There’s a floodlit football pitch next to Mae’s nursery. It’s opposite the Leyton Orient stadium and it’s usually rammed with sweaty, slightly sweary youths tackling, dribbling and defending their way into the next big game. We walk past it hand-in-hand twice a day and while I’ve always hoped Mae will ask what they are doing and if she can play, I haven’t wanted to seed that point. If she wants to make delicate fondant roses in her recreational time that’s all good; if she wants to hit the Olympics in 2038 on the women’s footie team, then so be it.
“Mama, why is that ball black and white?”
The conversation began two weeks ago with questions firing from all directions – it was like an old game keeper suddenly being reacquainted with his rusty rifle. (“What are the spiky things on their feet? Why is that man just standing in the fishing net? Why is that man wearing silly shorts?”)
Then came the question: “why are there just boys”?
There were girls, they just didn’t train on this ground so once I’d had the affirmative that she wasn’t going down the fondant patisserie route, I called up Kiddikicks and booked three-year-old Mae in for her first football session to show her girls are definitely part of the game and she can definitely be one of the players.
It makes me happy – to the point of gurning like an excitable meerkat – that she’s naturally edged towards something that helped me navigate a multitude of teenage trouble and strife.
On the day that someone at school told me to “get a life” (I responded quickly with “get a haircut”; it was factual, her barnet needed a coif), I went to play hockey in the evening and came home with limited recollection of the mean exchange.
I found being good on the pitch – proving through doing – was the kudos, and inadvertently the popularity I sought.
That’s why I’m so behind companies like SSE getting behind women’s football. With an apt tagline ‘the energy behind women’s football’ and being the official sponsors of the WFA Cup, this is a company that understands girls will be girls and that doesn’t have to mean they play differently to boys.
While I loved a terrifyingly short Topshop frock like the rest of my peer group and certainly wasn’t an angel growing up in a world that had Hooch alcopops on a 2-for-1 in every Weatherspoons, it was what I did on the pitch that truly counted. That’s where friendships were truly won and whatever the game – hockey, football or tiddlywinks – that’s all I want for Mae. For her to find her place on the pitch (or in fondant rose-making realms) and realize it’s not about jealously thinking ‘what’s she doing’ but more about ‘what can we do together?”
Back of the net
SSE believes that everyone deserves the same opportunities, regardless of gender. They believe in the opportunity to discover new skills and confidence, the opportunity to make friends, the opportunity to be inspired and the opportunity to walk out in front of a hollering crowd at Wembley Stadium and play your socks off. So far, they have helped more than 1,000 girls to kick a ball and enjoy the game for the first time. At the SSE Women’s FA Cup Final, their ‘kids go free’ ticket offer has made the pinnacle of the game even more accessible to all. Let’s hear it for the boys and girls.
The recent launch of SSE Wildcats Girls’ Football Clubs will provide girls aged 5-11 with regular opportunities to play football and take part in organised sessions in a fun and engaging environment created exclusively for girls. SSE continue to show their commitment to increasing participation in the women’s game through this new initiative. The clubs will run from spring through summer on a weekly basis and aim to provide a fun and safe space for girls to learn the game and make friends.
This blog post was written in association with SSE