Women football players in Lincolnshire say they have been encouraged by a recent surge in sign-ups and hope it will create a more welcoming environment for the future. The Lionesses making it to the Women’s World Cup final in August – following a blazing victory over Germany in the EURO 2022 final – has opened up the sport to more people than ever before.
Despite their 1-0 loss to Spain in the World Cup, their high-profile appearances have spurred women on and encouraged people of any skill level to give it a try. More female players have been signing up for Sleaford United Ladies FC, chairman Riley Pickwell says.
Team captain Heather Temple, 28, said it was moving away from being a male-dominated sport and she hopes it will pave the way for the next generation, including her daughter. Having first taken up the sport when she was 11, she has led one of three women’s teams in the town since last October.
She said: “It instils hope. When I was growing up, I really struggled to find a team where I wouldn’t be lumped in with the boys. It makes me really proud that I’ll be able to send my daughter to a full girls’ team when she’s old enough.
“It’s not just a good year because the Lionesses played well – what’s being put in place is for the future.” She added: “We had a really good season for the Lionesses and all those girls who used to play at school are coming back out of the cracks.
“It’s more accessible now. Before, when there was just one team out in the sticks, you couldn’t make it work.” Likewise, vice-captain Eloise Ash, 21, said it’s ‘vital’ for the opportunities to be there for women to play football.
She started playing in mixed teams at age five and said the experience of moving to an all-girls team when she was older was ‘amazing’. She said: “It’s amazing how the Lionesses have inspired a new generation of women footballers.
“I’m certain that the women’s game is going to continue to grow.” She added: “I’d like to see bigger leagues, with more teams filled with ladies that made the jump to try the sport.”
An under-reported strength of more women being involved, Ms Ash said, is that the social scene is much stronger. Harry Tancred, who manages and coaches the team, said the players had been putting in a lot of work.
He said there was a ‘good mix’ of experience, from women who had never kicked a ball before to others who had played for several years. Mr Tancred said: “It’s a huge thing, having teams that people can join.
“And it’s important to have your doors open for people of any skill level to join.” He added that a lot of players on the team ‘hadn’t watched a minute of football’ before the Lionesses.
He said: “They’ve watched it and got the fever from it. After they play or do something good, we always get an influx of messages from people considering giving it a go.”
Despite the strong response, Mr Pickwell, 22, said he was still keen to see more players on the pitch. He started Sleaford United FC back in 2021 and after a ‘whirlwind couple of years,’ he started the Just Play programme, which gave women a chance to try out the sport for an hour.
After getting enough players for a competitive team, Mr Pickwell launched the Ladies’ team, which beat Boston Town in their first game 2-1. But while men’s teams can be inundated, he said numbers for the team had dwindled.
He said: “We’re still looking for players to come in. We can offer people for beginners and for people who want to play professionally.
“We’ll be bringing the Just Play programme back. We’d like to add to our competitive side, but we’d be happy to take anyone who wants to get involved in the sport.
“It’s great to have another ladies’ team in Sleaford. And they’re a great bunch.”
The team trains every Friday, from 8pm until 9pm at the astroturf pitch by Carre’s Grammar School. League games are played every Sunday.
He added that it would also give female players the chance to play in the FA Cup league. There are also the Sleaford Rangers Ladies and Sleaford Town Ladies teams in the town.