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Girls Play the Beautiful Game

Horsham Sparrows Girls

“England were dire!” says Zoe Moore, the goalkeeper of Horsham Sparrows Girls Under-13 football team.

There’s been a concerted effort to draw more attention to the women’s game in recent years, and the game really needed the national team to make advantage of that support at the recent Women’s Euro 2013 Championships.
Sadly, as Zoe states, they didn’t.

England’s abysmal performance (they lost two games and drew one) will have done little to quash the chauvinism that exists towards the women’s game in this country. The comical own goal by Spaniard Caroline Hansen,
which was the most watched video on the BBC Sport’s website for a time, didn’t help either!

But it is not a game without hope. In Horsham, women’s football has managed to establish itself. Faye White, the former Arsenal Ladies captain who went on to play 90 times for England, developed her game by playing for Horsham Ladies. The Ladies side still exists today.

At junior level, Horsham Sparrows are the club that has been the most active is pushing the girls game forward in the district. They have five girls teams from Under-10 level right through to the Under-16’s, and from there they can join the Ladies team.

Gary Budinger, Girls Coaching and Development Officer at Horsham Sparrows, said: “Before the age of ten, girls play in mixed football teams, and if they want to stay in those teams then they can until they are 14.

“Every summer, I run a six week development course in the park for girls who want to play football but maybe haven’t played before. We run that in conjunction with local schools, and I think 14 schools in the area sent girls along this year. Of those girls at the summer training you will get ten or 12 that want to come along and play, so we are quite proactive as a club.

“Sadly it hasn’t quite happened elsewhere. A few other clubs, such as Roffey Robins, have tried to set up a girls section but it’s never quite materialised or has fizzled out after a while. Crawley has a team but aside from them we mainly have to look to the coastal towns. Even Storrington and Henfield do not have girl teams, so Sparrows are pulling in girls from all over the district, as they have nowhere else to train and play.

“There is still a little bit of chauvinism towards the women’s game. I’ve done some training in the USA and Canada, and the game is more integrated with boys and girls playing together. We have a bit of a ‘win at all costs’ mentality here. Whilst we all want to win, we do try and promote integration more at Sparrows, and do a little bit more each year to give girls the chance to play.”

However, several of the girl’s teams are extremely strong. The Under-13’s team has won the league and cup double for two successive seasons, with several players now representing the county.

Bronwyn Thomas, the daughter of team coach Ian Thomas, is among them. Bronwyn started playing football with her brothers, and as well as playing for Sparrows Girls, she also pulls on a Greenway football shirt to play with the boys on Saturdays.

She said: “I play left back for Greenway and left midfield for Sparrows on Sundays. We are a good side and we have played the boys team a few times. In some games we were beaten fairly heavily, but sometimes it is very close. I think the games are closer than the boys expect them to be!

“We have a good team here, but we were beaten for the first time recently against Crawley. I think that has spurred us on so we need to defeat them this year!”

Jazz Younger plays basketball for South East England as well as playing football for Horsham Sparrows. She also says that girls can hold their own against the boys. “Boys do mock the girls a bit but it’s not so bad anymore. At school, I’m better than most of the boys and that keeps them quiet! Last time we played the Sparrows boys we beat them, although they have beaten us too.”

Like in the boy’s game, there are players who have more natural ability than others, but there is a good spirit about the team and players are encouraged to improve at their own pace.

Goalkeeper Zoe Moore went home crying after her first football coaching session, but is now aiming to gain a place in the Sussex squad in future years. She said: “When I was in primary school, a guy came along to talk about girl’s football. After that, I started going along to coaching sessions and I was picked to play in goal because nobody wanted to. After the first day, I went home and cried because I was made to play in goal!

“But gradually I came to like it. I had a lot of practice and improved. I’ve now been playing for Sparrows for four seasons, and I like playing in goal now. Sometimes I don’t have a lot to do because we are a good team (they won a game 19-2 last season) but that’s not always a bad thing. I shout a lot when I’m in goal as I can see the whole pitch and know when people are out of position.

“I’ve been watching the Euros, and it’s nice to see that they are pushing the women’s game. I actually went and saw the Women’s Champions League final between Lyon and Hamburg and that was really good. You do think that, if you try hard, you can get there. It would be awesome for me to make the county team. I went to the trial and had some positive feedback so if I improve in certain areas then maybe I can make it in the future.”

Whilst the women’s game may develop, in time, to become more competitive, team coach Ian Thomas hopes that the spirit of the women’s game remains as it is. He said: “The first time I came along here I was expecting to be
unimpressed, but I was astounded by the level of skill, touch fitness.

"From there, the girls have come on in leaps and bounds, but they have always played nicely. You will hear the word ‘sorry’ if they put in a bad tackle. If you want to see the game played properly, come and watch them on a Sunday morning. There’s a real contrast to watching the boys play. They have the same skill level and the same
energy but without the testosterone. We’ve even had a local resident come over here and comment on how nice it is to hear them playing!

“For me, the next level for the game would be to have a local league. That would be fantastic. I can’t believe that some of the other big teams around couldn’t put a team together.  Five or ten years ago women’s football was
considered to be the fastest growing sport in the UK, and the County League is a recent creation, so there is a system in place for teams.

"There just needs to be a little more encouragement for those girls who do want to play football.”

For more details on joining Horsham Sparrows Girls visit http://www.horshamsparrows.co.uk/

Zoe Moore
Horsham Sparrows Girls
Horsham Sparrows Girls
Bronwyn Thomas

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