Girls football is undergoing a revolution across the country – and Monton Sports Club is one of the organisations leading the way
The sports club, based on Welbeck Road, Eccles, was formed in 1903 but only introduced football five years ago.
However, in the short time since, football has exploded into life and the club now boasts 160 players under the age of 12.
Out of those youngsters, 30 are girls – and the club is determined to see those numbers continue to rise.
Chris Brown, head of junior football, says there is “a club-wide drive” to develop girls teams in football and cricket, building on their mixed junior sides.
He said: “With them engaging in activity and sport, it’s been a big boost for the club and for kids themselves, to be able to provide for that facility.
“It’s satisfying. It’s a good achievement for all the volunteers involved.”
Following the SSE Wildcats Academy initiative run by The FA, in which 30 girls aged 5-11 were regularly coming to sessions that promote fun and friendship through football, two teams were formed from that pool at under-8’s and under-10’s.
It is the latter that is run by Gemma Cowen.
Her side adds to the number of girls teams within the club, building on the Ladies cricket team they have had in recent years, however, they are looking to appeal to girls of a younger age to further better girls’ participation.
Gemma joined Monton following her husband, Chris, leading her son’s team as there was no football at the club before he stepped up.
She said: “I noticed there wasn’t really much to do with girls at all. I used to be in the army and played to quite a decent level in many sports but football was never my sport.
“I basically just kept asking questions like ‘is anyone going to try and do anything to do with encouraging girls football, I’d love to get involved’.”
Establishing a team:
Moving on from the Wildcats initiative and England’s journey to the semi-final of the Women’s World Cup, there was a lot of focus on girls’ football as parents were actively seeking clubs for girls to play in.
Once her badges were done, strides were made in making the next step for the girls.
Gemma continued: “I’ve really driven to get a team going, because I’ve soon realised that even though these girls want to have fun and make friendships through football there is an element of competitive nature, they want to play competitively.
“Within five minutes of training, it’s like ‘are we playing a game today’. They want to play football.”
Monton’s first friendly was against Altrincham JFC, who were unbeaten in two years, and they held their own for the majority of the game. Despite the eventual 4-0 defeat, Gemma said, “what was most rewarding for me was to see how the girls came off absolutely loving the fact that they’d just played their first game of football.
— Gem (@gorgegem) January 11, 2020
“Seeing their expressions, they thought they’d got beat but when they put it into perspective, they actually had a brilliant game for the very first game.”
After playing two more friendlies and finding out they would not play for two weeks ahead of their first game in the South Manchester Girls League, Gemma adds that “they were absolutely gutted they weren’t playing.”
The need for a league:
It’s evident that the desire for an all-girls Salford league is there, it just needs more persuasion.
“That’s something I’ve been trying to work with Salford district on. Because there all voluntary posts [the board] as well, they can only dedicate so much time to it.
“I know there’s another coach at a Salford club, he’s very much trying to get something going as well.”
Chris complimented the work that Gemma and others do for the club saying “it can’t happen without them.”
Progress can be made:
Gemma said: “It is unknown territory for many people unless they’ve been in it a couple of years.
“I hear about girls playing football but the opportunities are Bolton way, which is fine but it is hard enough getting a parent to commit to training once a week nevermind asking them to commute to the Bolton area to play competitive football.
“We’ve got to appreciate that the parents that are involved with the girls, they’ve got more than one child and generally speaking, football is the priority for the boy in the family, not necessarily the girl.
“I still have it now, hence why I still continue to push for more players is because I’ve got girls who want to play but they can’t get to us until they’ve finished doing dance.”
How can the girls game keep evolving? “More focused events,” Gemma continued. “For instance, the Manchester United Foundation put a talent spot on a couple of weeks ago on Eccles College’s grounds and I stumbled on that last minute on social media.
“I managed to get seven of my girls down there to get involved, which is a great opportunity.
“It probably wouldn’t have happened or had been so successful for us if it was a bit further afield.
“There is plenty of places doing football in Manchester but a lot of the time, trying to get anywhere in Manchester is a nightmare!
“They are coming, and they are continuing to grow, so it’s just making sure they are publicised enough as well.”
Gemma is always keen to see the growth of the girls game continue and wants to further the cause of the sport across the area.
Indeed, when she recently saw a social media post from another local club seeking girls to get involved, Gemma asked the Salford District League to promote her side too.
“Not necessarily because I’m looking for players, more so to say we’re here,” she added.
Monton Sports Club are certainly “here” in the girl’s game.
Not only that, thanks to the likes of Gemma, they are here to stay.