Female football in Wales grows by 50% in 3 years – now let’s see women’s club game given urgent aid

Wales international Rhiannon Roberts meets youngsters at a Huddle session. Pic: FAW Trust

With Wales Women set to face Estonia in Wrexham on Friday, it has been revealed that the female game in this country has grown by 50% since 2016.

The FAW Trust reports that a record 8,600 women and girls are now signed up to football clubs in Wales.

The announcement comes as the FAW Trust is gearing up to expand its Huddle programme.

Launched last year, Huddle is designed for 5-12 year olds and aims to bridge the gap and support the transition between school and club football.

Focusing on fun and friendship, around 450 girls took part in its sessions in 2019.

With an expected 20 new sites coming on board in April, that figure is set to double.

Caroline Spanton – recently appointed interim CEO of the FAW Trust – says: “Research tells us that girls are more likely to be less confident than boys when joining a sports club.

“So Huddle is designed to give girls the opportunity to develop their skills and their confidence in a fun and sociable environment with their friends.”

Spanton is also keen to stress the contribution of the entire football family across Wales in the growth of the game:

“We’re really pleased with the progress to date and it is a huge testament to the work of coaches, clubs, volunteers, leagues and all our other partners who are providing more and more opportunities for women and girls every year.

“To reach our target, we know we need to do things differently which is why we are taking new approaches.”

A number of Wales’ women internationals have thrown their support behind the game.

Wales and Liverpool defender Rhiannon Roberts says: “The growth in the number of women and girls playing football is great news for the country. Not only will it help inspire players of the future at the elite level but it also helps improve the health and well-being of people in Wales.

“I recently visited Huddle events in Penrhyn Bay and Buckley and it was great seeing so many young girls enjoying playing football with their friends in such an inclusive and fun environment.”

As well as the Huddle initiative, the FAW Trust has several programmes in place in order to achieve the ambitious goal of 20,000 registered female players by 2024.

These include football session with Rainbows, Brownies and Guides as well as a secondary school programme which will launch in June 2020.

Grassroots North Wales says: Good news, now let’s create more of it

Of course the news that female football participation in Wales has risen by 50% since 2016 is good to know.

Top marks to all those responsible for this encouraging trend.

However, there are still many areas of female football in Wales which need addressing.

Firstly, there needs to be a review of why the Welsh Premier Women’s League is failing in its mission to be a truly national competition.

Llandudno’s resignation this season means none of the five North Wales clubs which have participated in the WPWL since it became fully national in 2012-13 are now members.

Each has been crippled by either the long-distance travelling, the cost of competing or keeping together a squad large enough to commit to the demands of a national league.

A survey is currently ongoing relating to the needs and wishes of female footballers in Wales and we hope the findings will lead to positive action to help the North.

The FAW have let the WPWL become the South Wales League and it is up to them to restore the balance.

Either that, or invest in developing a more dynamic and better functioning North Wales League.

Regionalising women’s football in Wales again will not be a retrograde step in my view. It didn’t seem to work too bad between 2009-12.

You could have North-Mid and South-Mid leagues with national play-offs at the end of the season to determine your Welsh champions.

There would be no harm at all in regionalising a North Wales League either.

Lots of teams are struggling to meet the current travelling and commitment demands.

Although the awful weather has been chiefly to blame for the lack of fixtures this season, too many games have also been called off for ‘other reasons’. Same last season.

Some pull-outs are genuine, but unless clubs get punished for pulling out of fixtures willy-nilly, which is not happening at present, current problems will continue.

From what I am told, a few teams will not be able to carry on next season.

This would probably mean a one division system rather than the current two.

But a regionalisation of the current North Wales League (split into North East/North West) may inspire more teams to carry on. At the moment the running of the league is too North East Wales based as well.

In short, it is great to see the future being looked after in Welsh female football, but the present needs attention urgently too, otherwise the difficulties facing the north right now will only exacerbate.

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