NICOLA Mellor has been playing football since she was nine. A left footer who can play at fullback or as a winger, she was introduced to the game by her dad and is now making a career out of it.
The 23-year-old, from Marchington, who plays for Heather St John’s in Leicesteshire, graduated from university with a sports development coaching degree and is now working full-time for Burton Albion Community Trust.
She admits that she’s one of the ‘lucky ones’. Because for many girls there isn’t even the chance to play football, let alone make a career out it.
The sad truth is that even after a successful home Olympics that was designed to leave a lasting legacy of sports participation, only 12 per cent of girls aged 14 are doing enough physical activity; less than half the number of boys.
That’s partly due to social barriers but also because the opportunities haven’t existed for girls to enjoy sport in comparison to boys.
But Nicola and Burton Albion Community Trust are looking to change that.
For the first time, the FA and Sport England have joined forces with the Premier League and the Football League to provide new grassroots girls’ and women’s football sessions for 14-25 year-olds in conjunction with professional clubs such as Burton Albion.
The new FA Women’s and Girls’ Programme will receive an investment of more than £2.4m over the next two years from Sport England with the aim of bringing 40,000 new female players into the sport.
Nicola says: “I was lucky that I went straight into a girls’ team but it can be mixed up until the age of 14. Looking at that from a girl’s point of view, I don’t think it works. Girls don’t like playing with lads, they find it quite intimidating. My role is to promote girls’ football and give them equal opportunities to the boys.”
Nicola joined the community trust in October but was already a volunteer coach before that and runs her own under sevens team.
“That’s for boys,” she says. “I started that on my own initiative.
“I have always loved sport, my dad was a footballer, so it’s down to him really. I started playing when I was nine and still do. I started coaching when I was 15.”
Now she hopes to use her coaching skills and love of the game to support the development of girls’ and women’s football throughout East Staffordshire.
She says: “The aim is to drive up participation. We go into schools and do girls-only courses. The plan is to extend that through girls-only holiday courses, create girls’ teams – we want to get them involved and keep them involved.
“The girls’ football and education programme has just started running, following on from a similar programme for boys that has been operating for nine years.
“They go to Burton College and get an educational qualification but also get to play football – so they get both sides.”
Nicola says that football has traditionally taken a back seat for girls to other sports but this Stoke City supporter knows there are lots of girls out there like her who just need a chance.
“At school, girls get sent down one pathway which is netball and hockey and don’t get the chance to do football as part of the PE curriculm.
“It’s good for social aspects as well. Girls are very different to lads and tend to have their own friends and that’s that. So team sports are good for them.”
Nicola says there is initial funding for two years. “After that, they look at the figures, see what we have done and it goes from there.”
“I’m so lucky that I have had the opportunity to play football and I have got so much out of it and I want to help other girls to have that opportunity. For me this is also a great career opportunity, a fantastic place to work.”
AN investment of more than £2.4m over the next two years from Sport England funding will see Premier League and Football League club trusts deliver season-long coaching programmes, aiming to reach more than 40,000 new female players.
The Burton Albion Community Trust will be starting a specific programme for women and girls over the coming months led by Nicola Mellor.
The Community Trust is working with key partners such as Staffordshire County FA to increase participation levels across the whole of the female game in East Staffordshire with the overall aim to increase the number of teams within the area.
In addition to the programmes for those over the age of 14, BACT is rolling out girls-only holiday courses and soccer centres starting in February half term for girls at a younger age.
Burton Albion Community Trust development manager Andy Taylor said: “We were delighted to be awarded the funding to allow us to support the growing demand for girls’ and women’s football in the area and with the funding we will be able to engage with young female footballers and maximise participation of female football in East Staffordshire.”
Nicol Meredith, National Women’s and Girls’ Football Project Co-ordinator, said: “The programme is a powerful initiative which we are pleased to be part of.
“The new programme will not only give many more young women the opportunity to try football, but allow community schemes to engage in an innovative way.”
If you’re interested in being involved in the new girls’ and women’s programme email email@example.com or visit http://burtonalbioncommunitytrust.co.uk/