photography) who travelled to the South West of England covering multiple ESFA National Cup fixtures.

“With the world a long way from returning to normal and holiday options away from Britain fraught with complications, we took the decision to have a short break at one of our island’s many options. Having left my wife to determine our destination, she plumped for Torquay with Devon – an area largely unexplored by us – and offering multiple opportunities for me to cover a few early round national cup ties, in one long distance trip.

First up was the Under 16 Boys’ opening round tie at Torquay Grammar School as they welcomed West Exe School on a very wet afternoon on the English Riviera. Traffic issues delayed the visitor’s arrival from Exeter meaning a later kick-off than expected, but it gave me plenty of chance to assess the views around the pitch with a bowl shape on two sides giving an excellent view of the action for the few parents braving the conditions to support.

The home side were quick out of the blocks and having already hit the post early on, they took command of the game in the first half and eventually ran out a deserved 7-2 win, with Charlie Wood scoring a brace.

24 hours later, it was a short trip along the coast to Paignton Community & Sports Academy. Thankfully, the weather was a million miles from the day before, with bright sunshine throughout the day.

Paignton welcomed a strong Ivybridge Community College team in the opening round of the U14 Boys’ Cup and the visitors took control of the game early to race into a healthy lead on the way to a 7-0 victory in the Devon sun. A Burch hat-trick sealing their round 2 place.

Just a day later it was the return of the rain for the Churston Ferrers Grammar School Academy Under 18 Boys’ Cup second round tie with Torquay Academy. Once again, played in pouring rain but on an excellent surface.

With substitutes seeking shelter in the small covered porch of the changing rooms, it was 3 second half goals from the visitors that led them into round 3 after a tight match in testing condition. This would also not the be the last time we see the winners of this fixture either, more of that later in the summer!

Finally, we ended the 4 games in 4 days with a visit to Torquay Academy for their Under 16 Boys’ tie with Hele’s School who had made the 40 mile trip from Plymouth on another sunny Devon afternoon.

The home side scored 4 in each half to secure progress into round 2, where they would meet near-neighbours Torquay Boys Grammar School, just a mile up the road and in the bowl where we kicked off the trip just a few days earlier!

In truth, the final scoreline was harsh on Hele’s who had not only missed chances of their own to pull themselves back into the game but also conceded a flurry of late goals, as they pushed forward trying to reduce the arrears.

As tempting as it was to make the trip back to Devon for that big derby fixture, we had alternative plans to continue our coverage around the country with fixtures coming thick and fast – for the record it was the home side who took the bragging rights with a 3-1 win before eventually exiting themselves at Ivybridge in round 5.

A mix of weather, venues and schools for our first stay away trip of the 2021-2022 season and welcome return to schools football after a year away due to the pandemic. A massive thanks to all the schools involved in these fixtures for allowing us along and maybe we will see you again soon!”

A big thank you to the ESFA’s official photographer for continuing to cover the early round ESFA National Cup fixtures in such great detail. Stay tuned for more Throwback Thursday’s with further coverage of ESFA National Cup fixtures from the 2021-22 season.

Report and images provided by 353 Photography