Girls mean business in the footballing world

Sky Sports presenters Andy Gray, left, who has been sacked for sexist behaviour and Richard Keys, who was suspended. Photo: Fiona Hanson/PA Wire
Sky Sports presenters Andy Gray, left, who has been sacked for sexist behaviour and Richard Keys, who was suspended. Photo: Fiona Hanson/PA Wire
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It took two of football’s most prominent pundits to push the ugly side of the beautiful game into the news spotlight again.

Sky Sports’ Andy Gray and Richard Keys only confirmed what most already knew about football stereotypes when they sparked a sexism row.

The pair were caught criticising female linesman Sian Massey before Liverpool’s match against Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday and have been punished by the media company.

Even the most ardent supporters of the female game admit the most elite women players will probably never get a pay packet to match David Beckham.

Previously unissued image dated 22/1/11 of Assistant referee Sian Massey during the Barclays Premier League match at Molineux, Wolverhampton. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue Date: Monday January 24, 2011. Richard Keys and Andy Gray have been stood down from duty for tonight's televised match between Bolton and Chelsea, Sky Sports have confirmed in a statement. See PA Story SOCCER Massey:  Photo credit should read: Nick Potts/PA Wire. Use subject to restrictions. Editorial print use only except with prior written approval. New media use requires licence from Football DataCo Ltd. Call +44 (0)1158 447447 or see www.pressassociation.com/images/restrictions for full restrictions.

Previously unissued image dated 22/1/11 of Assistant referee Sian Massey during the Barclays Premier League match at Molineux, Wolverhampton. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue Date: Monday January 24, 2011. Richard Keys and Andy Gray have been stood down from duty for tonight's televised match between Bolton and Chelsea, Sky Sports have confirmed in a statement. See PA Story SOCCER Massey: Photo credit should read: Nick Potts/PA Wire. Use subject to restrictions. Editorial print use only except with prior written approval. New media use requires licence from Football DataCo Ltd. Call +44 (0)1158 447447 or see www.pressassociation.com/images/restrictions for full restrictions.

But that isn’t stopping thousands of girls throwing everything they’ve got into the game.

They might not have made it as far as Delia Smith at Norwich, West Ham vice chairman Karren Brady or Sian Massey, yet, but there is no lack of skill and determination.

Football is England’s top sport for women and girls and Sheffield & Hallamshire Football Association were the first in the country to appoint a football development officer.

Gemma Gale oversees girls and women’s football development at the FA and says her initial reaction to the sexist comments was disappointment.

Doncaster Rovers Belles 3 - 0 Rotherham United Ladies - Sunday 21st March 2010, Bracken Moor, Stocksbridge Park Steels

Doncaster Rovers Belles 3 - 0 Rotherham United Ladies - Sunday 21st March 2010, Bracken Moor, Stocksbridge Park Steels

“It was disappointing because at the end of the day I believe that gender shouldn’t be the main factor in determining the qualities of a match official.

“All anybody wants is for the job to be done well and fairly.

“Sian Massey got the decisions right and that is all that should matter to anybody.

“The FA do try and promote the female game and raise awareness and try to professionalise it.”

Gemma Gale

Gemma Gale

Gemma is delighted so many Sheffield families are encouraging their girls to get involved in a fast-growing sport.

“It will always be known as a man’s game because primarily that is what it has been. People like ourselves, the FA, are trying to change that.

“Football has grown so much we have now got some really successful females involved, not just in front of the camera but also behind the scenes, match officials, coaches and players.”

Kate Evans, marketing and communications officer at the FA, is thrilled women’s football has grown so much.

Kate Evans - Sheffield and Hallam FA.

Kate Evans - Sheffield and Hallam FA.

She said: “Ten years ago no females were involved within the professional game and now there are women in lots of different roles from kit women to physios.”

Gemma played the beautiful game almost two decades ago and wishes the opportunities available today could have been there then.

She is now a UEFA B Level Three coach and still plays her favourite game whenever she gets the chance.

The Football Association is launching a women’s Super League this summer in what Gemma describes as the biggest single investment ever made in the female game.

“There are a lot more opportunities for girls to get involved in sport in general now, and not just football,” she said.

“At primary school they start from a very young age and hopefully can go on to progress to play as adults.

“Girls’ interest in football has grown every year.

“Footballs for females has been one of the fastest growing sports for many years and that is the same this year.

“It has grown because the sport is so well known and it is not an issue for girls to play football.

“They see boys playing football, having fun, and girls want to get involved.”

Sheffield has dedicated leagues for women and girls aged from nine.

And there are plenty of reasons - not including money and fame - why families should be encouraging kids to tackle the game.

Obviously it is great for health and fitness but it is also good for making friends, boosting social skills and team work. There are also lots of great South Yorkshire role models for young female footballers including ex-England international and Doncaster Rovers Belles captain Vicky Exley.

In Sheffield there are plenty of courses and chances for girls to play, learn and love football. Females can learn not only skills for the pitch but also how to coach and run a team.

There are courses on refereeing, futsal and Level One Coaching. There are also female mentoring schemes offering to help girls achieve whatever level they want.

Sheffield United FC host South Yorkshire’s Centre of Excellence for Girls which is open to the most talented 10 to 16-year-olds. So far five have had successful England trials and ones has two England Under 17 caps.

Find out more at http://www.sheffieldfa.com/Development/GirlsandWomens/ and get involved.