When it comes to success on the rugby field and football pitch the ladies are definitely making a mark – and as 8th March is International Women’s Day (with the theme Be Bold For A Change) – we thought we’d put the girls in the frame!
The age when sporting pursuits are no longer welded to gender stereotypes may never be entirely erased but that’s not stopping women entering traditionally male pursuits such as rugby and football – and notching-up world-class achievements in the process.
Natalie Curtis is Development Officer for Girls’ Football at the Kent County Football Association. “Women and girls’ football is in a very strong position in Kent and, with the Football Association’s aim of doubling female participation, this is only set to grow,” she says.
There are more than 40 ladies’ football teams across Kent catering for all abilities with the highest placed – Gillingham Ladies FC – playing in the Women’s Premier League South East Division One.
“We have two excellent leagues as well as a number of initiatives targeting younger girls as well as projects for ladies who may never have had the opportunity to participate. We’re also working in partnership with the Kent Disability Football League to help provide opportunities for all abilities.”
The Kent FA also supports the development of female referees and coaches through a variety of networks such as Football Futures and Project 500, both of which were set up to help promote skills and confidence.
“This season we launched Eighth Wonder, an initiative to help inspire and develop the next generation and we run referee courses where girls from age 14 can train and support local communities whilst also earning money,” adds Natalie.
The picture is equally as encouraging in the world of rugby, something no doubt fuelled by our women reaching the semi-finals at last summer’s Rio Olympics.
Simon Parsons is Director of Ladies’ Rugby at Tunbridge Wells Rugby Football Club. “We started in September 2014 with a handful of girls aged 12 to 18 and by the end of that season had an Under-13s team who came runner-up in the Kent Girls’ Sevens,” he says.
“The following year saw us grow to more than 50, with all three age groups making the finals in a competition played between clubs in Kent, East and West Sussex, Essex and Surrey. “And our Under-18 side won its final,” says Simon.
“Rugby is not just a terrific sport, it’s a sociable and supportive one. We train and play matches on Sundays and are always keen to meet new people, whether they’re fresh to the sport or experienced players looking for a team to keep their rugby going,” he added.
Bill Little is Head Coach of Tonbridge Juddians’ Pink Ladies and he’s one happy man. “Some might say we’ve exceeded all expectations and maybe we could find ourselves playing level two next season. That’s just one step away from the top tier of English rugby,” he explains.
“Last season was massive for us as the 1st XV went unbeaten and gained promotion. We knew this season would be tough but were buoyed by more than 40 girls at pre-season training and a really focused coaching team. Results to date have shown just how far we’ve come with the 1st XV again battling it out at the top of their division,” adds Bill.
“We now have access to fantastic facilities at The Judd School 3G pitch which has been yet another vital building block for us. We’re very much a work in progress and need to get the second team sorted for next season by attracting more girls so we have the foundations in place to keep ladies’ rugby developing.”
Tonya Williams – Manager of the girls’ section over at Sevenoaks Rugby – says its “outstanding progress” is a testament to the club and coaches.
“We started the girls’ rugby section just three years ago to give local youngsters the chance to enjoy the sport in a well-supported environment, focusing on quality coaching and bringing rugby’s values to the fore,” says Tonya.
“We now run two groups – Under-13s and Under-15s – and this year five of our Under-15 girls have been selected to play for Kent. We’re lucky to be able to work with and support so many remarkable and dedicated young sports women.”
Photograph © Tonbridge Juddians